The most fun part of the holidays for me now is the dinnertime talks about current events. Over Christmas dinner, a cousin lamented about how her 17 year old son doesn’t listen to her and that she is afraid of the choices he is on the verge of making. Her son is like many young African American males in inner cities; the de facto man of his household and figuring out the world on his own, easily influenced by his peers, likely to not finish his education and focused on the wrong things (though the right things from his vantage point).
“I’m trying to get him to focus on going to college, but he just wants to get a job after high school so that he can have his own money and get the things that he wants,” she said. The things he wanted that she described were; $250 sneakers, video game consoles, and True Religion jeans. That led to discussions that have taken place millions of times before around African American holiday dinner tables; the younger generations are getting steadily worse, the images of African Americans on TV are negative, our kids are killing each other over sneakers (and Michael Jordan should say something about it), our kids are too caught up in status symbols so that they can look like they have money, etc.
My own early years, and early adulthood were mired by feelings of wanting but not having things that others had; Starter Jackets (or the other popular name brand apparel of the time), expensive sneakers, nice cars, and other luxury items. With my very first paycheck from my first job, my first purchase was a rap CD, something that makes me laugh today as my current mindset is to ignore my peers, and steadily save my money to buy things that might appreciate like a stock or mutual funds.
The conversation saddened me knowing that my cousin’s son may already be trapped in one of the greatest scourges of the African American community; the instant gratification mindset. In short, the instant gratification mindset promotes shortsightedness and causes those infected by it to focus on the acquisition of luxury material items, many of which will steadily lose value over time. This leaves those infected by it with nothing of real value later in life, and hampers the community as a whole.
The instant gratification mindset can only be broken with education, some scholastic/professional but more so financial. Understanding how money works helps one to understand what causes some groups to be perpetually poor and others perpetually wealthy. The things that constitute my own current financial blue print were discovered simply out of curiosity, reading, and hanging out with other industrious and progressive minded people, things that never occurred to me growing up on Buffalo’s east side. If given the opportunity to disseminate these findings to my cousin’s son and his peers, my key points would be:
• Educationally and financially, adopt the delayed gratification mindset and forsake the instant gratification mindset.
• It’s not how much money you make but how much you keep and winning with money is a long term process.
• People who truly have money don’t necessarily wear it and flaunt it for all to see.
• Trying to impress people will often make you poor and a slave to other people’s opinions.
• Take notice of your sports heroes and entertainers who have lost their fortunes and figure out why. ESPN made a really entertaining documentary in their 30 for 30 series titled Broke, which is easily accessible on YouTube.
• Many of the luxury items you want to buy to fit in with your friends are only going to lose value and make you poor. Have money saved and acquire your luxuries last.
“Most of them won’t listen,” was the consensus around the table after going into my utopian spiel about how our kids and my cousin are getting trapped by the instant gratification mindset, and preoccupied by acquiring things that “keep poor people poor,” as my mother said years ago. It’s true that many of them may not listen initially, but in talking about the ills of the African American community, we as a group have to be conscious of the damaging things we do to ourselves, not just what others do to us. Getting these types of empowering messages out may potentially help someone, potentially change lives and break the instant gratification mindset.