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  • Writer's pictureCrystal Thompkins

The Language of Wealth

Since starting my practice, I've often said that I'm the first business owner in my family. I've been thinking a lot about that statement, and while it's true that I'm the first to have an LLC with an EIN all official-like, I actually come from a long line of entrepreneurs.

My great-grandmother was a single mother with an elementary school education. She sold food plates, drinks, and hosted card games to help maintain a household for three generations of our family. 

My grandmother maintained other people's households, including childcare, and wrapped holiday presents for extra income. 

One of my aunts was The Candy Lady, with a thriving home-based business selling snacks and sodas. She was a savvy businesswoman who did not believe in the "friends and family discount".

My other aunt cleaned houses for a bit but turned that into a niche ironing business where she became known for pressing clothes better than most dry cleaners. Unlike my other aunt, hers wasn't a highly profitable business because she did honor the "friends and family discount".

Today, some might consider their businesses "side hustles" instead of entrepreneurial endeavors. The reality is that they require the same skills - market analysis, inventory management, self-promotion, etc. - as legally formed business enterprises. These women built these businesses purely by word of mouth in their communities and excelling in service delivery.

Of course, I'm not promoting the idea that people shouldn't go through the process of forming businesses legally, though to be clear, I'm also not going to cast judgment on those who work under the table to survive.

That said, I do find the language of wealth interesting. When and with whom terms like "entrepreneur" vs. "hustler"; "financial literacy" vs. "wealth management"; "money" vs. "capital"; "debt" vs. "leverage" are used and how they can drive perception based on one's identity and lived experience.

The language of wealth is sometimes used as social currency, a short-hand to show belonging to an in-group or class. At times, it serves as a barrier or a way to gatekeep access to resources to perpetuate inequities. Many financial literacy initiatives are designed to address the latter but, unfortunately, too often only accomplish the former, focused on giving people definitions of financial tools beyond the scope of their resources. And by resources, I mean money.

We, myself included, should be careful of minimizing people's financial acumen based on their financial statements and the language they use to describe their economic behavior. It takes skill and know-how to make a dollar out of fifteen cents, just as it does to turn one dollar into two. We owe it to those who have done and are doing their best despite not knowing the language of wealth.

Take it from me, a proud Black woman continuing the tradition of a long line of entrepreneurs.

1 Comment

Bao-Tram Do
Bao-Tram Do
Feb 20

Another great blog!! I love that you come from a long history of entrepreneurs.

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