Letter to Middle Class Black America

Photo Credit: Phyllis Iller

Dear Middle Class Black America,

Do you remember the talk? No, not the one about keeping your hands on the steering wheel when you get pulled over and not the one about the birds and the bees. 

The other one. The work talk. The one where you’re told you’ll have to work twice as hard to get half the credit.  Well, by now you know it’s true. 

If you’re in mid-level management, you’ve likely had to earn a set of credentials before you were even considered for the role. If you’re in upper-level management, you’re likely accustomed to being the only one in the room. Either way, you’ve mastered the art of code switching and your endurance has served you well.

You know what it’s like to be convinced the playing field is level on one day, but the next day, be reminded of how limited your access is. You’ve been encouraged to “be yourself” in one setting and told your “blaccent” is distracting in another. You know what it feels like when grooming decisions like switching up your hair, or letting your beard grow a little bushier somehow morph into questions about your professionalism.

You’re not imagining things and it’s ok to be angry sometimes. It’s real, and there is plenty of data to prove it’s systemic. Our parents, elders and mentors told us from experience this would happen. The advice has always been to work harder, have faith and you’ll get what you deserve. And well, by now, you know that’s not always true.

Black excellence is exhausting. We’re tired because the effects of a work-obsessed culture coupled with the fatigue from climbing a rigged corporate ladder are starting to take hold. We’ve been given all the tools to get on the hamster wheel, but none of the tools to get off. Now, the golden handcuffs are starting to feel less like bracelets and more like a shiny trap.

We would never dispute or discredit the value in earning a good living to take care of your family or as a means to pursuing your dreams.  But…

so many of our best and brightest are spending precious years making corporations richer with no exit plan in sight. Click To Tweet

This is why we’re fans of the Financial Independence, Retire Early (FIRE) movement.  Have you ever heard the phrase, one man’s trash is another man’s treasure?  Well with FIRE,

one man's life-optimization strategy is another man's blueprint to economic freedom. Click To Tweet

FIRE gave us the playbook we needed. The principles for FI (Financial Independence) are simple: spend drastically less than you earn, invest more than you ever have and repeat until you reach a point where your investment income covers your expenses.


When it comes to RE (Retire Early), we like to use a marathon/sprint analogy. Instead of running the career marathon where you consistently save 10-15% of your income over 50 years, we’re choosing to sprint uphill and save upwards of 50% of our income over a shorter period of time.

We know, it sounds radical, selfish and counter to everything you’ve ever been taught or told, but this movement is picking up steam and you’re no less deserving of this type of freedom than anyone else.

Work isn’t a 4-letter word.

We would never discredit the value of work itself…but jobs, as we know them, are killing us. The evidence is all around us. Modern management principles create workplaces that are breeding grounds for depression, obesity and other stress induced ailments. Not to mention, if you are a woman, on average, you earn less. If you are a person of color, you not only earn less, you sleep less and you are promoted less frequently.

It’s incredible how much evidence there can be and people still aren’t convinced. Before cigarette companies put labels on their products, the list of evidence was just as long.

It takes a confident person, supported by a vocal community to decide to trust themselves and not stay on the traditional path. That’s why we’re writing this to you, the most talented, well-resourced, well-traveled and educated generation. Now is the time for more Black and Brown courageous, bold thinkers and practitioners with a zest for life to free themselves from their desks and start solving problems for our community.

Just imagine how many of our health problems would be eradicated or lessened if just 10% of the Black middle class opted out of the traditional workforce.  Given the free time this would create, might we see more of us devoting time to consistent exercise, better nutrition and mental wellness?

Just imagine how many marriages could be saved if just 10% of the Black middle class decided to spend more time with their children and partners instead of earning miles and points on the company dime. 

Just imagine how vastly improved our local church drives, home associations, city council meetings, fraternities, sororities,non-profits, public parks and schools would be if suddenly there were more talented and capable bodies ready to help outside of the holiday season and work-sponsored team-building activities.

Wouldn’t it be amazing to leave a positive legacy behind instead of spending our lives treading shark infested middle management waters?  Doesn’t the freedom to be self-sufficient sound better than being chained to the office and saddled with debt?

We’ve been on this path a few years now and the results have been liberating.  To us, a few years of living well below our means is a price worth paying if the reward is a lifetime of freedom.

But we’re just two people.  We need more of YOU to take the same energy you give to your jobs and re-direct it to debt elimination, investments and ownership.

We know many of you need to “see it to believe it”, but we hope at least 10% of you can find the courage and grit to dig deep, buckle down and adopt this lifestyle today. Whether it’s the FI that intrigues you or it’s the RE, we have everything we need to get started right now.

It's time to get on the FIRE train. Are you with us? Click To Tweet

Mr. and Mrs. r&R

25 comments

  1. Compelling message. Hope it inspires many in our community to get out of debt, create wealth and improve our overall health and well being. Thanks for the invitation to the FIRE movement!

  2. Thanks for the sharing of a strong message. The post contains important points that many in our community, unfortunately, don’t come across. I’m there with you, though.

    Keep doing your thing.

  3. Your wonderful article is an excellent introduction into the complexities of living in America as an African American. The emotional history of all of our lives weaves deeply into our struggles. Pursuing FI is a privilege most in our community may not even be able to wrap their minds around not due to lack of intelligence but because of all the historical messaging that must be navigated and contended with. Stability looks and feels sooo different for us. The toll it takes is as you mentioned soo exhausting! And I just recently realized how exhausted I am. Keep up the good work. your podcast on choose FI was an excellent message to all of America.

    • Thank you. It is absolutely exhausting. So many of us are pushing and pushing eachother to keep going which is great…until you’ve pushed too far. Pursuing FI at least puts people in a position to take time when they want to rest, heal and get your head straight.

  4. Greetings. I also heard you on the ChooseFI podcast and congratulate you on delivering a clear, unambiguous message and saying what needs to be said, many times over, particularly within the F.I.R.E. movement — a space which is largely comprised of young, white male millenials and which reflects, not suprisingly, a particular mindset and cultural reference point. After working for 40 years and having raised two African American males, I am now approaching a point where I can, as they say in the aforementioned podcast, “get off the hamster wheel” (which, by all rights, could have happened much earlier if I had the requisite knowledge). Your points regarding not having the intergenerational wealth and likely, more importantly from my perspective, the financial acumen within the A.A. community continues to reinforce our status as debtors and being wage enslaved. I extol the virtues/principles of financial independence to anyone who will listen but alas, only a few will entertain the conversation. Nonetheless, I continue to speak about it with the hope that, like both of you, I can help to start the necessary “mind shift” within the broader A.A. community.

    In closing, I would challenge you to broaden your scope past the proverbial “talented tenth” as even those with very modest incomes can drastically change their financial landscape by controlling their money and not spending on ridiculous luxury items and other signifiers which subconsciously, I believe, many use as a way to validate themselves in and to a society where we are constantly devalued and dehumanized. Press on.

    Peace.

    • Thank you so much for your comments. I completely agree that 10% is low but given we live and breathe this stuff every single day, I can tell you 10% still seems like a stretch goal…a starting point if you will. There’s A LOT of work to be done to get more people on board with this way of thinking but ultimately, we all have free will. If people opt to stay on their path they’re on we respect that too.

  5. Learned about you yesterday on ChooseFI — great interview! Little by little the FIRE community is becoming a more diverse space. Thank you for being willing to put yourselves out there. I will keep your blog and specifically this post in my back pocket as a testimony to FI and getting off the consumer hamster wheel from the POC perspective. Good luck to you! 🙂

  6. Just listened to your interview on ChooseFI and I’m so happy to hear/see someone that looks like me be part of the FI community! I’m new to it myself but your family and story is definitely inspiring. Keep up the great work!

  7. I enjoyed your ChooseFI interview and this letter as well. I only hope that the people who NEED to read this will. Generally these things resonate only with the ones who already agree with it. But as they say, the fire is spreading.

    I won’t argue your comment that you have to work twice as hard to get half the credit. I’ve heard that over the years in a slightly different slant (…to be considered half as good). While that may be the case, be careful about saying it out loud – even to close friends. Every person I’ve heard say that about themselves never even worked half as hard. Co-workers knew it. Supervisors knew it. No one takes the person seriously. Keep the thought to yourself do more than what you’re paid for and you’ll do fine.

  8. Love you guys… This black African girl and her hubby are following in your footsteps. More power to you.

  9. I’m in and hoping to actually make this a reality sooner than later. A few challenges… finding accountability partners, a standup tax advisor and a financial planner to help us get on the same page. Thanks so much for sharing your stories and processes. I’m so ready for spiritual, mental, physical and FINANCIAL FREEDOM. Blessings

  10. What an article! Encouraging and inspiring, beautifully written. Thank you for sharing this true wisdom.

  11. So refreshing to hear new voices on the FI journey! You guys, as well as Montana Money Adventures, come to mind when I think of overcoming adversity and crafting a life vastly different than the path on which you began. Congratulations!

    We’re a white family of six living in a tiny house on a farm, and until a year and a half ago, lived on $20k a year. We began this adventure out of desperation and lack of housing options but now are using it as a springboard to pay off debt, save 50%, buy a house, and get ahead.

    Interestingly, we may never have found FIRE without facing adversity first. Do you feel the same way? We are taking heart that our background, including broken families and financial illiteracy, does not have to define our future.

  12. Came here after listening to your interview on ChooseFI and I am so happy to find a blog that is discussing FI in the black community as we don’t have many outlets that do. I am 23 just starting my journey into FI and can’t wait to read more about ways to become more independetna and share it with my peers!

    Thank you,

    The Young and Richless

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