05/29/2013 01:52 pm ET Updated Dec 06, 2017

'What's a 'N-word' Mommy?'

As the African-American mother of a mixed-race 8-year old little boy, I often think about how to keep my son's eyes, ears, and heart, open to the realities and ignorance of racism.

He and a friend recently saw the movie about Jackie Robinson's life, "42," and for the first time, heard the 'n-word' thrown around like a baseball. On a car ride home from school today, his friend said, hey, there is a new 'curse' word, "the n-word." A teachable moment was at hand that I realized could have an impact on his sensitivity, perspective, and financial well-being.

As I always tell my son, people don't remember what you do. They don't remember what you say. They remember how you make them feel. I began my response to my son and his friend by reminding them of who they are: Two of the most compassionate, kind, souls I've ever met in my life. I reminded them that it's not in their nature to hurt people, to make them feel bad. We talked about the times as my son calls them "when people's brains were smaller" and they enslaved and were inhumane to blacks. We talked about how the 'masters' justified treating others badly by telling themselves blacks were 'less than human.' They used the 'n-word' to convey this. I told them the 'n-word' is not a 'curse' word, it's a 'hurt' word. It was originally a harmless word that the Spanish and Portugese used to refer to black people, but it was turned to something used to convey fear. I told them that every time they use that word, they will bring back all of that hurt and fear in an instant for some people. Was that how they want to make people feel?

They got it, and we discussed how silly the whole thing was because blacks were Kings, merchants, entrepreneurs, marketers, bookkeepers, salespeople, all of the things we all are, even throughout slavery. Most important, my little boy pointed out how hard it would be to make yourself ever believe you were a King if somebody was telling you every day that you were the 'n-word.'

Lessons from My Boy

As a financial journalist for more than 20 years, I get to see first-hand how attitudes and perceptions play out in our financial behavior. For some of us, the best we imagine ourselves doing with money is breaking even, making ends meet. The only way we imagine life is one in which money is a struggle. Debt the norm. Loans made from payday lenders. For others, $1 dollar is a bridge to make $2.

As my little one said, it's hard to remember your possibilities when the world around is telling you you're less than. You're not the right color. You're not the equal gender. You're not thin enough. You didn't go to the 'right' school. You begin to feel "less than" and act accordingly.

As I began the conversation with my son by asking him to "Remember" who he really was, a being who's very essence was goodness, it is important that we step back and take an honest look at the ways in which we carry our karma from the past, more important, the ways in which we blindly let it make us forget that we are Kings, entrepreneurs, and bookkeepers.

  • Close your eyes and think about a person who is good with money. What does that person look like?
  • How would you describe your racial and ethnic group when it comes to their financial experiences? Where did these stereotypes come from?
  • What do you see people like you doing when it comes to money? What do you see people like you not doing?
  • What changes can you make in your own behavior to be the grandest vision of who you are? Why would you hesitate to make those changes?

Wealth is making your financial choices represent who you are and what you value. Those choices can't be defined by history, race, gender, or ethnicity.

As we still deal with the baggage of times when "people's brains were small," as my son says, by some estimates, black spending power will top $1.1 trillion by 2015. We have the power to break the 'struggle' mindset that the era of the "small mind" fed into us, and see ourselves in ways that allow us to capitalize on the future. The toll has been paid.

As we've seen with the evolution of all colors, shapes, sizes, of all human beings, in everything from the Oval office to corporate board rooms, it's easy to see that transformation is our very nature. Help your children step into this power by sharing stories, reminding them that Kings, entrepreneurs, and bookkeepers, are in their DNA.

And the next time a child asks you, "What's the 'n-word,' tell them it's a word we use toRemember how important it is to look beyond labels and into a world where we claim the wealth and abundance that is the birthright of every human being.

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