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As a wealth advisor working with successful Black professionals, I have noticed a stark contrast between the perception of financial success and the actual lived reality. Despite the flashy displays of wealth on social media, many Black millennials face a financial paradox, with the lowest median net worth of any racial or ethnic group in the United States. Kendrick Lamar’s words, “Us, they not like us, they not like us,” captures the struggles of Black millennials in navigating unique experiences shaped by historical trauma, systemic barriers, and cultural expectations.

The popular narrative often blames the financial disparity on a lack of financial literacy, suggesting that education alone can solve the issue. However, this narrative overlooks the systemic challenges facing Black millennials, stemming from centuries of oppression, misinformation, and psychological trauma. Financial literacy, while important, is not a one-size-fits-all solution to the complex financial issues faced by Black Americans.

Systemic oppression has played a significant role in perpetuating financial inequality among Black communities. Discriminatory practices such as redlining, predatory lending, and labor exploitation have limited access to resources needed to build wealth. Policies like selling parking meters for below market value also strip resources from Black neighborhoods, making it harder for residents to invest in their communities and build generational wealth.

Beneath the surface of financial illiteracy lies a web of systemic issues that continue to hinder Black Americans’ financial progress. The racial wealth gap, discrimination in the labor market, and limited access to capital are just a few of the barriers facing Black millennials. Additionally, the cultural expectation known as the “Black tax,” where successful individuals are expected to support a wider network of family and community members, can further impede wealth accumulation.

The belief in the just-world fallacy, that people get what they deserve, overlooks the structural injustices that perpetuate inequality. Black millennials face unique challenges such as managing complex family dynamics, navigating high expectations from their communities, and overcoming a warranted distrust of financial institutions due to historical exploitation. These additional layers of complexity exacerbate the financial pressures faced by Black millennials and highlight the need for systemic change.

The financial struggles of Black millennials are a complex issue shaped by historical trauma, systemic barriers, cultural expectations, and societal pressures. To empower Black millennials to break free from the wealth mirage and build lasting financial security and prosperity, there must be a collective effort to address the systemic barriers and work towards a more equitable future. By acknowledging the complexity of these challenges and working towards change at scale, we can create a better future for Black millennials and future generations.

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