Tag Archives: Intersectional Money

Stranger in My Native Land: Asian American Money

Today, Revanche of A Gai Shan Life  joins us for our weekly Friday series on women’s money issues in honor of Women’s Money Week, which will take place January 1-7, 2017. Revanche covers the xenophobia and racism she has encountered in her lifetime as it pertains to her finances as an Asian-American woman.

Please use the hashtag #WMWeek17 when sharing this story.

I never would have thought of the ways that prejudice can make Asian-American women feel like strangers in their native country--especially financially.

Stranger in a Strange Land: My Native Country

As a first generation American, I see my home country through different eyes than most. Not because I don’t consider myself American. Of course I am, as much as anyone who isn’t a First Nation native can be – I was born here, a natural citizen.

But I have dark eyes, dark hair, dark skin and no nose bridge to speak of, so the correct answer to “where are you from?” can be Japan, The Philippines, China, Cambodia–anywhere but here. California, or Los Angeles, are unacceptable answers. I can’t be from here. I’m not white.

Why does this matter? In some cases, it makes no difference. What harm do I suffer if the cabbie wonders if I’m from that one country he visited, or the other country whose cuisine he likes?

None.

In most other cases, however, it matters a great deal, indeed.

The Financial Costs of Being a Target

It matters when you’re a target to profit from, based on your race. I saw this play out most immediately with Mom and had to get involved at a very early age. Her accent meant that vendors would dismiss her, disregard their own policies, overcharge, and fail to deliver. She had an accent and that made her stupid and unimportant, they decided.

Angry and frustrated sitting beside her listening in to one such conversation, I got on the phone, all of 9 years old but speaking in English unaccented, demanding that they honor the agreed-upon terms. Magically their inability to do so melted away. From then on, I made the phone calls, whether to renegotiate contracts, dispute billing errors or just to get simple information.

Being an Asian-American Woman in the Workplace

It matters when you hear and understand anti-immigrant rhetoric–when you realize that white or European immigrants are now acceptable, but the people who look like me or my friends are “immigrants taking the good jobs.” No matter that I’ve been a star in the workplace since I was 17; to those people, my race and my skin color define me, not my professionalism, work ethic or performance.

As Taylor pointed out, it’s tough enough to make it in the workplace as a woman with the wage gap. As a woman of color, racial stereotypes further impacts your ability to earn a living. So it matters a great deal when employers and colleagues consider you a “minority quota hire” on sight.

It matters when your first manager has a (well-known, internally) obsession with Asian women so his hires were dismissed as objects of his obsession. Work performance made no difference; they couldn’t earn raises or promotions because they were hired based on their appearance–nothing more–so far as the management was concerned.

A Long Way to Go to Eradicate Racism, Xenophobia and Prejudice

Twenty years later, the racism we face is still astonishing. Not more than a year ago, we were calling a mechanic’s shop regarding services and the shop owner declared he wouldn’t help people with accents. We don’t have accents, but he was suspicious and wanted to be sure, you see, that he wouldn’t have to deal with a lesser form of American. “Those people”, he calls them.

My white friends rallied to the cause, of course, offering to call him with their Canadian, British, Australian, and Scottish accents.

My perceived youth, completely normal for an Asian, still comes up when my performance is evaluated, more than my results. I still have to jump through more hoops than any other manager to ensure that I’m being taken seriously as a professional because my years aren’t worn on my face.

I am always mindful of the active racism that lingers in many fellow citizens when I look out for our money. I always get a second and third quote for services.

I’m not bitter about my particular journey, but I am frustrated that this is all old hat. I’m frustrated that my child will also be held up to a standard that takes into consideration zir racial appearance first, zir skills and results second–or last.

It’s not just Asian Americans

Despite all the barriers I’ve faced, the level of racism that I encounter on a daily basis is mild. Asians are the “model minority” so we don’t come in for the same degree of hate that other non-white minorities experience. We’re dismissed, demeaned, underestimated. But we’re considered harmless in the end. If you’re Hispanic or black, you always have to appear calm and collected, otherwise you’re a harridan or an angry Black woman.

I don’t have to imagine what it’s like to be them, I hear their stories and, to this day, I can only shake my head when people declare that we’re post-racism. The recent election, and the surge in hate for Jews and minorities since, clearly points up the fact that many Americans are in favor of racism.

Racism isn’t limited to the white residents of this country, of course, I’ve witnessed racism between non-white races, towards one another, and that also contributes to the wider harms done to our fellow citizens.

Xenophobia and racism are complex issues in this country and it’s critical to know that they are both present in the structure of this country.

It’s critical to know that people who object to hiring for diversity, stating they shouldn’t have to “lower standards,” are telling us what they believe: only a heterosexual white male can meet standards because that is the standard. Not skills, not experience, but race and sex. Anyone else, therefore, is naturally lowering the standard.

It’s critical to know that minority, women, disabled, LGBTQIA, any otherwise not standard issue white male candidates do indeed have the necessary talents and skills necessary to do the job. It’s our job to remove artificial barriers to finding them when you recruit new hires.

It’s critical to know that we have to actively dismantle our biases that point to hiring the people who look the same or fit the same “culture”, that manages to consistently avoid admitting minorities beyond the token woman, or token Asian, or token Black man, that consistently builds and maintains racist structures in which managers can refer to their colleagues as racial slurs.

These are complex issues. I can hardly do them justice here, but they’re worthwhile to tackle.

This country was built on the bones of Natives, with the blood of immigrants, and we must grow beyond what and where we are.

We have to start somewhere. We can’t avoid it simply because we aren’t able to solve it overnight.

Lived Experience, Bravery and Fear

Today, Taylor Milam  joins us for our weekly Friday series on women’s money issues in honor of Women’s Money Week, which will take place January 1-7, 2017. Taylor’s story reminds us that financial decisions aren’t always about math—there’s a lot more to life than numeric calculations.

Please use the hashtag #WMWeek17 when sharing this story.

Wow, I love how she shares her experience as an LGBTQ+ woman through the lens of lived experience.

When I think about my relationship with money, there are a lot of things that come to mind—my relationship with my parents, feelings about myself and what I “deserve,” my career path and the people I love. What I don’t often think about, though, is the fact that I’m in a same-sex relationship.

But the truth is that it’s all connected. Who we are—our family, our history, our relationships and our health all interconnect with our money. In some ways, they are irrevocably combined. But despite the interconnectivity, there are some things that are impossible to quantify or explain with numbers.

Personal Finances as a Woman in a Same-Sex Relationship

According to the statistics I can tell you that my partner and I will each earn $1 million less than our male counterparts. I can also tell you that because we are in a relationship with each other (two women,) the gender wage gap will doubly affect us and we will not be able to “earn” back part of the difference in pay from a male partner.

I can also tell you that even though it’s cheaper, it often feels (and actually is) more difficult and unsafe to live in a small, rural town when you’re gay. My $1500 one-bedroom apartment in Southern California would cost me $470 in Wichita, Kansas and $750 in Louisville, Kentucky.

But what I can’t adequately tell you is what it’s like to be stared at and jeered at when you walk down the street with the person you love. I can’t explain what it’s like to be fearful that your relationship status could cost you your job. I can’t assign a value to those experiences and worries.

Making Choices Contextualized by Lived Experience

In many ways, it is impossible to quantify the experience of being gay.

It’s an experience that I’ve struggled to write about because I’m not sure what to say. It’s not an experience that I chose, but it’s one that I live. In the same way that I can’t control where I was born or how I look, I can’t control who I fall in love with, but it’s a part of my life nonetheless.

My relationship is a beautiful part of my life that brings me more joy than is possible to explain, but it comes with a financial price. It comes with strategic choices about what to mention to colleagues, which neighborhoods are accepting and what cities would be welcoming to our future children.

But these financial choices aren’t based in numbers or facts. They are based on lived experience, bravery and fears.

And sometimes, those are the most important financial concepts to talk about…even if you’re not exactly sure what to say.

Heteronormativity at Work

Toxic workplaces present very real problems for employees. Discrimination based on your gender identity, gender, or sexual orientation can affect decisions to stay with an employer or leave, leading to an unnecessary loss of talent and productivity.

Here today to share her perspective is ZJ Thorne, a personal finance blogger and self-employed woman.

Heteronormativity at work is damaging and can lead to loss of talent.

Gentle Readers,

Heteronormativity impacts our work environments. It impacts your workers and friends. Many straight and cisgender people are not even aware it exists. Many LGBTQIA people buy into portions of it that serve their more mainstream lifestyle. Many LGBTQIA people buy into portions that harm other segments of our community.

A simple definition is in order and we’ll borrow from wikipedia, for simplicity’s sake, if you don’t mind. “Heteronormativity is the belief that people fall into distinct and complementary genders with natural roles in life. It assumes that heterosexuality is the only sexual orientation or only norm, and states that sexual and marital relations are most (or only) fitting between people of opposite sexes. Consequently, a “heteronormative” view is one that involves alignment of biological sex, sexuality, gender identity and gender roles.”

Many people think that sexuality has no place at work. It’s already there. Permeating everything. People wear wedding wings, talk about their spouses, have photos of their children, bring their spouses to work functions, discuss fertility issues and trying for a baby at work, etc. Human Resources wants to know your marital status to update your tax forms and potentially include your spouse and progeny on your health insurance and other benefits. When you name beneficiaries for your life insurance, you are showing who matters to you.

What they mean when they say sexuality has no place at work is that they do not want homosexuality mentioned at work. They mean they don’t want gender identity addressed at all. They are comfortable hearing women talk about how hot Channing Tatum is, but a woman mentioning how beautiful Michelle Carter’s powerful muscles are makes others uncomfortable. Best to say nothing, really.

Heteronormativity shames workers via dress codes and bathrooms. You may not even be hired because of your non-normative presentation. You may be called into HR because the unnecessarily gendered dress code specifies that men must wear a tie, but you are not a man. Your outfit is tailored, clean and well-pressed, but you are being different from other women and that makes HR uncomfortable. Your work product is stellar, but you make people uncomfortable.

You don’t even have to be out at work (many people are not) for heteronormativity to impact you.   You would not even have to come out if people would stop assuming your sexuality and gender identity and being wrong about it. Heteronormativity forces the closet on us and then demands that we correct their misconceptions.

“Up to 43% of LGBT employees say that they’ve experienced discrimination in the workplace because of their sexual preferences, even though 25% of them haven’t made their sexual preferences known.” via Brandon Gaille.

When you assume that people are straight and cisgender because they have said nothing on the matter, you are being heteronormative. You are also missing out on important information about people and their lives. You are making it awkward. Stop.

Companies Should Take Heteronormativity into Account

There are still no nationwide protections against LGBT discrimination at work. You can literally fire a person for discovering that they are transgender in most states. You can fire a person for being bisexual or asexual in most states. Your workers know this and are afraid. They are not able to relax, because they are not safe. One middle-manager who is homophobic can ruin their life and personal finances.

“For the Fortune 500 companies that have internal policies which forbid LGBT discrimination, 96% of them state that their workplace policies have led to greater productivity and a general increase in overall morale.” via Brandon Gaille.

Whether you realize it or not, sexualities and gender presentation are regulated by social norms and institutions. When you are congratulating a married heterosexual for their birth announcement, you are likely congratulating them for sexual activity. However, when a same-sex couple announces a pregnancy, the questions they receive are often inappropriate and invasive. You would never ask a straight woman how she got pregnant even though we know that IVF and sperm donors and infidelity are real sources of pregnancy. People ask gay women how they got the sperm. They ask about the donor. They ask if you slept with a man just once, since it’s the “easiest” way, you know. Har har.

There are benefits to employers to combating heteronormativity and making it safer for their LGBTQIA employees. In one five-year study, the results showed that employees working for out gay managers actually had 25% higher employee engagement. The study found that “Gay leaders value their employees as a whole, because they, themselves have experienced what it’s like to be judged for one thing, rather than valued for who you are.” via StartOut.

There are many LGBT entrepreneurs and they are doing what they can to protect their employees. According the National Gay & Lesbian Chamber of Commerce Diversity Initiative, there are 896 certified LGBT businesses. There even are more businesses that have not gone through the certification process. The Diversity Initiative’s numbers go up every year.

“From 2005 to 2014 more than 1 million jobs created by LGBT entrepreneurs left discriminatory states in favor of inclusive states. Of those, 78 percent moved to California, New York and Illinois. States with policies unfriendly to the LGBT community lose many if not all of their nascent growth entrepreneurs.” via StartOut.

Heteronormativity and homophobia have existed in all but one work environment I have enjoyed. Even now, I have a coworker who corrects me when I mention my girlfriend. She literally interrupts me to say “your friend.” Seriously. I live in a relatively liberal area, but still get this disrespect of my relationship.

Tiring of the heteronormativity that told me that I was wrong and did not fit, I created my own business. This business serves the LGBTQIA community with knowledge and empathy. This business allows me to dress as a professional rather than as a professional woman. My job is losing a hard working intelligent woman with knowledge of their systems. My job is losing someone who thinks outside of the box and saves them money via reduction in inefficiencies. They are losing a lot, but they have not made the environment one in which I can thrive.

In the end, I started my business, because “I don’t want to just show up. I want my work to reflect my values. I am creating that work.”