I’m Not Ashamed of Being Broke and You Shouldn’t Be Either

Brian Broome, Very Smart Brothas

I am not ashamed of being broke.

Broke people make the world go round. Broke people are the original recyclers, the pioneers of creative reuse, the inventors of the most delicious, innovative foods and the people who keep hope alive in this country. I would like to restore broke to its original glory like Fred Sanford and the Evans family from Good Times did—back when broke was noble and laid the groundwork for all kinds of hilarious situations.

I’d like to start a revolution where there is no shame in robbing Peter to pay Paul or telling the ticket lady at the movies that your son is 10 years old when he is obviously 16 with five-o’clock shadow and a job at the airport. I go Greyhound, dammit, and leave the driving to them. I say “Make America unashamedly broke again,” and stop trying to pretend you got money out here.

But alas, I know that my dream of making people act as broke as they are will never come to pass. I can’t make broke “happen.” We’re all just too proud now. We all wanna be “successful.” Since the Cosbys, it seems like we’ve seen more bougie (and boujee) black people on-screen than broke black people. As far as I’ve noticed, anyway; I can’t afford cable, so maybe I’ve missed something.

But the lack of broke-ass representation doesn’t make broke-assness go away. Black people used to beseech American media to start showing us in a “positive light,” and that positive light has turned out to mean money and the having of it. We were tired of seeing ourselves “keeping our heads above water” and dealing with “temporary layoffs.” But I just can’t wrap my head around how having money and being “successful” equal a positive light. These things are not inextricably linked, and I already know that black people can do absolutely anything.

I’m broke, dammit.

Broke and proud. I reuse chicken grease. Everybody I live around is broke,,too, or else they wouldn’t live around here. But there is no correlation between how much money you have and the strength of your character. And if I see another black judge on a cop show, I think I might throw my TV out the window. We only got one on the Supreme Court, and we all know he ain’t shit. His job status does not equal respectability, and I’m not even gonna start on Ben Carson.

There is a distinct difference, of course, between being broke and being poor. I am not talking about not being able to meet basic needs. We all know that African Americans suffer disproportionately from income inequality in this country, and that has always been the case. We have taken the jobs available to us and worked our asses off at them, and we have suffered every indignity as a result and soldiered on, and I say that this is something to be proud of, not ashamed of.

And let’s be real: Although we have made progress, whenever I go into an office building, I know who is cleaning the floors. Whenever I see an abandoned shoeshine station, I know who is on break. Things really haven’t changed that much, and we do what we do to survive, and this, to my thinking, is a reason to be proud. But it feels like we don’t want to talk about that anymore because “successful.”

You are successful if you can walk to your refrigerator right now, open the door and not be blinded by the stark whiteness of the back of it. You are successful if you don’t have a dollar to spare but your lights are still on. You are successful because you say so, and you’ll be damned if you gonna spend what little money you got trying to look like you ain’t broke. No, I can’t go out with you tonight because I’m gonna stay home and bask in all these groceries and electricity.

If you’re black in America and you haven’t been driven completely insane, you are successful.

Being a broke black man ain’t gonna do you any good in the dating department, though. You gon’ have to find somebody willing to be broke with you. I hope you can find work that makes you happy and not conflate happiness with money. I have successfully shaken off the stigma that comes with having little to no cash flow. You only get one life, and chasing the dollar isn’t what it’s about.

I’m not talking about settling for less here. I think that I’m just tired of the American worship of wealth, what it’s supposed to mean and the literal interpretation of “worth.”

Of course, none of this applies if you got kids. If you got kids, you need to stop reading this shit right now and go to work.

So for now, I’m broke and grateful. I will watch the color of the Kool-Aid in my fridge get lighter and lighter as I pour more water up in that pitcher. No frills. And I will write, and I will save where I can and enjoy the real good times.

Ain’t we lucky we got ’em?

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