The terms "old money" and "new money" aren’t new, but what seems like passing observational commentary on the accumulation of wealth, upon deeper inspection, reveals more profound implications. Capitalistic classism is also as old as time, but how do these terms intersect with systemic racism and racial hierarchies?
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What is "Old Money" vs. "New Money"
Before diving into the crux of the issue, it's essential to understand the underlying connotations. "Old money" typically refers to families or individuals who have maintained their wealth over several generations. These families often pride themselves on traditions, lineage, and sometimes even blue-blooded ancestry. In contrast, the term "new money" is used to describe people or families who've acquired wealth in their lifetime, often through innovation, entrepreneurship, or sudden fame.
The problem isn't the definitions but the values and assumptions attached to them.
The vast majority of "old money" families are white, a result of historical advantages and opportunities afforded to them, often at the disproportionate expense and exclusion of people of color. Considering the US context, centuries of systemic racism - from slavery, Jim Crow laws, to discriminatory lending practices - have actively kept Black, Latino, and other communities of color from accumulating generational wealth. By venerating "old money" and its associated sophistication or class, we inadvertently celebrate a system that thrived on racial inequality.
The dichotomy often casts "new money" as flashy, ostentatious, or lacking in class. This not only undermines the hard work, innovation, and resilience of "new money" individuals but also disproportionately impacts people of color, who, due to systemic barriers, are more often in the "new money" category.
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The result is that this concept reinforces racial stereotypes. "Old money" evokes images of refined, white elites in mansions with ivy-covered walls. In contrast, "new money" conjures images of celebrities, athletes, and self-made entrepreneurs, many of whom are people of color. These stereotypes subtly suggest that white individuals have a natural, inherent claim to wealth and prestige, while people of color are latecomers to prosperity, only achieving it through entertainment or sheer luck.
Language is powerful. The way we name and categorize things can shape perceptions, influence opinions, and even determine value systems. By perpetuating the "old money" vs. "new money" narrative without giving it a second thought, we are endorsing the racial biases embedded within.
We can choose to celebrate new beginnings, innovation, persistence, determination, and diverse paths to success. We can recognize that wealth accumulated without the shadow of oppression has its unique value. And most importantly, we can remember that in the age of information, the stories we amplify and the names we give things can either perpetuate systemic racism or challenge and change it.
In this digital age, we have the power to rewrite narratives.