The Myth Of The Gold Digger Endures — But Black Women Know It's BS
We have a culture that does not trust Black women, especially those with money. But the numbers tell a very different story.
Welcome to Refinery29's weeklong exploration of women and greed in an era of enormous wealth inequality. Where does need end and greed begin? Read on.
By now, it’s well-known that one of hip-hop’s greatest contributions to American culture has been the real, raw ways it echoes and animates the hard truths about Black communities. But sometimes, these narratives are not reflections of truth — especially when it comes to women. As any true fan of hip-hop also knows, there is a specific way the hip-hop world talks about women and money that is representative of the misogynoir that permeates every aspect of American culture: Women want the money that men have, and are driven by a single mission to get it. To put it plainly, women are gold diggers.
This plays out in different ways: Men fulfill their sexual fantasies because they have the money to turn them into realities, as is the case when Drake raps, “Make you rich, I feel like I should make commission on your ass / Wonder what you would ever do if I went missing on your ass” in “Round of Applause." It’s the premise of strip club anthems like “Bandz A Make Her Dance,” which supposes that women will do whatever men want if there’s the promise of stacks of rubber band-fastened bills. In “Powerglide,” one half of Rae Sremmurd brags about paying a girl’s tuition at the strip club. And how can we forget G-Eazy’s hit “No Limit” with Cardi B and A$AP Rocky where he urged us to “fuck with him and get some money”? Kanye West literally made “Gold Digger” an anthem in 2005.
The stereotype goes that Black women are only after men’s money, and men need to be wary of them as a result.
Hip-hop exaggerates some of the values upheld by the Black people who listen to it. But that doesn’t mean that the same rhetoric can’t be found in other pockets of our community, even if it’s softer and less overtly obvious. From an elder it might sound something like “Black women miss out on true love and happiness because they’re more concerned with how much money their men make." From the Black millennial dude, it’s a tweet like Don’t be the food dude, a warning to their peers not to buy the girls they like too much food, lest they attract women who believe relationships are about free meals. The stereotype goes that Black women are only after men’s money, and men need to be wary of them as a result.
The history of categorizing Black women as lewd and hyper-sexual — through a European gaze of course — predates slavery. But in modern times, we can look to two specific events that had a lasting impact on how Americans perceive Black women and their pursuit of wealth. The first came in 1965, when senator and sociologist Daniel Patrick Moynihan asserted that Black communities were keeping themselves in poverty because of the lack of patriarchal family structures. In The Negro Family: The Case For National Action (colloquially known as The Moynihan Report), he blamed Black female led homes for the high rates of crime and poverty among African-Americans. Despite being debunked multiple times over, it has fueled a myth that has pervaded Black communities for generations: Black men should lead Black households, financially and otherwise, and Black women who attempt to do so are crippling the entire community.
The second persecution of Black women happened during the late ‘70s and ‘80s after Ronald Reagan popularized the idea of the Welfare Queen, a woman who collects large amounts of welfare checks using manipulation and fraud; a woman usually depicted as lazy and Black.
Both of these stereotypes — the emasculating Black woman who won’t let her man lead, and the Black woman who will stoop to criminality for a handout — have resulted in a culture that does not trust Black women, especially not those with money. Tragically, Black communities have internalized these tropes as well, using them to justify the sexism and stifling gender roles imposed on Black women. However, a quick look at the numbers reveals the deep faults in this line of thinking.
Black women know all of this is bullshit and we’ve clapped back at these claims using several, sometimes conflicting, tactics. Some of us embrace our paper chase in music. For example, when the City Girls demanded, “I show him how that neck work. Fuck that Netflix and chill, what’s your net worth?” on Drake’s new single “In My Feelings,” it became a rallying call. And at the other end of the spectrum, I know other women, some of them friends of mine, who proudly embrace the title of “independent women,” refusing to ask a man (or anyone else) for gifts, money, or financial help out of fear that it will reflect poorly on their values.
On both ends of this spectrum and in between, Black women remain acutely aware that the gold digger trope is just one of the many stereotypes that’s employed against us by members of our community if we’re too pretty, too vocal, too goal-oriented, not goal-oriented enough, single, or dating.
And yet the whole idea that Black women are mooching gold diggers couldn’t be further from the truth. Many sound academic studies, paint a completely different picture. A recent report from Brookings documented how many Black Americans between the ages of 28 to 35 born into the poorest fifth of the family income distribution end up staying there. They found a gender disparity: 54% of Black men vs. 34% of Black women stay in the economic situation they were born into. In other words, Black women have a better chance at escaping generational poverty than Black men do.
The gold digger trope needs to be cancelled; or at least the nasty stigmatization of it does.
But, leveling out of poverty is not so simple. The reason that 62% of Black women born into the poorest fifth percentile of family income levels end up staying in that same bottom quintile when they create families of their own is because of Black men. According to Brookings, “Black women tend to create families with Black men who do poorly on both [individual and family income] and thus bring down the family income results for Black women.”
Addressing the systemic racism that keeps Black men impoverished and unable to support their families is obviously of utmost priority. But in the meantime, Black women are usually stuck marrying below their station in terms of income.
There is proof of this marriage trend, too. Pew Research Center confirmed that Black men are twice as likely to marry outside of the race as Black women. Black women are also disproportionately affected by intimate partner violence, a form of abuse that often continues because women of all races lack the financial resources to leave their partners.
I reject the idea of Black women as soulless gold diggers, especially when it’s perpetuated by Black men, because I know that Black women are unyieldingly loyal to Black men, even when it doesn’t work in our favor. Just about any way you slice it, Black women risk a financial hit, not advantage, by engaging with Black men. Add the fact that Black women are now one of the most educated group in the U.S., and you won’t need much convincing that the gold digger trope needs to be cancelled; or at least the nasty stigmatization of it does.
On our own, Black women are indeed trying to secure the bag. Financial security has become a big goal for many of us. Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs in the country, with the number of Black female-owned businesses growing 322% since 1997. And despite the increasing numbers of us who are getting college degrees, we are still less likely to close the wage gap, according to another study by Brookings.
Perhaps those female rappers that I love are onto something by loudly and proudly demanding financial incentives for their time, work, and attention. Even if no one else will admit it, there is absolutely nothing wrong with Black women wanting to have more money in our pockets. And as all the evidence has shown, we are motivated by a desire to get it — not from men, but by ourselves through our own education, resilience, and enterprising spirits. Black women have never had the luxury of relying on men for economic mobility or comfort. We’ve been doing our best to get it on our own. I guess the truth is that Black women actually are gold diggers, just not from men. Black women have always been in hot pursuit of cash, and I hope we never stop.