The Mental Health Behind Material Items and People of Color

Author: Gary Taylor, MSW, URMND Contributor

"A little over a year ago I was in bondage. And now I'm back out here, reaping the blessings, and getting the benefits that go along with it. Everything that's out here for kings like us. The reason why we like this—this jewelry and this diamonds and stuff—they don't understand, it's because we really from Africa. And that's where all this stuff come from. And we originated from kings, you know what I'm saying? So don't look down on the youngsters because they wanna have shiny things. It's in our genes, know what I'm saying? We just don't all know our history, so…" --Pimp C’s last interview before passing away of a promethazine and codeine overdose.

When Ryan asked me to write this article about the mental health component of POC and material things, I sat and thought about it and was like man this is close to me. I thought deeper and remembered the late great Pimp C small verse on “F*** WithMeYouKnowIGotIt” by Jay-Z featuring Rick Ross, a VIBE in my Joe Budden voice. One thing most people know about me is that I enjoy sneakers and cars. I have spent thousands of dollars in cars, and aftermarket parts and also spent thousands of dollars in shoes. I reflect on spending at least at a minimal seven thousand dollars on car parts over my lifetime. When it comes to sneakers, I have no idea how much I have spent, but just know it is a good amount.

Money spent on cars turned into money spent on aftermarket car parts. It was a way for me to stay out of trouble, even though I got into some trouble around it. This could range from speeding, loud music, accidents, exhaust or bright lights. Looking back it was fun, and I continue to hold my love for cars and customizing dear to my heart. However, there was a time, where I did feel the need to have the best-looking car around.

I remember getting into a back and forth with a car group one time about who did what to their car, or if parents funded it or not. It was a very petty matter but ultimately it was squashed and was love. As I got older, I dabbled into luxury cars, one being an Infiniti and now a BMW. It is interesting because folks see luxury brands and automatically think different of you, “Oh you got money huh?” There is a stigma attached to owning a bimma for whatever reason. Most would say I bought those luxury cars to “stunt” and to “Keep Up With the Joneses”. When In fact, two of my homies also have BMWs, we like cars and that’s it.

For me my mental health is attached to my car in the aspect of keeping it very clean, and building it through custom work. For others, this extreme desire to want these things are rooted in my opinion of our need to have control of everything, but primarily control of how people perceive us. It’s similar to like when are parents’ generation became first generation college graduates or got that government job, bought that house in the suburbs, and got that luxury car. The allure of attaining these expensive material things is based in a false reality that if we obtain these things it means that we are on par with whites and we will look as if we made it.

It appears we are the only ethnic group to believe this examining how we hold billions of dollars in purchasing power. It also is rooted in our lack of education about finances. I tell people all of the time, I regret many of my financial decisions when it came to cars and customs. If I knew what I knew now, I would have stayed far away from car loans, or at least bought one, cash and had extra income to do custom work. Now there is nothing wrong with obtaining material things, (do not send any smoke my way). However, I think the grand scheme of it is the attachment to these material things that our community seems to have an issues with.  It seems we are the only ethnic group to think this way, whether it be the allure or appeal to be the man out here, it is ingrained in our DNA.

It leads to my next thought about sneakers. As people of color, we love Jordans and expensive sneakers.There was a time where I was on a mission to be the first one to come to school with the new Jordans. At one point I then had a debate about who was the first to have them, which again, silly. It seemed growing up that if you did not have Jordans or Nikes you would be clowned for wearing something different. Nowadays that whole trend has changed society.

When Jordan Brand dropped the Concord 11s in 2012, I ventured out with some homies in search of a pair. I had ordered mine offline, but had offered to drive everyone down to Richmond in search. What I witnessed was pandemonium. A father and son were arrested, fights broke out and on the news, and someone was killed over these shoes. I contemplated stopping collecting shoes altogether because I was:

  1. Paying an astronomical price for sneakers
  2. People were being killed over them

It was tough because I did not understand it and it only got worse as sneaker resellers progressed over the years. I ended up selling most of my collection last year, thinking that it was time to move on and that I could get them back. I tried this once before but my friend did not want me to due to my influence wearing them. This time my wife echoed the same sentiment.

I sold them anyway, and now regret it. Now what does this mean?

I understood that my attachment to sneakers affected how I viewed myself and what I wanted people to perceive about me. Which rooted in mental health can be exhausting.

Mental Health is synonymous because our thought patterns and behaviors around these items have been implanted for some time. Society has manipulated how we see wealth and those so called “doing well off”.

We then tend to be stuck in this pattern and losing ourselves. Anxiety creeps in because it fuels us, fuels the need to have the newest and most expensive item. Lack of financial education and understanding how the dollar works and how it affects our wealth, income, wellbeing and the issues it can cause is very dangerous. They all work hand in hand. So learn your vice and make sure you are not holding material things as a status symbol, because if so it may be rooted in how you view yourself and how others perceive you.

Besides that car ain’t going nowhere and them sneakers gonna retro or re-release again.

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