Click amount to donate direct to CounterPunch
  • $25
  • $50
  • $100
  • $500
  • $other
  • use PayPal
Keep CounterPunch ad free. Support our annual fund drive today!

Debt Rhetoric and White Privilege


I don’t like financial “guru” Dave Ramsey. Don’t get me wrong—it’s nothing personal. I’m sure he’s a nice guy. He seems like an intelligent, responsible guy. If we were to meet in person, I’m sure we’d get along just fine. Heck, we might even have a few things in common.

Here’s my problem with Dave Ramsey: I feel like most of the financial advice he doles out comes from an unacknowledged position of white privilege. Ramsey promotes one-size-fits-all solutions to financial problems without ever addressing economic issues like structural inequality or classism. He completely sidesteps discussions of race and gender, despite the increasing amount of evidence that demonstrates a very real connection between a person’s social location and the amount of debt they have. He seems to operate off the (admittedly common) assumption that poor people are poor because they’re lazy or irresponsible.

Ramsey argues in “The Truth About Debt Consolidation” that the solution to debt is basically two-fold. You need to “get an extra job and start paying off debt” and learn to “live on less than you make.”

These suggestions make a lot of sense—if you happen to be an able-bodied, middle-class, white male. What about people who exist in a different social location? How is a single mother of three supposed to work a second job and take care of her family? How are you supposed to live on less than you make when you’re paying for life-saving medical treatments that your insurance company won’t cover?

Dave Ramsey, like many people, subscribes to the violent cultural narrative that sustains free-market capitalism (and the economic inequality it perpetuates). According to this cultural narrative, capitalism is an inherently fair system—if you’re smart and you work hard, you will inevitably climb the economic latter.

There are a few problems with this characterization of capitalism:

* Many of the people at the top of the economic ladder are not intelligent or hard-working. Some of them were born into wealthy families. Other got where they are by exploiting less-powerful people for profit.

* The assumption that smart, hard-working people inevitably rise to the top frames people who don’t (or can’t) climb the economic ladder as unintelligent or inherently lazy.

According to, African Americans are approximately twice as likely to unemployed (13.8%) as their white, non-Hispanic counterparts. How does the aforementioned “survival of the fittest” characterization of capitalism explain such glaring economic inconsistencies?

Either A) African Americans are disproportionately lazy and/or unintelligent or B) there are structural barriers that exist to keep some groups in power while simultaneously locking others in cycles of poverty.

I’m sorry, Ramsey, but it’s racist to talk about debt and poverty like they’re things that happen as a result of being foolish or irresponsible. When you write about how easy it is for people to get out of debt (without addressing the structural inequalities that create poverty) you’re engaging in a form of victim-blaming that obscures the role white privilege plays in determining who exists in what income bracket. It might not be intentional, but that doesn’t make it okay.

Gale Newell writes about the many aspects of debt, classism and structural inequality. She believes that consumers should be as informed as possible when it comes to issues like debt consolidation, and often writes reviews of debt relief companies for In her free time, she likes to go to sci-fi conventions and listen to Eddie Money. 


More articles by:

2016 Fund Drive
Smart. Fierce. Uncompromised. Support CounterPunch Now!

  • cp-store
  • donate paypal

CounterPunch Magazine


Weekend Edition
October 21, 2016
Friday - Sunday
John Wight
Hillary Clinton and the Brutal Murder of Gaddafi
Diana Johnstone
Hillary Clinton’s Strategic Ambition in a Nutshell
Jeffrey St. Clair
Roaming Charges: Trump’s Naked and Hillary’s Dead
John W. Whitehead
American Psycho: Sex, Lies and Politics Add Up to a Terrifying Election Season
Stephen Cooper
Hell on Earth in Alabama: Inside Holman Prison
Patrick Cockburn
13 Years of War: Mosul’s Frightening and Uncertain Future
Rob Urie
Name the Dangerous Candidate
Pepe Escobar
The Aleppo / Mosul Riddle
David Rosen
The War on Drugs is a Racket
Sami Siegelbaum
Once More, the Value of the Humanities
Cathy Breen
“Today Is One of the Heaviest Days of My Life”
Neve Gordon
Israel’s Boycott Hypocrisy
Mark Hand
Of Pipelines and Protest Pens: When the Press Loses Its Shield
Victor Wallis
On the Stealing of U.S. Elections
Michael Hudson
The Return of the Repressed Critique of Rentiers: Veblen in the 21st century Rentier Capitalism
Brian Cloughley
Drumbeats of Anti-Russia Confrontation From Washington to London
Howard Lisnoff
Still Licking Our Wounds and Hoping for Change
Brian Gruber
Iraq: There Is No State
Peter Lee
Trump: We Wish the Problem Was Fascism
Stanley L. Cohen
Equality and Justice for All, It Seems, But Palestinians
Steve Early
In Bay Area Refinery Town: Berniecrats & Clintonites Clash Over Rent Control
Kristine Mattis
All Solutions are Inadequate: Why It Doesn’t Matter If Politicians Mention Climate Change
Peter Linebaugh
Ron Suny and the Marxist Commune: a Note
Andre Vltchek
Sudan, Africa and the Mosaic of Horrors
Keith Binkly
The Russians Have Been Hacking Us For Years, Why Is It a Crisis Now?
Jonathan Cook
Adam Curtis: Another Manager of Perceptions
Ted Dace
The Fall
Sheldon Richman
Come and See the Anarchy Inherent in the System
Susana Hurlich
Hurricane Matthew: an Overview of the Damages in Cuba
Dave Lindorff
Screwing With and Screwing the Elderly and Disabled
Chandra Muzaffar
Cuba: Rejecting Sanctions, Sending a Message
Dennis Kucinich
War or Peace?
Joseph Natoli
Seething Anger in the Post-2016 Election Season
Jack Rasmus
Behind The 3rd US Presidential Debate—What’s Coming in 2017
Ron Jacobs
A Theory of Despair?
Gilbert Mercier
Globalist Clinton: Clear and Present Danger to World Peace
James A Haught
Many Struggles Won Religious Freedom
Kollibri terre Sonnenblume
Dear Fellow Gen Xers: Let’s Step Aside for the Millennials
Uri Avnery
The Peres Funeral Ruckus
Tom Clifford
Duterte’s Gambit: the Philippines’s Pivot to China
Reyes Mata III
Scaling Camelot’s Walls: an Essay Regarding Donald Trump
Raouf Halaby
Away from the Fray: From Election Frenzy to an Interlude in Paradise
James McEnteer
Art of the Feel
David Yearsley
Trump and Hitchcock in the Age of Conspiracies
Charles R. Larson
Review: Sjón’s “Moonstone: the Boy Who Never Was”