There’s no denying the billionaire romance is popular with readers. One of the reasons, I’ve theorized elsewhere, is that it frees us from concerns about money. Since most of us are closer to “poor” than we are to rich, money is a constant concern. The billionaire romance is escapism, much the same way a fantasy adventure or a sci-fi trip is.
Of course, just like our sci-fi planetary romances and our fantasy adventures have a lot of issues, so too does the billionaire romance. And one of the biggest is racism.
Most Billionaires Are White Guys
Bill Gates, Warren Buffett, Elon Musk, and Jeff Bezos all have at least one thing in common.
They’re all white. (Another thing might be that they’re all guys, too.)
Now, not every billionaire (or wealthy person) is white. Not all of them are guys. (Hello to Rupert Murdoch’s ex wife, Wendy, who is an Asian woman; there are tech billionaires around the world.)
Okay, racism solved, right? Clearly, anyone can be a billionaire; the billionaire class is diverse—it’s all good.
Except, no, it’s not all good. Even leaving aside that billionaires are parasitic on society, we have to face the fact that the majority of the fantastically wealthy are white.
And that often means that they’ve benefited from racist social structures that unfairly advantage them.
Warren Buffett Is a Senator’s Son
Buffett is often considered the “wise” billionaire: he got rich by investing smartly. The attitude around Buffett is often if he can do it, anyone can.
Well, anyone who has an influential US senator for a father, anyway. Buffett’s father was part of the US Senate; he was also an investor and businessman himself, in addition to sitting on the board of education for Nebraska.
Well, that’s fair, right? The father made some money, he had some businesses, and he passed it to his son.
We also have to think about the opportunities that the Buffetts have had, though. They had money to run businesses, and they had money to invest, even in the early 1900s. Not a lot of people did.
We can say they invested “wisely,” but we might also suspect that nepotism played a role. Who did his dad know to land him a role? They also had the money to send Buffet to “good” schools, which no doubt expanded his circle of contacts.
Oh, and those schools were also racist, refusing Black, Chinese, and Native American people equal access to education—and thus to social circles that could help them land jobs like the “Sage” of Omaha.
Do you see where this is going?
Buffett himself maybe didn’t hold slaves or chase Indigenous peoples off their lands. But he benefited from a system that “buoys” white people up and forces other people down.
Add in the fact that Buffett was born and raised in Nebraska, and we have a clear picture of how white colonialism contributed to creating the billionaire class.
Elon Musk’s Family Likely Benefited from Apartheid
Elon Musk is often depicted as a tech bro, an inventor-type who just happened to luck into his fortune. In some senses, that’s true. While he claims he worked his way through college, we also know his father worked as an engineer, an entrepreneur in land development/real estate, and held stakes in an emerald mine in Zambia.
So, at least some of the money that allowed Musk to maybe live in a nice house as a kid or go to a particular college or get a particular education as a kid comes from colonized land.
“But Cherry,” you say, “this isn’t the 1800s, this isn’t the time of slavery.”
No, but Apartheid wasn’t much better. Black people were rounded up and forced to live in bantustans, with their movements strictly monitored and controlled. Political access was limited, and protestors—like Nelson Mandela—were jailed.
So we have a country with an economic structure where white folks are the owners of land (and can sell it) or hold stakes in mining operations. Meanwhile, Black folks only have the option to work (and maybe die) in the mines. Mines that are on the land that was stolen from them by white colonizers a couple of centuries before.
It’s a much more direct line here, then: some of that wealth belongs to the Indigenous peoples of South Africa.
This is true of natural resources in every colonized country. Here in Canada, we mine diamonds in the far north and gas in Alberta. We create hydro dams and flood the traditional territories of the Indigenous peoples, forcing them to move. Basically, everything and anything we do with natural resources here is stealing wealth from the Indigenous peoples.
And how much wealth do they get back from it? In many cases, nothing at all. Instead, they’re pushed off their lands or poisoned by continuous “development” of oil fields or the tar sands.
Wealthy People Usually Have a Distorted View of the World
Remember how I said Warren Buffett is often depicted with a “if I can do it, so can you!” mentality? One thing billionaire romance tends to gloss over is that rich people often do have that attitude. They see no reason why the unwashed masses couldn’t become as fabulously wealthy as they are.
Well, excepting two things:
- The poor lack discipline or intelligence.
- The billionaires really are a step above.
The billionaire romance pushes this odd mix of mythology. Anyone could become fantastically wealthy, so long as they have the drive, discipline, and intelligence to do it. That so many people do not become grotesquely wealthy is thus personal failing on the part of the poor. If only they were smarter or more disciplined or had more drive.
That then makes the billionaires a cut above—they have the drive, the discipline, the intelligence.
Yet, as we can see, the myth is often just that: a myth. Not everyone can become grotesquely wealthy, because capitalism wouldn’t function; it needs poor, exploitable workers to cannibalize. And the system straps many poor people, often in many different ways.
Sometimes, the system is more visible than others. The bantustans or the forced relocation of Indigenous peoples in Canada are very visible reminders of racism. In the US, racialized ghettoes exist alongside gated communities, although this is less talked about—and thus more invisible—than a bantustan or a reserve.
That inner city schools generally receive less funding than their suburbanite counterparts is another example. Inner city schools tend to have larger numbers of Black students, while suburban schools tend to be whiter. The Black students receive fewer resources, get a poorer education, and, unsupported by the system, often drop out sooner.
The Invisible Hand of Policy
There are myriad reasons for this divide, including redlining communities, racism in hiring, and so on, which widen the wealth gap. Poverty becomes a cycle, fueled by a racist system that divvies up its resources unfairly.
So, no, not everyone can become disgustingly rich, because we do not exist on a level playing field. Racialized individuals almost never have had equal footing. A Black man released from slavery in the antebellum US was not on equal footing with the former slave-owner.
That Black man had little to no money, so he needs a job. Desperate, he would take almost anything. He was extremely exploitable, which in turn meant he has little opportunity to build wealth, often because the terms of his employment were so dismal. His job was often a matter of survival, not one of buying property and “getting rich.”
Educational opportunities were also limited, even if he could spare the time, money, or energy. He couldn’t send his kids to Harvard or Yale—Ivy League schools—the way Warren Buffett’s father could. It’s not even that he couldn’t afford it: it’s that racism wouldn’t let him. Institutions like Harvard and Yale didn’t need to let in Black people. Even today, they remain elitist institutions.
Debunking the Myth of Wealth
So the billionaire idea that anyone can just up and become wealthy is a total myth—one that capitalism (and the billionaire romance) loves to shove down our throats. The American dream keeps us striving, running the rat race that capitalism has set up. For most of us, though, it’s not a race we can “win.”
Lest you think I’m making any of this up, you can look to the current political situation in the US. A far-right bent has entered the fray, eroding rights and freedoms for the majority of the population. Anti-abortion laws, anti-queer laws, and even the suggested repeal of court rulings that uphold interracial marriage and integrated learning suggest that economic elites are manipulating the government to secure a segregated workforce that reproduces in misery, in poverty, over and over, until they die. Potential challenges to public education also suggest that future workers will be largely uneducated. Poor parents can’t afford private education for the many children the state will force them to have.
The repeal of the right to privacy will mean increased surveillance; anyone caught doing something they “shouldn’t” be doing might be subject to criminal charges, stripping them of their voting rights.
Oh, and the racist bit about segregating education and not allowing mixed marriages? Yeah, that’s to increase the “white” population while also making it easier to create an (even more) impoverished Black working class.
Capitalism chews you up and spits you out.
Back to the Rich
Okay, so the rich are pretty fucking evil in this scenario. Not necessarily because they know they’re evil—some of them for sure do—but because of their outlook on “poor” people.
They quite simply don’t get it. They think that poor people could become rich if they just tried harder. And since the poor aren’t rich, there must be something “wrong” with them.
Ever heard that someone is “just lazy”? That’s it entirely. The rich believe disabled people are probably “faking it,” that the “welfare queen” is bilking the system. People who don’t work are just, well, lazy. Not trying hard enough. And because they “won’t try,” they therefore don’t deserve our support.
Again: the rich have a skewed view of everything. They do not understand that poor people don’t have “a few extra bucks” to invest. They see anything “nice”—like buying a fancy coffee at Starbucks—as a lack of discipline upon the part of the poor. “You could be rich, if you didn’t waste your money.”
Racist Stereotypes Intersect with the Wealth Myth
This intersects with racism. Black people, for example, are often portrayed not as hardworking honest folk—but as lazybones. This stereotype goes back a long way, even into slavery. The prevailing mythos was that white plantation managers and slave owners had to be on constant lookout for the slave shirking his duties.
Ever hear that Indigenous people are lazy or simply “looking for government handouts”? Or what about the stereotypes that Arabs or Chinese people are “swindlers,” “liars,” “cheats”?
These ideas show us where racism cross-sects classism. Poor Black people aren’t “victims” of an unfair system that disadvantages them in almost every way—they’re just lazy.
This allows the rich (and often white) to maintain their mythos. Rich people are good, while poor people must be bad. Since racialized people are often portrayed as “bad”—lazy, sponging off the system, cheating—then it follows that they also deserve poverty. They’re bad people, and bad people are poor.
By contrast, white people are usually portrayed as good. Since wealth is good, it makes sense that white people would be wealthy—rather than simply benefiting from a skewed system that favors them.
A Black Alpha Meets a White Trillionaire
I knew at the outset of Glitterati Omega that the relationship in this billionaire romance was interracial, focused on Black alpha Winston and a white omega. I also knew that omega was going to be the trillionaire; the original working title for this book was “Blood Diamond Heir.”
Rupert is blissfully aware of the racism that underscores Winston’s life; he wouldn’t even believe it was real. If Black people are poor, if they suffer, he’d tell you it’s not the system.
Winston is not poor, but he comes from a very different school of thought than Rupert does. Whereas Rupert has been steeped in white Western capitalist thought, Winston’s own paradigm borrows from more Indigenous African ideologies.
This puts them on more equal footing. Winston is not necessarily overwhelmed or intimidated by Rupert’s wealth. What he is is uncomfortable with the origins of that fortune. It’s a fortune that was literally mined by his own ancestors, out of the land that was stolen from them by Rupert’s ancestors.
For their relationship to work, Rupert must address his own beliefs and the roots of his own wealth.
In turn, Rupert has to confront ideas about his own self-value—what makes him more or less deserving that other people?
Rupert Is an Exception to the Rule of Billionaire Romance
Fortunately for the blossoming love story, Rupert is in a position to push away from the wealth mythology.
Most wealthy people, as we noted, tend to see poverty as a personal failing. They do believe “anyone” can become as wealthy as they have, provided they put some elbow grease in to it.
Most wealthy people also believe, by extension, that they are deserving of their wealth. They believe they possess special traits, such as higher intelligence or a particularly strong work ethic. Many fail to acknowledge the role familial wealth and connections have played.
See above with Elon Musk or Warren Buffett’s narratives. Musk suggests he worked “to put himself through college”—a rags to riches story. He can then position himself as being uncannily smart—for picking good investments or some such—instead of just being incredibly lucky.
Musk is not an exception here: most wealthy people will tell similar narratives of their own ingenuity or hard work. We love the narrative of the “self-made man,” but in many cases, it’s just not true.
There’s No Such Thing as a “Self-Made” Billionaire
Another good example is Kylie Jenner, who has been heralded as a “self-made billionaire.” Yet Jenner comes from privilege; her entire family is based in the media now, and her parents have connections. Jenner did not become rich by bootstrapping herself into a cosmetics line.
Yet again, we see the kind of tale we’re being told. Billionaires aren’t so exceptional that we can’t “be like them,” provided we put our minds to it. Yet they’re also possessed of “special” traits that make them successful. Those “special traits” rarely include acknowledging social connections or generational wealth.
This myth allows most rich people to feel superior to the poor while also justifying their immense wealth. They feel they deserve it.
Rupert, on the other hand, is capable of recognize that he doesn’t necessarily deserve his wealth. He ponders why, when he has a mental breakdown, he gets to go to a fancy rehab center while other inpatients at the hospital mental ward must remain there.
“Money” is the only answer; Rupert doesn’t particularly feel he’s much more deserving of “better treatment” than other people.
Rupert’s low self-esteem could easily turn into narcissism. To make himself feel better, he’d cut others down and portray himself as better than he is. Yet, in his case, it doesn’t. Instead, it provides the opportunity to discuss that immense fortune, where it came from, and perhaps why it’s time to pull it apart.
Dismantling the Western Paradigm in a Billionaire Romance
In the billionaire romance, capitalism wins out; indeed, it’s rarely questioned. Both partners go on to be fabulously wealthy together.
For Winston, that’s not possible. As much as he’s wealthy enough to own property, to fly back to his home village whenever he feels like it, and to quit his job, he does not live an exorbitant lifestyle. He prides himself on modesty, and instead, he funnels most of his money into bettering the life of his relatives. In short, Winston redistributes his wealth, rather than hoarding it.
Rupert, by contrast, participates in the greed of capitalism by “hoarding” his fortune. He avoids taxes, and he pays for private healthcare. He believes the government “squanders” money.
The Compelling Argument against Government
This is a light version of more serious conservative complaints against government spending. They mostly boil down to “why would you want to give your money to the bad poor people?! They don’t deserve it! You should keep it, because you deserve it.”
This is perhaps convincing at the level of blue collar workers, the working class, the working poor, and the impoverished—why shouldn’t they keep more of their money? They work hard, and they’re hardly getting enough to start.
It’s harder to justify when we reach the upper echelons, but this is ultimately who drives this rhetoric. It stems from the belief they work hard for their money, that they deserve their money, and that poor people are inherently bad. If poor people don’t want to be poor, the conservative position is often to say “well, just stop being poor! Worked for me!”
In this billionaire romance, Winston uses Rupert’s own logic and arguments against him, eventually poking holes in ideas like Rupert “needing” the money or that he’s somehow more deserving of it than others.
Wealth Distorts Human Relations
In turn, Rupert slowly begins to dismantle the fortune, through various means. It’s important that he does this along new ideological lines as well.
Rupert is, again, somewhat unique in that he has always felt caring is important, in part because his own upbringing was so care-less. Rupert longs for emotional connection, and he wants to feel needed. His money allows him that, to some degree, but it also has extreme downsides. Rupert has trust issues, because other people will simply “use” him for the money.
Capitalism warps all of us this way, leading us to believe other people are inherently bad. If we want to win the “rat race,” then we need to make sure we stick it to others before they can stick it to us.
Narratives around swindlers and cheats, welfare queens and people “bilking the system” further fuel our suspicions and our belief that it’s “everyone for themselves.”
Unlearning and Undoing Will Take Effort
Winston is able to open Rupert’s eyes—and hopefully the reader’s—to show that perhaps that’s not the only way of being in this world.
That’s not to say that simply adopting an Indigenous world outlook would solve all the issues of the world; racism still exists, and Rupert is, of course, still unlearning much of what he learned. Many people—even many BIPOC individuals—who have been raised in euro-western ideologies will find they have much to unlearn.
And that’s, perhaps, how it should be: white people have much more to unlearn and relearn when it comes to colonialism and racism. We have much more to unpack and dismantle. And I knew that was what I wanted to showcase in writing an IR billionaire romance: that white people, to have meaningful and warm relationships with not just BIPOC individuals but almost anyone, have a lot of work to do.