the cut on tuesdays

Stacey Abrams on Dealing With Debt and Shame

Photo-Illustration: by Stevie Remsberg; Photos: Getty

The Cut on Tuesdays

A weekly podcast from the Cut and Gimlet Media, with host Molly Fischer.

This week’s show is all about families and money — what we learn from watching our parents, and how those lessons shape our lives.

Stacey Abrams grew up in a family her mother called “genteel poor,” and after law school, working as a tax attorney, she was making more money than anyone she knew. So she could help take care of her parents — even if it meant taking on debt.

But when Stacey was running for governor of Georgia last year, she had to publicly report her debt. It came to over $200,000.

Stacey Abrams: For me, I knew I had a long-term plan to pay it back, but under Georgia law, I had to report where I was at a certain point in time. That meant that I had to report that I had tax debt and credit-card debt, as well as owing a lot of people for my education.

Molly Fischer: How did that feel?

Stacey: It’s horrible, because I had worked hard to climb out, and to be stable, and to be able to take care of myself and my family — to be able to fill out an application, and if I needed to request credit, I would get it. I reached this moment where all of that was undone, not because I’d suddenly become a bad person, but because circumstances had coalitioned against me.

But it was also embarrassing, because these are things I’d been able to take care of quietly. I didn’t talk about my family and their financial needs. I didn’t talk about what I did. I was being encouraged by those who knew that it was going to come up. People who’ve known me my whole life, especially my political life, said, “Well, you shouldn’t run for governor, because they’re going to find out you don’t have money and you have these debts.” My answer was, “You think I’m not worthy of this job that you’ve pushed me to run for years because I have credit-card debt and tax debt?”

Whereas we were in the process of being governed by a man who called himself the king of debt. There was this greatness to debt for some, but for the rest of us it was stigma and it was an invalidator. And while I knew I didn’t agree with it, it still doesn’t make it less embarrassing, and there’s a bit of shame attached to it.

Molly:  How would you say that having debt has affected the choices you’ve made?

Stacey: It made me very conscious of the fact that the stigma of debt precludes women and people of color in particular from striving, and it gave me the space to say, “You can do this anyway.” If I have to be the poster child for why indebtedness is not a disqualifier, I’m okay with that.

Click above to hear more — including our conversation with Abigail Disney, about why no one should have a private jet. And subscribe wherever you listen!

Stacey Abrams on Dealing With Debt and Shame