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EPISODE 2
Liberatory Business Practices with Toi Smith

Photo of Toi Smith, a Black woman with long hair wearing a white shirt and black cardigan

Toi Smith (she/her) is a Growth + Impact Strategist whose work centers on doing life, business, and motherhood differently. She works with people whose work is countercultural, liberatory, and revolutionary in nature…or people who desire and are committed to moving their work or lives in that direction.

Website | Instagram

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Toi Smith (she/her) is a Growth + Impact Strategist whose work centers on doing life, business, and motherhood differently. She works with people whose work is countercultural, liberatory, and revolutionary in nature…or people who desire and are committed to moving their work or lives in that direction.

Website | Instagram

 

Discussed this episode:

  • Toi’s relationship with the word feminist (and why she prefers womanist)
  • “There must be a heartbeat beyond money in business”
  • What drives Toi beyond money to do her work
  • Business and capitalism aren’t synonyms
  • Capitalism informs business, even for entrepreneurs
  • You can be anti-capitalist while also wanting to make money as a business owner
  • Toi’s own journey of unlearning capitalist conditioning
  • Capitalism isn’t only an economic system, it’s a societal and cultural way of existing
  • The grief and trauma of capitalism over generations
  • Exploitation and expropriation are the harmful hallmarks of capitalism
  • Why corporate profits are theft (and solopreneur profits are not)
  • Liberation is not just re-creating the corporate wheel for yourself
  • You can’t be a feminist founder if you’re not paying people a living wage
  • Capitalism connects your worth to your class status
  • Considering pricing through a feminist lens
  • Growth should be rooted in something greater than insatiable capitalism
  • Amassing wealth probably won’t make you altruistic
  • Why white women being angry isn’t enough to create change (they must be willing to give something and to give something up)
  • True liberation means you must give up something … what are you giving up?
  • Anti-capitalist doesn’t mean anti-money
  • How Toi does business differently
  • Everything you do in business is political
  • The benefits of sliding scale pricing

Resources mentioned:

FULL GUEST READING LIST FOR SEASON 1

Learn more about accountability coaching with host Becky Mollenkamp at https://beckymollenkamp.com

Becky Mollenkamp:

Thank you for being here. I’m so excited to have this conversation with you.

Toi Smith:

Thank you for having me. I’m excited to have whatever conversation comes up here.

Becky Mollenkamp:

Well, we’ll start where I always do, which is asking about your relationship with the word feminist because this is called Feminist Founders Podcast. From what I could tell from your website, I think you identify more with the word womanist. And so I’m a little curious about your relationship with feminists and then maybe you can explain why you might prefer the word womanist.

Toi Smith:

There are two terms that I’m more apt to prefer over feminists would be womanist or black feminist because I think historically when we think around the word feminist it really is through the lens of white women and it doesn’t hold a nuance or intersectional lens to systemic oppression for Black women or queer folks or non-binary or trans. And so I look for a title that’s more, has a more broad spectrum. And so for me, that’s either womanist or Black feminist.

Becky Mollenkamp:

Well, I was telling you right before we started recording that I watched your Beyond, our Business Beyond Profit workshop last night and I will link to it in the show notes because I recommend that people go check that out. And you said in that, that there has to be a heartbeat beyond money when it comes to running a business. And I wanna talk a whole lot more about money and capitalism in a minute, but I’m just curious what you mean by that, by there being a heartbeat beyond money and what’s the heartbeat in your business?

Toi Smith:

That’s a really great question, and I say some things and I’m like really impressed with myself that I said that. Thank you. Well, I mean, how do I want to unpack that? I really think it means that we have to look at in the work that we’re doing and you know, business sometimes is loaded for people, especially if you’re a solopreneur and you’re a woman and all these things start to get loaded. So I like to unpack that and say we have to have some connection beyond money that helps us want to stay in our work. What else is driving us beyond money? Now I also say that and want to be clear that money is important, right? Making money and having your work or your business be profitable in the sense that you’re able to take care of your responsibilities and things like that is important. So I don’t want to bypass money. But I also want us to hold the distinction that both are necessary—a heartbeat and the money. So, if you get the money, what else do you want your work to do for you and for the world and for your beloveds and your relationships beyond just a source of income? And I think that allows us to stay connected to the work longer.

Becky Mollenkamp:

And what is your heartbeat?

Toi Smith:

I mean so many things. I would say I’m deeply relational. So my relationships in my business and in my world mean a great deal for me. So those who I collaborate with, those who come on work with me and partner in any kind of way become my heartbeat and I want to tend to them and make sure that they’re taken care of. So I collaborate with a lot of people on projects. Though I’m like an individual who likes to work by myself a lot, I find that as an entrepreneur that can get very like boring and exhausting and isolating. So over the last couple of years, I’ve really started collaborating with people and wanting to have the money that we make take care of both of us or more of us than just me. So I would say my heartbeat is in relationships and tending to people and making sure that they’re well.

Becky Mollenkamp:

That’s beautiful, I love that. Well, I came to know of you, I mean, I had sort of known a bit of you on Instagram and following you for a while. But then a couple of years ago, I attended the Radical Business Summit, which is hosted by Dawn Serra. I don’t know if she’s done it since, but a couple of years ago, you were there. And you were talking about capitalism and business. And I know your work goes well beyond just that limited piece of capitalism, but I think it’s interwoven in a lot of what you do. So I’m curious about your relationship with understanding capitalism and the evils of that. And those intersections of capitalism and entrepreneurship and where those conflicts come up, what was like your journey into unpacking and unlearning around capitalism and how it is so pervasive and affects us?

Toi Smith:

Yeah, first let me shout out Dawn Serra. I really love Dawn. I’ve known Dawn online for a number of years and we’ve collaborated through some other clients that I’ve worked with. And so that Radical Business Summit stretched far and wide because I still get a lot of folks who reach out. And that was a conversation that me and Jen Lemen were having around capitalism. And so capitalism and business and all the things. So I think really the first thing I will say around capitalism and business is that a lot of people think that if they run a business then they’re a capitalist. And that is where people get hung up. They’re like, oh, if I’m a solopreneur and I work for myself and or I’m an entrepreneur, then I’m a capitalist. And so I can’t be anti-capitalist because I need to make money and I want to work for myself. So those things are in competition so I can’t do it. And so first we have to unpack that capitalism is about the means of production, meaning owning things and hiring folks and not paying them well and things like that. So if you are someone, if you’re in your business doing those things, then that’s where we get caught up inside of capitalism. But if you’re working for yourself, making money, you are not a capitalist. So I wanna just hold that distinction that just because you work for yourself, you’re not a capitalist. So I want to hold that distinction that just because you work for yourself you’re not a capitalist. But also that capitalism does inform business. It does inform how we do business because a lot of us come from the corporate world. We have been admins or middle management or in some way in the corporate world and we have been workers. And so we’ve seen how bosses treat employees. We’ve seen how corporations treat employees. We’ve had a long history of being in that work. And so we then take that information, that top-down hierarchy, into our own entrepreneurial businesses. And we start to work in that way. We hire in that way. We pay our people in that way. We work ourselves in that way, meaning we don’t give ourselves rest. We don’t give ourselves ease. We don’t structure our work in a different way because we’re so heavily indoctrinated under this corporatization of capitalism. And so I want people to understand those two things, the fact that capitalism does inform business in your business practices and without a conscious understanding of that we just start to get in this cycle and perpetuate that system. And also though that you’re not a capitalist for making money or for being in business and desiring to live well and to have money. And so a lot of that conversation that we had in the Radical Business Summit was around understanding the nuances of capitalism. And so there’s a lot I could say about capitalism. I would want, before I dive into that, like what feels relevant for me to share here, I guess I would want to know.

Becky Mollenkamp:

I’m curious about your own unpacking, because I know you talk about needing to unpack, unlearn before relearning and going about business in a new way. What was it for you? I believe you worked as a VA and maybe that was some of that, having seen exploitation on being on that receiving end of it there. But I’m just curious for you, like what was your journey of starting to unpack this and relearning a new way?

Toi Smith:

My radicalization came through single motherhood first, right? And so I started unpacking a lot of these systems through that lens. It was when I started working for myself, when I made the decision, I was laid off two times in a row. And that last time I was laid off, I was like I can’t do this anymore. The previous time before that, I was laid off while I was on FMLA, like home with my son because he was sick. And so a long time over the years, even though I didn’t have the language when I worked in corporate, I knew something was not good. I knew that I was not, my labor was not being really tended to. I knew that something felt extractive and exploitative, but I didn’t have the language. And so that last time when I was laid off, I decided not to go back to work because as a mom at that time, I was just like, it’s not worth it. And so what I decided to do is start working for myself. I had a friend who was a life coach at the time, and I just started doing work with her. And so that started feeding into me being able to get my own clients. So… In that beginning of the journey, I started learning more about capitalism. So this was about 8 years ago. Um, I started reading and learning and trying to unpack what didn’t feel so great. And when I started working for myself, I started out as a VA and then I quickly moved into OBM role of managing people’s businesses and project management and things like that. And part of what I understood then is what I shared earlier. A lot of entrepreneurs come in and want to be in power, and don’t really understand how to be relational with people. And so it impacts your business, especially when you’re just hiring people and feel like they’re disposable. And so I started to get a lens of like, this doesn’t feel right. It feels like part of the corporate world with none of the recourse, right? There’s nobody I can go to and say, like I’m not being treated well, or I’m not being paid well, or this person doesn’t understand, I’m also a business owner, as much as they’re a business owner. And we have to have this respect. So I started doing a lot of reading around capitalism, a lot of reading about power dynamics and hierarchy and unpacking it that way. And then my work started transforming. I’ve always been a writer. So I started writing about a lot of these things. And so that’s how people started getting in my sphere and it started to inform my work. And then I started to get better clients. And here I am now doing a lot of different things in that same realm though.

Becky Mollenkamp:

I think that that piece around how so many of us leave corporate with the idea of this doesn’t work for me, I want to do it differently, and then somehow end up recreating the same things for ourselves and the ways we’re treating, like you said, ourselves and then how we treat other people. And I loved your blog post or your article that you wrote about “What is capitalism and why should it matter to you as an entrepreneur?” And again, I’ll link to that in show notes, because I think that people have this idea that, you know, bad capitalism is what the Amazons and the Walmarts of the world do, right? It’s these big corporations. But you talk about how even a solopreneur, a business of one can be. perpetuating these same harms. And so I’m wondering if you can share a little bit about what you outlined there about how it’s a societal issue and not just a business issue. Capitalism is bigger than just business.

Toi Smith:

We think of capitalism as an economic system, right, that it just impacts your money, that it just impacts your work, but it’s actually a whole way of being. It’s a societal, cultural way of existing. At first it was just about, you know, the money and the power and things like that, but the way that we got inside capitalism was that so many things had to be stripped from people and so many people had to be socialized into a new order, a new way of existing. And I think it’s really important for people to understand that capitalism has a history. And I always say it has a lineage. And that’s important for us to note because that means that we can see a starting point and then imagine a new way forward. What a lot of the ways that we’ve been socialized is that capitalism is natural. So it’s been naturalized. So we think that there is no other way to exist and that capitalism must have been the only economic system or the only societal system that we’ve only lived under, and that’s not true. And so when I’m speaking about, we have to see it beyond business, beyond economics, we have to see it as inside of our interpersonal lives. Right? How we do relationships, how we do parenting, how we do love, how we do life, how we do all of the things because capitalism is interwoven into all of that. And I think the first thing to really understand is that for capitalism to stay and first exist as a system, people had to be stripped of so much of their identity. Land had to be stolen and enclosed. Right? So people’s subsistence and the way they used to live, we just used to not to own land, there was no private property, but we were on stewarding the land, you know? And then what happened was land had to be taken, privatized, and then people had to be turned into workers. So people had to be turned into workers and stripped of their subsistence. And think about all of the grief and trauma that that does to people over lineages, over history, over time. So we are the products of that. And so then that way of being informs all of the ways that we exist. So if we look at it as solopreneurs, right, I’m gonna bring in a contractor and I think that I have power over them, because this is my business, and they need to do what I say, and all of these things that exist in these power dynamics that we haven’t unpacked but live inside of these capitalist structures. And so this is how it starts to show up in our just our little micro businesses, right? How we talk about our work, how we market our work. All of it is deeply impacted.

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I’m realizing maybe that I probably should have earlier had you talk about what you think, how do you define capitalism? At its most simple I’ve always said it’s prioritizing profits over people, but I also recognize that that doesn’t even begin to really encompass what it means because it’s not just about profits, it’s all the things that are in service of profits. You know, it’s so related to time and productivity, achievement, all of these other things that are really wrapped up in capitalism. How do you define it? And what are some of the hallmarks that you think of capitalism that are so dangerous?

Toi Smith:

I define it as a system of expropriation and exploitation. Meaning workers are exploited, you know, if we think about the corporate structure, when you go to work and you get paid a wage, the wage is already about exploitation, right? You’re not getting paid your true wages, your true work time, right, for what you’ve done. the profit comes from you not being paid what you actually produced. So it’s about that exploitation there, right? The expropriation is what lives on the periphery, like what lives on the outside. So we’re talking about land that has to be privatized and extracted from to feed into capitalism so that businesses have the means of production. It’s also in how, you know, women aren’t paid a fair wage because money has to be expropriated from them as well to feed inside of capitalism. And so it’s these layers and so it’s hard for me sometimes to just give one-sentence definition, but I do think you know it’s easy to say it’s profits over people. But part of that is we have to understand what profit is, right, in the terms of big business. Not profit in little business where you’re like solopreneur and I want to keep for us to go back to that, you know, that distinction for your audience of like, if you’re listening, you’re like, I’m just one person. Yeah, you can make profit. It’s different than when a corporation when we’re talking about profits, that’s theft because they’re making money from the wages that they didn’t pay. There’s a surplus. So capitalism’s all about a surplus. And what do we do with that surplus? In a more harmonious society, I would say, we would have that surplus go back to the workers and the workers decide what happens with that money. In a capitalist society, that surplus goes to those in power. So it goes to the bosses, it goes to middle management, it goes to the stocks, right? It goes to inform all of that, but the workers are the ones making the money so that hierarchy is important to think about.

Becky Mollenkamp:

Oh, there’s so much inside of there I want to unpack. First of all, the piece of even if you’re a solopreneur and people listening to this may also have small businesses that have actually some employees that have contractors, but even if you’re that solopreneur, while I hear what you’re saying about you’re not the Walmarts of the world, you’re not perpetuating those kinds of evils, you can make money, but there are so many ways that we also exploit ourselves because of what we’ve learned, right? I mean, do you see that happening as well? And that is still that internalized capitalism.

Toi Smith:

Mm-hmm. I mean, I think it shows up in a lot of ways. Like, what does your rest schedule look like? Like, how are you resting? How is your work world different that you get to build it? How is it different than if you were working in a traditional job, right? We have more freedoms, quote-unquote, I’m doing air quotes, as entrepreneurs, but we build the same model of work as if you had a boss. So how do you challenge that indoctrination, right? So I think part of it is, yes, about working less. And we know now through all the technology that’s available for folks that we should not be working as much as we are now. There was a thought that by this year, by 2023, that we would have at least a four-day work week, where we have so much technological advances that we should be working less, but we actually work more now. Because what happens is in capitalist systems is we refine things, but then we still pressure people to work more through the advent of technology, right? So I would say I see it a lot when folks aren’t resting. Like when I’ve had clients and we’re doing launches and things like that and building out their year. I’m like, well, where are you resting? Like, where are you not go, go, go? That’s important. And then I also see it in how we think about paying people that we’re working with. Usually, you want to get the bargain person and pay them as least as we can to get as much as we can out of them. And that’s capitalist indoctrination. So how do we push against that, of paying people well? I always say you can’t pay people below a living wage. There’s no way you can be a feminist founder or doing business differently and you’re not paying people at least a living wage for where they live. That’s the bare minimum. So those two things for me are really really important.

Becky Mollenkamp:

Yeah, absolutely. And on that paying others, I even see where it starts at again, at that solopreneur level at yourself, people not paying themselves enough, not charging enough. Like they’re undervaluing themselves, which I still think is so much of what we’ve been conditioned into that we’re supposed to get that bargain. So we have to be that bargain if anyone’s gonna work with us. And then we extend that. I see people who are, often the people who are charging the least are also then trying to pay people the least. It’s this perpetuating cycle of like, ‘well, I’m not making money so I can’t afford to pay you anything. I don’t believe I’m worth anything. So I don’t believe you’re worth anything.’ So I think it even starts at that level of like, are you charging for what you’re doing, a living wage?

Toi Smith:

Yeah, I mean I always say that line of ‘charge with what you’re worth’ is a lot of real bullshit because this is what capitalism does, it connects your worth to your financial situation, your class status, your education, all of these things. So people of color, Black folks, like we don’t get as equal pay, so our worth is supposed to be connected to that, so we are not supposed to be worthy and we’ve had historically depressed wages and so we come into working for ourselves and then we don’t know what to charge because we’ve had a history, a lineage of not being paid accurately and this can go all across the board to women, to non-binary folks, to trans-identified folks, like all across the board and so we have to detach worth from what we need to live well. And that is a really black-and-white thing. Get some spreadsheets out, get a spreadsheet out, get your checkbook, get your bank account, and know how much money you need to be bringing in. And detach that worth part. Now that takes a little bit of time to do that, right? And I say always, when I’m talking to clients, we do that in increments, right? So if you’re used to, let’s say you need to be charging $5,000 for a mastermind or something like that. That is a number that you need to be able to pay your taxes, to live on, to maybe pay contractors or something like that. But you’ve historically been charging like $2,000. That leap from 2 to 5 is not something that’s just going to happen in one season because you still have to get your body and your nervous system on board with charging that amount of money. And so I say, once we know the real number, then we go incrementally into that, right? So 2,000, then we go to 3. Then we say, okay, now this is $4,000. And then we get to that amount and then we get a body feeling of, okay, this is accurate. So I think it’s really important for folks to detach that worthiness piece that will never serve you.

Becky Mollenkamp:

Yeah, I really hate the charge what you’re worth thing, and I’ve been as guilty as anyone in the past. of perpetuating that before I did my own unlearning and realizing it is bullshit and it’s harmful. It’s so damaging to give people that message. Since we’re talking about pricing and charging, I would love to continue down that rabbit hole a bit because I know this is stuff that is so difficult for business owners who want to do better, who are really trying to do business differently to grapple with the first piece is that getting to a place of charging enough, but then starting to understand what is enough? You talked in one of the things I watched from you about not inflating your prices and instead charging your true costs. So determining how much you need to make. But how does one define what they need to make or how do they determine the value of something that feels a little less, like it’s not like I’m selling a widget. I know what the widget costs me to make. I know what the labor costs is all of that, right? I’m charging for my time. How do you begin to put value to that and come up with those thriving wages?

Toi Smith:

Well, I think it’s twofold. You have to have the black-and-white numbers, right? Those have to serve as your basis. You can’t be just making up numbers out of thin air, like, oh, I think I need to make this much. You have to be really clear on how much money you need to make, right? First of all, that’s it. Like, you have to be courageous enough to understand that maybe, like, I… haven’t looked at my numbers and I don’t truly understand how much I need to make because I’m scared of what that number is. And I’m scared of what that means for me and how I have to show up and all of the things. So you have to get through that, not over it, you have to get through it. So I’d say that’s first. Understand what your black-and-white numbers are. How much money is a bare minimum that you need to be bringing in every month? And for me, I think about not just one number, right? So you need that black-and-white number. At bare minimum, I know I need to be bringing in $10,000 per month. So $120k a year, that’s bare minimum. That covers my rent, that covers my car, all the things. So you understand that. Then there’s another number. Okay, I want to start saving and I want to maybe take a trip and I want to have some money put away for my business. Then that’s a different number. $120k is my bare minimum, $150k feeds that. So then you can maybe have another number that’s your audacious number of, okay, $200,000 would make it so I could rest more, it would seed me for another season. It would allow me to not be so, let my nerves get so riled up with the risk of entrepreneurship, right? Part of the reason I say you need to have multiple numbers is because being a solopreneur or an entrepreneur is about risk. You don’t know how many people are gonna sign up for a course, a program, a mastermind, even if you’re a small business, how many products you’re going to sell. And so having that bare minimum number lets you know that like, okay, sales might be slow this month, but I know all of my bases are taken care of. All of my bills will get paid. And so you can always go back to that. I think we have to start there and be truthful about the money we need to make. And it’s not about like charging for your time. It’s about charging for you to live, right? Like how much money do you need to live? And that changes seasonally. Maybe you’re in a season where, okay, I’m fine. Like I really don’t need that lot, need a lot. So then I don’t need to work a ton this season. Or maybe you’re in a season where like, I need to pay off some debt and I want to save for my kids. So this season of this year, I’m gonna hustle a little bit more. I’m gonna work a little bit more. I’m gonna put a little bit more, put more offers out. I’m gonna have a different strategy on my email list building. We have to think in terms of seasons and not just like a perpetual number that we always have to have because that’s capitalism. Capitalism says you’re just, everything’s the same all the time. And if we’re doing things differently, we say we have different seasons and different needs, and we have to be in relationship with those.

Becky Mollenkamp:

And capitalism, I think, also really conditions us into this more, more, more mentality of never being satisfied, right? We always want to have more, buy more, earn more, spend more. And couple that with entrepreneurship, where you’re not confined by, necessarily, by a salary and by the limited potential for growth there. In theory, there’s this unlimited potential for earnings. Not everyone has that happen to them, but I mean, that is sort of the promise of that. So on the other end of that, where there is this potential to make a lot and where we’ve been very conditioned to believing we should always want more. I definitely see this thing that happens in the entrepreneurial world where there’s like, I have to hit. six figures, then it’s seven, then it’s eight. And there’s all this aspiration for these bigger and bigger numbers that often are not rooted in anything other than just like this need, this compulsion to feel like I have to have that. But if you are someone who’s trying to do better, who doesn’t want to just perpetuate these cycles, how do you balance that out of the potential of you are earning a lot more? You are bringing a lot more money and you don’t wanna be exploitative and extractive and you want to do better. How do you sort of balance that out for how much you pay yourself vs. paying your team, your employees, like you don’t want to be that person who’s just trying to pull out labor, but also like you’re making a lot of money and it’s, that’s exciting. It’s, you’ve worked hard, but also so are all your team. Like how do you balance all of that out?

Toi Smith:

The first thing I would say is understand that capitalism doesn’t exist without growth and competition. Capitalism is about growth, perpetual, consistent, constant growth. We see this with corporations who have to eat up other corporations and eat up competition so that they can constantly grow. There’s nothing around being satiated, right? I’ll give you an example. Like I went to In-N-Out Burger a couple weeks ago and their prices are so low. I’m like, y’all’s prices are like, not comparable to anyone, they’re low. Like I can get me and my three sons meals and it’s a good deal. Whereas I go to somewhere like Chick-fil-A or something like that and it’s different. Well, In-N-Out hasn’t risen their prices in a really long time. Because they don’t change their menu and that means that they have relationships with certain suppliers that give them deals. So it’s relational in that way. And they’re not about competition that they have to keep up with the market of like the new burgers. And so their prices stay a little bit lower. And that is growth in a different way. And so when we’re looking at it as small business owners or solopreneurs, it’s do we have to grow? Do you have to make more than you did last year? Who said that you had to? Who said that that is the barometer for success? In tandem with that, I would say, what are your values? What do you value overall, but in this season of your business, what are some of your values? Is growth one of them and why? For what benefit? Maybe you do need to grow because your team needs to be paid more. Maybe you do need to grow because there are things you need to take care of at home. Maybe you do need to grow because you want to go on a sabbatical or something like that in a year or so and you need to charge a little bit more to grow. But I think it has to be rooted in something, if someone asked you, like, why did you increase your rate? That you were clear about it, right? And I would say if you are a business owner who is making more money and find yourself in a good spot. You have the audience, you have the strategy, you have the programs, you’re supported and you’re making this money and you have this good way of working, what do you wanna do with that surplus? So if we know how much money we need to be making, we have that bare minimum number, and maybe we have a new number that affords us savings, maybe a little bit of travel, maybe our people are paid well, but you’re still making money beyond that, and your values say I want to be liberatory. I want to be defiant against capitalism. I want to be part of the healing and restoring of balance. That money has to go out. You can’t accumulate it and keep it in. So that can look like setting up something where you give that money to a black-led organization. Where you’re not just year after year accumulating more or having like what they call lifestyle creep where your lifestyle just, year over year, gets a little bit better. You’re able to buy more, be in the best places and things like that. There’s a little bit of that that’s gonna happen because we’re unconscious of it, but if your values are deeply rooted in something else, you have to have practices rooted in that too. And part of that is in your money and what do you do with it.

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I sometimes see, and this could get a little touchy, so we’ll see. But I do see that there is a certain belief system out there that some folks hold that is this idea of, well, if those of us who are basically not white men are accumulating wealth, then that’s going to change the systems, right? That’s part of the process of dismantling the systems by evening the playing field out and that sort of thing. I’m kind of curious about how you feel about that approach. Also, are there differences around wealth creation and wealth, for lack of a better term, hoarding, amassing wealth, when it comes to those who have oppressor identities vs. those who have oppressed identities. So, because I know you have a program called the Responsibility of White Wealth. And I’m really curious about how you feel about all of that.

Toi Smith:

I once wrote that, well, there’s this assumption that once you start making a lot of money, that suddenly you’ll become this altruistic being who is going to give all your money away. Like, let me get the money first and then I’ll give it all away. But when I’m saying like capitalism is an indoctrination, it is a deep indoctrination. Very few people get money in that way and then think like, okay, the first thing I need to do is like give it away or understand how I can start to give more instead of take more. That’s not what we do because we haven’t had a lived experience of that. I deeply believe in practices. So what is your liberatory practices that you already have so that when you get money, you already have a felt sense of that? The idea is like, let me get the money, then I’ll change. Instead of, I don’t have the money. I already see though where I’m abundant and I have a lot of things. And when money comes in, I already have a practice of I share or I give to this organization or I do this or I do that. I already have a liberatory practice and it’s just gonna shift when I get a little bit more money. But to think that give me the money first, let me become wealthy, and then I’ll give? That’s really not how it happens. So I would ask people what is your liberation practice now? How are you thinking about your money? How are you being with it? How are you being with your time? Right? Like, it’s not just money, it’s your time too. How are you being with your time in terms of like, those values? And how are you being with your relationships? All of it starts to get interwoven. And so that I would say is like, just understand that once you get the money, it’s not that suddenly you’re this benevolent person who’s gonna give it all away. You’re actually gonna get, it might be the opposite of like, oh, I got a taste of this, I need more. Once I get more, then I’ll give it away. Yeah and what was the other question around accumulation right?

Becky Mollenkamp:

Wealth accumulation and that idea of if, if those of us, and I say us, and I probably shouldn’t, because I know I’ve definitely as a white person have my own proximity to power. But those who have oppressed identities, if they are accumulating wealth, it’s keeping it out of the hands of those who have traditionally held it. I think that that’s a perfectly valid argument. I wonder if there’s a difference though for white women, especially around, as you said, the responsibility with wealth.

Toi Smith:

I mean, I think it’s tricky and it’s very nuanced depending on who you’re talking to. That’s what I’ll say. Like, depending on your social location and your values, it’s really hard for me to make a blanket statement about that because, yeah, it really depends on where you sit socially, intersectionally, and like what is going on. But I think for white women who desire, I always say to restore balance, I feel like our culture is so out of balance and it around resources and how we hold and be with resources. You want to be a part of the work of restoring balance, and healing trauma and being a friend of Black folks and other people of color and you want to be doing a part of that work, you definitely have to look at your resources and how you’re with them and be truthful about it. Right? It’s not about your feelings. It’s about actually how much money you have and what you’ve been spending it on. There has to be this, again, this liberation practice of you can’t have it all in that sense. And we shouldn’t desire that. We have to have new definitions. Right? So looking at deeply in the Responsibility of White Wealth, we look at how much money you actually have and get clear on the lay of the land and like this is what’s available. And the challenge is to say like you’re giving up something to be in support of something else, right? To say like I’m giving up X, Y, and Z. I’m earmarking $500 out of my budget that means I don’t get this and I don’t get this and I’m okay with that because that’s connected to something else. It’s this real like conscious, body felt, embodied way of being and it takes time. It’s not just for show it becomes a lived way of being and in that Radical Business conversation that you mentioned with me and Jen Lemen. Jen Lemen is one of the few like white women that I know that really embodies and makes that trade constantly, and is conscious about it. I think a lot of times what we see on social media is this discourse around like, I just need to be angry and I just need to as white women, I just need to be angry and I just need to go protest. And I just need to, yes, write your senator, do all those things, but what is your everyday daily liberation practice? Do you have somewhere where you’re giving like $25 a month if you ain’t got no money? But if you got a lot of money, how much are you giving away? Or what are you saying no to, right? My kid’s not going to private school anymore and I’m giving that money to someone else. Like it’s these real deep uncomfortable trade-offs that have to happen.

Becky Mollenkamp:

This is something I hope people sit with. That question of what are you what are you doing right now, wherever you’re at, wherever you’re at with your money and your time and the resources you have or that you convince yourself that you have, because often we convince ourselves we have much less of those things than we actually have. And how are you using them? You said, again, I think it was probably in the Business Beyond Profit, but it could have been somewhere else, but you said something about it’s cool to be a feminist now, but it may not be how we actually live or who we are. And it was sort of that ‘walking your talk’ piece. And that’s what I’m hearing inside of that, is like really checking yourself and are you truly walking the talk or is it really just performative allyship?

Toi Smith:

Do you have any practices? Do you have more excuses than you do practices? Like, are you saying like, oh, I can’t do that because of this, and I can’t do this because of that. Like, let’s just really be truthful. You’re making a choice. And some of that is based in fear. Some of that is also understanding that once you start making these choices, there are some consequences, right? Especially inside of whiteness, and especially inside of like, connect that to patriarchy. And if you’re married, like all of these things, when you start to be defiant to these systems, you have to be prepared for the consequences. And Black people have been up against this all the time. We aren’t here because we played the game. We’re here because we were defiant and loud. And so part of it is how do you do that? What are your little pieces of defiance? What are you really rooted in? And I think sometimes this is my problem with feminist language is because it’s just language. You still get to keep all your power. You still get to keep your social location. You still get to keep all of the things. You’re not giving up anything. True liberation and being not even an ally, but being really about healing and on the right side of history means you got to give up something. Like, what are you giving up?

Becky Mollenkamp:

That’s a great question to sit and ask yourself. I love that. I love that so much. When you talk about doing business differently and thinking about operating sort of outside of the capitalism, the systems that we’re so indoctrinated into, I think people, whenever I use the term anti-capitalists, I can see the visceral reaction people have. Because I just think there isn’t an understanding. Anti-capitalist sounds like anti-money. Right. For most Americans, if they hear you say something about trying to do business differently, trying to be anti-capitalist in your approach to business, your approach to time management, any of these things, it’s like, you’re just saying that I can’t have anything. I have to give everything up. I can’t have money, nd that doesn’t feel good. But you’ve also said you can run business and be anti-capitalist and still make money. So what do you think? What is the system? What would you say is the system we should be aspiring to? What does that look like? How is it different?

Toi Smith:

First of all, like, I have to say something around that. Like when you say, you know, I’m doing business differently or I’m anti-capitalist and people lock up around like, oh, I can’t make money. And I always say, I’m not anti-money because to say that we don’t need money is delusional. This is a system we live in, right? I’m anti-extraction, exploitation and harm. That’s what I am. I still need money. I still desire to live well. I still want my kids to live well. I still want my beloveds to all live well. We need money, because that’s the system we’re in. So I want to name that. When I say I’m anti-capitalist, that’s what I mean. I’m not doing harm. I’m trying to do less harm. And I’m not trying to uphold the status quo. And for me, when we do that lockup, and we’re like, oh no, you’re telling me I can’t have things, you’re telling me I can’t have money, that lacks imagination. You’re telling me you can’t imagine something different? I’m asking you to imagine something different. So first let’s get clear there, but I would also say in terms of, you know, doing business differently and what that looks like and what that means is if I’m not about exploitation and harm, that means I’m not about exploitation and harm for myself in the way that I work. Right? Again, that’s not saying I don’t want to make money. That’s saying I don’t want to be exploited or extracted from in how I work and I’m not going to do it to myself. And I’m not going to do it to others and those that I work with, those that I hire, those who I collaborate with. I’m going to speak up if I see those things existing in you know, if I’m asked to do a networking event, if I’m asked to do certain things, using my voice to challenge some of those norms as well. So doing business differently isn’t this, some out there things, there’s some real concrete ways to think about.

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I think examples are always super helpful for people. So what does it look like in your business? What are some of the things that you’re doing that help you feel like, ‘this is my way of chipping away at this wall?’

Toi Smith:

I mean the biggest thing for me is I really try to tend to myself very well. Black women aren’t supposed to take care of themselves. We’re supposed to be the mammies and take care of everyone else, and so especially as a single mother I try to prioritize my well-being and that looks like, you know, structures of rest built into my business and my collaborations. I also when I am working with people, I make sure that they are paid a living wage. When I’m collaborating with people it’s transparent across the board. We all know how much money is coming in, we all know what the split is, we all are clear on the work that we’re doing so there’s no scope creep. It’s a lot of communication and understanding of who’s doing what, and really honoring people’s work and time and energy and not bypassing any of that just under the gaze of like, this is work, right? Like really treating it like work is a big part of our worlds, and how do we make it more juicy? And part of that for me is like when I’m collaborating with people that we are, we all have the room to speak and understand what’s going on. And so that pay is really important. Transparency is really important. Consent-based marketing, which, you know, making sure that people know when they’re signing up for my things, what that looks like and what that means. Having really clear plain-language agreements in my work. Like, if you sign up for my offerings, you will see that. I don’t use a lot of legalese because not a lot of us can understand that. So we don’t know what we’re signing up for. And that is a structure of capitalism that they get to like, the corporations get to hold the power because you don’t even know what you signed up for because you can’t read it because it’s in legalese, which is a classist thing. So I flip that and I’m like, these are the plain-language agreements of you signing up for this course, of us collaborating together, for you signing on as my client. And having these checkpoints of when I have clients of like, is this still working for you? Does it work for me? Like, are we in agreement that we want to continue working together? I think those are some of the ways. I would say the last thing is being clear on my money. Like, these different numbers of what’s my bare minimum number? Like, okay, I know I need to make this amount of money. So I don’t have to be unsure about that. And making sure that if I get to a certain amount that’s more, what am I doing with that money? Where is it going? And for me, because I have Loving Black Single Mothers, which is my organization, a lot of our money, like the way we’re thinking about money and how I’m thinking about my business is we give money to the organization that then goes out to the Black single mothers.

Becky Mollenkamp:

I’m going to be having guests to talk about some of those aspects around rest and around money, because those are such big important things for us to think about. And time, in the same way that we look at money as this resource, time is such a resource too and how you’re spending it and how you’re allowing your team to spend time, how much of their time you’re using, how you’re paying them for that time, but also for yourself. Both of those things are so important. So I think that’s really helpful, and thank you for sharing those things. I wanna just talk to you about politics because one other thing I read that you shared that was like so affirming for me and felt really great was this post about ‘We cannot separate business from politics,’ I’ll put it in the show notes, because we are really told again and again, I think, that you’re not supposed to bring politics into business, keep those things separate. I have had the personal experience of when you do, that there can be repercussions, there can be a lot of feedback that’s not helpful around that. And I love that you said that business is political and we have to stop acting like it isn’t. And so, first of all, I just want to say thank you because that was really validating to hear, but I’m wondering if you could share a little bit about how you as a founder and how you suggest for other founders, like how do they bring politics into business? How do they approach their political beliefs or their, I don’t know, I hate even using the word political because for me it feels more like just foundational human beliefs, but how do you bring all of that into business and balance that and knowing that there will be people that don’t think that those things should be brought together?

Toi Smith:

First we have to think about everything we do in our business is political. How much you pay people, that’s a political decision. How much you think someone supporting you an admin who normally admins are women, how they get paid, that’s political. And what we’ve been really, what capitalism has been great at socializing us to believe is there’s these different spheres that aren’t impacted by capitalism or patriarchy or white supremacy or anything like that, but business deeply is and those decisions on how you talk about your work and who you’re calling in, that’s political like who do you want to work with who? Who do you want to be of service to? How do you think about how much you need to be paid? Well, how have you been socialized? And how you’ve been socialized is political. So the political is personal, and we always have to remember that. And if you work for yourself, your business is deeply personal, so you can’t extract it. And you’ll also hear business isn’t political, but also business isn’t personal. But it’s all very personal, and so we have to understand that that benefits other people and not us. And I always ask the question, who does it benefit? Who does it benefit for me to believe that business is not political? Who does it benefit for me to believe that business is not personal? If you’re a worker and you work in a corporation, who does it benefit for you to believe that business isn’t political? Okay, so all the decisions of how much you made, your time off, your medical insurance, all these things. They’re not political. They just aren’t decisions that people made. That’s not true, and so we have to really start going upstream and being like, okay, who does this benefit? Who does this ideology benefit? And why do I keep holding onto it? And what do I want to do differently, right? A lot of times there can be a lot of grief with that because you’re like, oh shit, like, I’m living a whole life or existing in a whole way that I don’t want to do anymore. And so I would say, take it piece by piece, little by little, but really be truthful and hold business is deeply political, deeply, and business is personal. And held up against your values, what do you want to do with that?

Becky Mollenkamp:

That’s a question I love using also with people is that, who benefits from me believing this, thinking this, feeling this? The answer very often is not me. Or if I do benefit, I benefit in ways that are still maybe not aligned with my values or how I really want to be showing up in the world. So it’s a great question for people to ask themselves about all the things they’re doing. Is there anything else that when you think about founders who would identify as feminists, womanists, who are trying to, you know, say, I want to rebel against, I want to liberate from these systems that are so harmful that you see them struggle with, or that are challenges for them that we didn’t talk about yet.

Toi Smith:

No, I think we covered good ground. I’m thinking about clients that I’ve had, and a lot of the questions come up around, time, around rest, around money, like what to charge. Especially if you hold a liberatory values, it gets really cyclical, because you’re like, I want to charge a quote unquote fair or accessible rate, all the things, but for me, I usually work with a lot of women of color, Black women, and some of the white women that I also do work with, we have to really understand, again, the values. Like, why do you want to charge an accessible rate? And what does that mean? And for me, I always say though the reason I always incorporate like a sliding scale or have like lower price points is because I want class diversity, right? Like I want different classes of folks, poor folks, I want low-income folks, I want people who normally don’t get access to these things inside of my spaces because it’s so much richer. And so it’s not just diversity of race. Like you can have really high-earning people and you get the same monotonous kind of conversations, no matter the race. So I always say what are your desires, you know, in conjunction with your values and who do you want to be in space with? And so that’s a lot of times what are challenging my clients is like what to charge, how much to charge, who their community really is, and how that balance between ‘I want to serve this community, but I also need to make money.’ And sometimes there’s not an easy fix for that. So it’s a lot of conversations, it’s a lot of experiments, it’s a lot of trying. But I will also say dealing with conflict comes up a lot with my clients around how to deal with clients who want refunds or folks who weren’t happy with your work or if there’s conflicts in people you work with and you’re hiring, like we don’t have good muscle for that either. Because we’ve seen top-down, if we come from a corporate world, of what I say goes. We don’t know how to be in relationship and deal with and understand that conflict is not abuse and not like really be carceral with how we’re dealing with folks. So that’s another big thing that comes up.

Becky Mollenkamp:

The piece about who you want to have where you talked about community and the people you have in and not wanting everyone to be the same, like at that same place, because so often I find that people who have started to make a certain amount of money. want to be in spaces with people who are making the same amount of money or more money, right? This idea that they’re going to challenge me more, they’re going to, I don’t know what, I’m not exactly sure what they think, but I feel like it’s this idea of like, I’m going to be more motivated if I’m making six figures, if I’m with, you know, high six- or seven-figure earners. And I love that asking yourself like, why do you want to be in those spaces where there aren’t those other voices? And what is the, like, do you not think that people who are earning less money are bringing something to the table? And I wonder if inside of that is a bit of like the, I won’t have to be challenged around some of this internalized beliefs I have about capitalism. So that’s interesting. It’s something for me to sit and think about too, because I see it so often where it’s about like, oh, you need to be in the room with other people who are making as much or more than you, as if that’s the only value that someone brings to the table.

Toi Smith:

It’s classist, right, to really think about that. But this also goes back to a lot of white women who are feminists have no experience being with people of color, truly, or Black folks, truly. They have no relationships. 75%, I think that’s the stat, of white folks have no friends of color in their world. So, you know, as much as we’re saying we’re feminists and we want to do this work and all of these things, but your relationships don’t mirror that. And of course, like, I’m not saying go out and get your one Black friend, but I’m saying, like, be aware of that and, like, how your business or all the things are perpetuating that so that you are just constantly in the mix with the same people all the time. Like, I’m not saying you need to root your business and call in all the Black folks and you don’t know how to be facilitating that. I’m saying are you in spaces? Did you sign up for someone else’s program where there’s a diverse mix of class, where there’s a diverse mix of ability, of thought, of things like that? Have you been in spaces like that at all? And that’s another thing of those practices that we’re talking about. How are you a feminist and you haven’t been in these spaces? That tells me a lot.

Becky Mollenkamp:

The other thing that I got from the Radical Business Summit was I loved the pricing structure. I hadn’t seen it so explicitly in that way before. I had seen like pay what you want or different things like that. But I loved how it was priced by ‘if most of these attributes match your life, consider paying this lowest rate, if most of these the middle,’ you know, and there were sort of three price points. And I have emulated that sense on anything I do that’s not one on one work. That’s just my time. But anytime I’m doing any group thing, any course thing, And I have gotten such incredible feedback from people on that, but they had never seen it either. And it’s such a beautiful model for pricing. And I know that you do some sliding scale things as well. And so I think that’s something for people to consider because it’s a really, I think it’s a nice way of handling that conversation around money of just trusting people to see themselves inside of these things and choose what’s right for them and being able to then, because I think what happens sometimes with well-meaning folks is they price too low because they don’t want to alienate anyone. I don’t want to, I want to make my stuff available to everyone. So then they’re pricing everything so low. So allow people to self-select into where they can afford.

Toi Smith:

With sliding scales, what I love is that—sliding scales with that economic narrative that helps people identify their economic privilege. How much money do you actually have? What do you have? What’s your network like? What are your resources? Like, how are you actually really resourced? What I love about that is that it does tend to offer more class diversity because then you get folks who are able to actually do something. if they can maybe play on the lower end, but on the higher end, it really challenges people with money to be really clear about their money. And it’s not about their feelings. What I always say, it’s not about your feelings about the money. You can have big feelings, great, but it’s more about the actual money. Do you fit this narrative? This is your price. You can have big feelings about that, but that’s not what we’re discussing. So I really have loved it over the years of incorporating that.

Becky Mollenkamp:

And thank you for modeling that. And I love that also because it is so educational and also really honoring of your entire potential market, right, to say, I want to work with all types of folks. And then the last thing that you had just talked about was conflict. And I feel like that is something that, especially for women, we’re very conditioned into, I think, avoiding conflict. And often, I see again and again women who are just so afraid of conflict and making a definite link between conflict and problem. Conflict equals scary. Conflict is always bad. Like it’s a really loaded word, a charged word. What are some of the things that you find helpful for folks who are in that place, which I think is a lot of people who just the idea of conflict scares them, and they want to go the opposite way. And that’s what I see happens a lot. They actually do just go the opposite way. Instead of engaging, they disengage and leave. What are the resources that you think are really helpful for starting to unlearn and relearn in that area?

Toi Smith:

I would say first of all, like you shouldn’t be hiring if you don’t understand how you handle conflict. Because there are gonna be a lot of things that come up when you’re working with others, especially as you are like the founder of a business and you are having people work beside you, like collaborating with you, across time zone, space, all the things. And you know a lot of times because we’re not working in the building together and I can just go to your office and knock on the door and get an idea, all of these things are happening in different locations and misunderstandings happen and conflict does happen. So this is not, is it going to happen? It is, it’s going to like, is it going to happen in question? It’s no, it’s a statement. It is going to happen. And so if you don’t understand for yourself, like check in with yourself, how have you traditionally handled conflict in your world? Have you fawned? Do you freeze? Like what do you do? Do you belittle? Do you ghost? How do you normally handle it, and really get understanding of that and be truthful. And then I would say start to read books around conflict and power. Power is a really big thing. A lot of feminists don’t look at the power structure. And I’ll say white feminists, understand power and the power that you hold, especially as a business owner. You are in, when you are hiring people as an admin, as a project manager, you are hiring folks where you have some sort of power. And so I would say, first understand your location in power, how you handle it, but then do the work of learning liberatory power. What does it mean to be in relationship with people in power when you have power? For me, I work with people who I have relationships with. A lot of folks that I collaborate with, we’ve been friends for a while or we build a relationship over the years. Or, they have the same politics and values that I do. So it makes it easy when conflict happens that we both understand that we’re not going to be carceral. We’re not punishing each other. We’re going to talk. And I think as a Black woman, I’m not scared of conflict. I have found in working with white women, a lot are. Conflict is abuse. It’s like, ‘oh no, don’t be direct with me, don’t tell me the truth because I’m going to be in a ball somewhere.’ And so being clear around that is like what I would say is the most important thing. And also I would say have these conversations with the people you’re hiring. If conflict comes up, ask your people, how do you handle conflict? How would you like us to handle if something comes up? Don’t wait until it happens to then be like, ‘oh shit, we don’t know what to do.’ Oh no, we kind of have this in our agreements. We know, I understand you said, like, you prefer this, this, and this. Like, lay it on the table.

Becky Mollenkamp:

And this to me feels like such an example of where business is political because yeah, there are power dynamics inside of. even within client relationships, even if you’re a solopreneur and people are hiring you, and then there can be power dynamics that come in that. And then also when you’re hiring and those power dynamics and inside of that is a lot of political stuff. And you mentioned working with people who share, at minimum, share values with you. Ideally, people that you’ve known and have actually seen them walk their talk and all of that, but at minimum sort of that values piece. And that to me is part of that talking about my politics or being clear about my values and what matters so that I am not walking into a client relationship that is not having at least that shared desire to do better. So even if maybe we have, I think we always, all of us have growth edges and we’re all going to have learning to do, so I’m not going to say anyone’s perfect, but that we are at least on the same path. And I think that’s so important to think about. And also when you’re bringing on, when you’re hiring folks to make sure that at minimum there is some shared desire to do business in the way you wanna do business.

Toi Smith:

And I mean, I would just think about, what was the last job you had and you felt like they did not do what they were supposed to do? That they could have done things better, that you were not treated well. We all have that experience where we were like, they didn’t treat me well, they weren’t treating people well and I would have done this differently. Think about that and question if you’re doing that in your business, and work to change that.

Becky Mollenkamp:

And I think so much of this involves some real honesty with yourself, which is not always easy for people to do, especially, I will say, white women, not easy for us to always confront the stuff within ourselves and to get really honest and to separate your feelings from the facts. Because you’re going to have, like you said, big feelings about money, but what are the facts about those? You have big feelings about how little time you have or all of these things, but what are the facts about how you’re using that time and allocating that resource? So I think that that’s important work and really challenging. But if you’re not willing to do that, then are you really trying to do anything differently? So thank you for sharing that. I like to finish by asking everyone to share a resource. It can be a book, a podcast, just a person that you learned from, whether this is somebody who was really transformative for you on your journey or just somebody you’re currently really learning from.

Toi Smith:

I mean, I read a lot. One of my favorite, one of the people I’ve learned from the most, particularly around capitalism is Sylvia Federici and her book, “Caliban and the Witch.” But a number of her other books, I have most all of them, but she talks around the body and capitalism and really does a deep dive into how capitalism started and how it impacted women and it impacted the body and it impacted how we really be with these systems. And so I would say like Sylvia Federici across the board, if you can find a talk on YouTube, if you can pick up a book, if you can listen to a podcast episode, she’s amazing.

Becky Mollenkamp:

I recommend everyone go to your website and look at your suggested readings because I know that I filled up my cart with a whole bunch of new books based on stuff that you recommended that all sounded amazing, so you have great resources on there. And the last thing is an organization that you would want people to support. I already know I have a feeling because you actually have your own organization that’s doing great work called Loving Single Black Mothers. I assume that’s probably the organization that you would want to feature.

Toi Smith:

I mean I would feature 2. I would say my organization which is Loving Black Single Mothers, which is a direct giving organization. We give money directly to Black Single Mothers. We put money in their hands. We’re creating ecosystems of care for the flourishing of Black Single Mothers. So I would say check us out. But I also would say Motherful, an organization by one of my beloveds, was founded by one of my beloveds, Heidi Howes out of Columbus, Ohio. And they are supporting single mothers as well, but they are location-based. And so they are doing that through a food pantry, through financial things, through all of it, but they are doing the work on the ground and building community. So I would say one of the two.

Becky Mollenkamp:

Or both if you have the resources to do that. And I will be making a donation to those organizations as a thank you for your time. And I really hope that everyone listening who got something out of this conversation would consider also making a donation to either or both of those organizations as a thank you for your time and for sharing all of your knowledge.

Toi Smith:

I appreciate it. Thank you for all the wonderful questions and the opportunity to talk more about capitalism.

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