Put your name on it

DISCLAIMER: The below is not intended as legal advice or counsel and should not be followed as such. If you have an intellectual property law issue, consult with an attorney because this blog post does qualify as legal representation and is written for informational and entertainment purposes only.

I’ve seen it time and again. A hashtag or tweet goes viral, white people start making money off of it, and a Black person pops up to say “Hey, I did that first! Where’s my credit?” Then I sigh deeply, and make this face:


It’s true that most people have no legal training. But I didn’t think you needed to go to law school to understand that if you get a product or service for free, YOU are what’s for sale. So that means: Snapchat owns your snaps. Instagram owns your ‘grams. Twitter owns your tweets. Facebook owns your statuses, photos, videos, messages, and whatever else you put on there. There’s also this neat thing called “the public domain”. Anything that isn’t copyrighted is part of the public domain, and can be used by anyone, whether or not they give you credit.

Not everything can be protected under intellectual property, and there are three different layers. A copyright protects the original expression of an artistic work, e.g. a book. A trademark protects a brand name and accompanying logos. Both “Coca-Cola”,and the cursive script it’s written in are trademarks. Patents protect physical inventions that make the required “innovative leap” from already existing devices.

So how does this apply to social media. Hashtags are not copyrightable because they don’t qualify as an artistic work. A poem in your Facebook status could be copyrighted, however. Hashtags can be trademarked, but only if you’re using them to sell goods as part of a business (ie, coffee mugs or t-shirts). The business part is important, because that’s what tripped up the creator of #BlackGirlMagic. (In my opinion, the fact that her shirts said “Black girls are…magic!” rather than #BlackGirlMagic is also part of it).

Even if you have a trademark, you can’t stop other people from using the hashtag in their tweets. For instance, a Black woman came up with the “Me Too” sexual assault awareness campaign ten years ago. She wrote a blog post about but didn’t get the credit. In my opinion, she has no right to be mad. If she had a website or a nonprofit called “Me Too”, then fine. But social media has a very short half life. When I googled”me too sexual assault”, Ms. Burke’s blog wasn’t even on the first page of my Google results (and let’s be real, nobody goes past the first page unless it’s for a school assignment). Get your SEO search together and hush. Some things you have to be okay with not getting credit for. There’s so much information out there that you’re basically shouting into a void unless you take proactive steps to stand out.

Ideas are a dime a dozen. The money is all in the execution. If your tweet goes viral on social media, your best bet is to go write a buy the website domain name, blog about it, and start selling something with your hashtag on it. (Shout out to the women who came up with #BlackLivesMatter and started an actual foundation.) Otherwise, a random white person will swoop in and start profiting off of it. Black Twitter hasn’t been just us since about 2013 so conduct yourselves accordingly. Otherwise you’re going to be scrolling through your timeline and see an ad with the hashtag you wrote on it going, “Hey! I thought of that!”



Bills, Bills, Bills

False equivalencies irk me. I try my best to ignore clickbait and purposely inflammatory social media posts, but every so often one gets to me enough that I have to pull out my soapbox. This is one of those times. You’ve been warned!

It’s hard to fit nuance into a Facebook status, but this one is woefully lacking. The TL;DR of it all is that this is ultimately a class issue (although race always plays a part in that because this is America). I don’t know any black people with well off parents who were not, or would not have been allowed to live at home and get back on their feet when they didn’t get a job right after graduation or when they got laid off from their first job. After Tex got laid off, we lived with his parents for 7 months and didn’t pay any rent, bills, nothing. If it had been much longer than that, they probably would have asked us to chip in for groceries but I wouldn’t have felt it was unfair. Conversely, I’ve known lower income white kids who lived at home and got part time jobs in order to contribute to expenses.

Truthfully, the vast majority of Americans (Black and white!) are living paycheck to paycheck. One recent study shows that about 60% of us don’t even have $500 in savings. That was a small sample size, but if that large a percentage of us don’t have even that small amount, how many don’t have the recommended 3 months’ living expenses? If your financial situation is that precarious, imagine the burden of supporting an adult child who is no longer eligible for Medicaid, must be registered separately on your car insurance, no longer eats 2 of their 3 meals a day at school, and is now at home 8 hours a day with the lights and A/C on. Together, that easily costs another $500 a month.

For parents who earn $250,000 or more a year and have inherited wealth, that picture is completely different. An alumni legacy scholarship and proportionally lower tuition kept them out of college debt. A trust fund from their parents allowed them to put 50% down on their first house, enabling them to pay it off in 10 years, buy a new home and rent out the old one (creating a second stream of income). So when little Becky wants to take off a year between high school and college, it’s no problem for her to spend her time going on spring break and overseas mission trips on her parents’ dime. When Timmy graduates and has to take an entry level job that only pays $30,000 a year, he can stay in his parents’ rental home until he makes enough money to get his own place (which will almost certainly be a house, not an apartment).

Comparing this situation to Black parents who didn’t buy a house until their child started kindergarten, have 15 more years on their mortgage, had to co-sign loans for college tuition, and have to contribute to the cost of a nursing home for their parents (who had no retirement savings) is just unfair. Couple that with the average person’s complete lack of financial education and it creates a vicious cycle.

I really think that financial education should be part of the K-12 curriculum. Every kid has to take calculus even though only a small percentage will pursue careers that require its use. But they don’t know how to balance a checkbook or create a budget as every adult will have to do? That’s madness. I got those lessons throughout life from my parents, and enterprising teachers who taught me about the stock market and income taxes. But that should be available to everyone.

Common Cents

America, the cheapskate. With this new administration, there’s a lot of talk about balancing the budget, reducing taxes, and that old chestnut–“job creation”.  Part of the problem is that we don’t have people developing skills that are more relevant to the economy than coal mining, but that’s another post for another day. But conservatives love to talk about how policies are helping or hurting small business owners.*

There’s all this talk about job creation and how things like the Affordable Care Act discourage business growth. **The truth is that it takes money to make money. If you can’t afford the expenses for your business–including reasonable employee wages–then you need to reevaluate before you start talking about growth. If you can’t pay your employees, you can’t afford to grow– period! So either you need to reevaluate your business processes to see how you can better handle your workload with what you have, or up your marketing game to get more business in the door.

It’s really unfortunate to me that so many business owners are so cheap. Everyone knows the saying “it takes money to make money”, but few seem to truly understand that. It’s not hard. When you are starting a business, most of your profits should be reinvested as working capital. That’s not to say you shouldn’t pay yourself something to live on. But the first three years are not for you to run out and buy an expensive new car or wardrobe, or lease an expensive office downtown in the hip neighborhood. They are for you to master your branding, network, market yourself, and find out what processes will allow you to scale up from the current skeleton crew operation.

As you all know, I’m a lawyer. As a service professional, an attorney’s or law firm’s reputation is everything because a lot of business comes through word of mouth. Doing a half-assed job on cases you shouldn’t have taken, and missing deadlines because you can’t manage your docket, is bad business and will potentially get you in trouble with the state bar.  Discounting every client who complains about your fee will bite you in the foot. If they are a repeat customer, they’ll expect the same discounted rate. The clients they refer to you will expect a discounted rate. They also won’t take your seriously. In my experience, the clients who get a discounted fee or are on contingency are the most high maintenance, demanding clients. They want to go to trial long after it’s clear they should take a settlement and go home. You waste precious billable hours wrangling them when you could be working on more lucrative cases. All of this for a client who is not substantially contributing to your bottom line.  Many of these things are true for other professionals as well.

So that’s why my interview the other day irked me so much. The firm had a standalone building with a dedicated reception lobby, two conference rooms, four offices and a break room. There was a recent model year BMW parked close by. My interviewer’s shoes looked designer and their shirts and suits looked custom tailored. Yet, they want someone to work for them 7 days a week for a pittance.  See, we millenials peep game. The same Baby Booomers who claim we’re lazy and entitled, told us to know our worth, negotiate everything, and demand respect. Now that the rubber has hit the road, they’ve changed their tune. They want us to do better, just not better than them. And that’s messed up.


*Everyone thinks about the Mom & Pop diner when you say small business, but they don’t give a crap. Under tax law you can create an S-Corp, literally “small corporation”, which can’t have more than 100 shareholders. But there are S-Corps which are multi-million dollar  international operations. #TheMoreYouKnow

**The ACA requires that businesses with 50 or more employees provide sponsored health insurance coverage. The cost of this coverage is deductible by the company as a business expense.

The more things change…

Last night, I went to bed with hope. As of 11pm CST, the presidential race was still neck and neck. I figured that I might as well get a good night’s sleep and let it be. I was going to have to live with the consequences either way, why wait in anxiety?

I always knew this was going to be a tight race from the simple fact that DJT (no free Google results on my blog!) was not laughed out of the presidential race. It was clear from the beginning that the old rules of politics had been completely rejected. Unfortunately, it was the fruit of a poisoned tree that was planted during the Clinton presidency. Philandering with an intern was certainly immoral. But was a consensual affair between two adults worthy of an impeachment? Certainly not. And since then, politicians have been exposed for doing much worse. The impeachment failed, but the gauntlet had been thrown. The seeds of what would later become the Tea Party had been planted and taken root.

Bill Clinton was followed by two terms of a hawkish Republican during a time of domestic crisis. George W. Bush was regarded by many (including my teenage self) as a joke. But it is only now, faced with DJT, that I realize how much worse it could have been. Given the excesses of a deregulated Wall Street, I don’t think any president could have prevented the economic crash (although Bush’s actions afterward probably made it worse). Similarly, 9/11 was another misfortune that could not have been helped. But strains of white nationalism began creeping in. There was talk then (as there is now) of creating a Muslim registry. Anyone that dared to question the president, the wisdom of the war on terror, or the necessity of a law that gave carte blanche for our government to surveil us was deemed un-American. The fissure between the two parties turned into an all out divide. Washington has never been a place of reliable cooperation. But suddenly, the Democrats and the Republicans weren’t friendly rivals willing to agree to a flawed but tolerable middle ground. We were enemies.

The election and re-election of Barack Obama was, for many of us, a refreshing palate cleanser. He spoke about hope, and change, and unity. We believed the fact that he was an Ivy League educated, world traveling, community organizing, biracial Black man, raised by a single mother, meant that he was emblematic of the melting pot that America claims to be. He was born poor and worked his way up to becoming the most powerful man in the world. No matter your politics, you had to respect the man’s passion and reverence for our country and our government. Right? Wrong. The stain of racism has never been bleached away. And the internet revolution created, for liberals, a growing consciousness of just how many other -isms existed. Race and gender were just the start. It goes deeper, to xenophobia, implicit bias, rape culture, misogyny, white privilege, etc, etc, etc. To some folks it must surely have seemed as if their very whiteness had become a crime, something that had to be explained away rather than accepted and unknowingly traded for unearned power. But rather than recognize our shared humanity and attempt to reach across the aisle, Republicans doubled down on identity politics. Their party was the sole party of religion, family values, patriotism, and all things wholesome. By extension, Democrats had to be the opposite.

The liberal party in any country always has it harder. Conservative values across the globe have one thing in common– uniformity. That uniformity makes them a force to be reckoned with, because they will hold their nose and toe the party line before they become the weakest link by defecting to the enemy. By contrast, liberals worship their conscience and have no qualms abandoning the party vote. They despise “politics as usual”, and must always vote for something rather than against something else. The lack of pragmatism is hugely damaging, because they sacrifice long term coalition building for short term satisfaction and the ability to say “I told you so”.

I won’t recap the 2016 election cycle. Volumes have been written on it and we don’t yet know what a DJT presidency will bring. The best I can hope for is the maintenance of the status quo. I find it hard to believe that a pathological liar who says things like “Grab her by the p*ssy” will magically transform into a measured, rational statesman during his inauguration. I am deeply, bitterly disappointed that half of America is either racist, or finds it acceptable to vote for one (because any candidate who is endorsed by the KKK and does not immediately repudiate such an endorsement, is giving his stamp of approval to what they represent). I am disappointed that an eminently qualified female politician who has suffered a few lapses in judgment is somehow worse than a man who proudly states that he would date his own daughter, and mocks any and everyone not white, male and rich. I am disappointed that black lives matter less than white comfort. It’s true that God is with us. But He is not responsible for what happens to us on earth–we are. God was with us during slavery and Jim Crow, the Holocaust and Vietnam, Japanese internment camps and 9/11. But people died all the same.

Our government only works as long as we believe in it. It only takes a spark to start a fire that will burn our institutions to the ground. For all of those who voted for DJT but claim to reject his hateful speech, now is the time to prove it. Prove it by holding him accountable from here on out. The line has been drawn. Are you on the wrong side of history?


Why I’m With Her.

News broke this week confirming what we already knew–that Donald D_ru.mpf is the official Republican presidential candidate.

For a brief moment in time, progressives all over the country were excited about the prospect of Sen. Bernie Sanders becoming the Democratic presidential nominee. Ultimately, he failed, but not before running a grassroots campaign that will likely end up in the history books. The silver lining is twofold: young and progressive voters are definitely invested in the election, and Hillary Clinton has adopted several of his key platform points. I believe that if she is elected and we continue to put political pressure, she will move to the left on more issues.

But some folks aren’t satisfied. They refuse to vote for the lesser of two evils, they say. Hillary is a liar, they say. They’ll write in for Sanders or vote for one of the third party candidates because it’s time to stand on principle, they say. While I understand where they’re coming from, ultimately I am almost as disappointed in these people as I am in D_ru.mpf supporters. That’s saying a lot because, I’m deeply disappointed in those people I know who are voting for D_ru.mpf.

The thing is, I’m black. Sure, the Ancestry.com DNA results show that I’m just as much Nigerian as I am Native American, Russian and French. But I believe in calling a thing a thing, and I’m black. Blackity black. Negro. Colored. I’ve got chocolate skin and frizzy hair. There’s nowhere in the world I can go where I will be treated as anything else. But I’m proud to be black, despite the enormous psychic burden it confers. I’m very proud of my people and there’s nothing anyone can do to change that. I grew up just 20 minutes south of Atlanta, the birthplace of Civil Rights Movement legend Martin Luther King, Jr. It was instilled in me that Black History was just as important as American history (and that I needed to know the difference). I majored in history in college and when we studied European revolutions, I saw W.E.B. DuBois, Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X and the Black Panthers.

Embedded in my cultural legacy are the things that make me an individual. I am passionate about political and economic empowerment, as well as community service. I believe that because I call myself a Christian, I am called to love and understand others even when they deny my humanity. I believe that people are more important than money. I believe that socialism is the best form of government, but human greed and shortsightedness get in the way. I believe in law and order, but not in blind obedience.

My grandparents grew up during segregation. When they wanted to go the movies, that had to go certain showings on certain days and times and walk in the back door. My parents attended Georgia State University less than 10 years after integration. My father had a professor who refused to give black students a grade higher than a C+. My mother wrote a genealogical history of her family and tracked down my 4x great-grandfather’s grave. The only record of Sandy Reed, other than his tombstone, is a line item in his owner’s log book:

“He was a good slave.”

Let that sink in for a minute.

I can never escape the fact that not too long ago, historically speaking, I would not have been a United States citizen but property. Chattel. An object. Not a human being, much less a lawyer. When I got married, I wanted a formal ceremony and I took my husband’s last name not just because I wanted to, but because years ago I would not have had that right. I went to a law school named after a known racist. I went to school in classrooms where the Confederate flag and the American flag hung side by side. And while I don’t know of any relation, my maiden name is that of a president who is lauded for giving the country its independence but who refused to free his own slaves.

There is not a person in this country who doesn’t know of Adolf Hitler and the Holocaust. In fact, we romanticize World War II because it is the only conflict, other than our war for independence, in which America was unquestionably one of the Good Guys. And yet, the hate filled populist rhetoric Donald Dr_ump.f is spewing doesn’t ring any bells. He has dismissed or insulted every non-white male group in this country, from black to female to disabled. He has been endorsed by the K_u.Klu.x-Kla.n and has not condemned them. He encourages his followers to beat up and kick out anyone at his rally who dares to question him. Recently, a white woman attended a Drumpf rally with a sign that simply read “No Racism, No Hate” and had protesters try to rip the banner out of her hands and cover it with the American flag. Apparently, if you support equality and understanding you don’t love America.

When people tell you who they are, be skeptical. But when they show you who they are, believe them. In the year of our Lord two-thousand and sixteen, we cannot all agree that racism is a bad thing. This is madness. But it is a madness we are familiar with. It is a madness that makes it acceptable to gun down a black person for simply being unfamiliar. It is a madness that demands a system be put in place to track the more undesirable elements of society. It is a madness that justifies the systematic isolation and extermination of an entire race or ethnicity for “the greater good”. It is a madness that turns hatred into patriotism and bigotry into justice.

Our country is facing a crisis. Do not be fooled. D.ru_mpf is not running for President on lower taxes, or more jobs, or any other legitimate reason that outweighs his real platform. He is running on hate. Whether or not he believes the bigotry that many (if not most) of his supporters ascribe to is irrelevant because he is their voice. A vote for Dru.mp.f is not a vote for making America great again. It’s a vote for making America white again. It is a vote for America to return to the days when we ni****s knew our place.

And this is why I’m with Hillary. Not just because she’s the most qualified person for the job and not just because I’m a progressive liberal who doesn’t want to see regulatory legislation gutted. But because in our current system, any vote that is not for Hillary is a vote for Trump. And I’m bone-chillingly afraid of the havoc that a Drum.pf presidency would wreak. It took 100 years for black people to get from emancipation to liberation, and we fought tooth and nail every step of the way. There is no telling the damage that Dr.umpf could do. He has lifted up the most radical elements of the Tea Party and given them free rein to do and say whatever they want. His RNC speech has drawn comparisons to Adolf Hitler. How much more proof do we need in order to act?

I would love to be able to vote on principle. But I don’t have that luxury. I am black, from a black family, with a black husband, and black friends. We are teachers, lawyers, engineers, doctors, entrepreneurs, nurses and more. We are church goers, athletes, musicians, and bookworms. We are loud, funny, thoughtful, and generous. We are people. We are just like you, and yet we are disenfranchised and mocked and condescended to and murdered just for being a shade too dark. So forgive me if I don’t want to hear anything about third parties and sticking it to the establishment and how you shouldn’t have to vote for the lesser evil. Sometimes the lesser evil and the greater good are so close you can’t see daylight between them, and this is one of those cases. I am black. And I want to live in an America where blackness isn’t ignored or condemned but allowed to just be.

I don’t know if Hillary Clinton can get us on the path to that America. But I know for sure that Donald D_ru.mpf will not.

Trayvon, Eric, Mike, et al : Where do we go from here?

2014-15 was when Millenials collectively figured out that white people are still racist, the political system is rigged, and the justice system is crooked af. So what are we going to do about it?

If you were to compile a list of victims of police violence, and only include those who got media coverage, you’d still come up with a list as long (or longer!) than Bi.ll C.osby’s so-called groupies.*

There’s a lot of protests and social media buzz, and I’m not mad at that. Times have changed, the media and the way we consume media have changed. Our civil rights movement is not going to look like that of yesteryear. However…I think my generation risks throwing out the baby with the bathwater. We still need to vote, attend city council meetings, write to our representatives, and volunteer with the youth so that they know this stuff matters too. And before you say “politics doesn’t work, we’ve tried it” have we really? Only about 1/3 of the eligible voting population turns out for PRESIDENTIAL elections.

The truth is, citizens have much more power at the state and local level than federal. The President controls the army and foreign policy. Congress passes a lot of laws, but how much it affects you depends on how much you’re bothered by other people’s ability to marry the same sex or get an abortion. But state and local government basically run your life. Sales tax? Local/state government. Property tax? Local government. School district zoning? Local government. Police reform? Local government. See where I’m going with this?

You can only get so far with raising awareness. At some point, you’ve got to give people a job to do. The Black Friday boycotts are a great start, but that only happens once a year. And as much as I enjoy supporting black business year round, there’s not a black owned, non-chain grocery store or drug store where I live so Kroger and CVS are going to continue to get my dollars. I also think that we need to think multiculturally. The NAACP can’t do everything (and haven’t been doing much of anything lately). What about the Urban League, the ACLU, the National Action Network and the Anti-Defamation League? Traditional political processes are slow and bureaucratic, and we want instant results. But policy doesn’t happen overnight. And you get things done a lot faster when you can bring a coalition together to accomplish a single goal.






*I was being cute but don’t get it twisted, I know he’s a r.apist.