Conscious Consumerism

The new normal foisted upon us by the coronavirus pandemic has fully exposed every fault line in American society. The retail apocalypse is here and the empty Sears at my local mall proves it. Of course, the carrion crow that is Amazon continues to feed off the leftovers.

Three years ago, I wrote glowingly about the necessity of online commerce. Some of that still holds true. As an asthmatic, I’m high risk for covid so I try to limit my in store shopping to essentials as much as possible. I spent thirty minutes in Pier 1 getting some plates and glasses in their going out of business sale (only the second time I’ve purchased from that store, yikes) and damn near had an anxiety attack. So yeah, if I run out of hair dye I’m ordering it online instead of going to Target, CVS, Ulta, and the beauty supply store trying to find some.

So about Amazon. I’m not naive. I know businesses don’t have values and that capitalism is an inherently inhumane system. It will always cost more money to keep people happy, healthy and thriving than it will to make money off their suffering. But some truly disturbing things have come to light about Amazon. Their labor practices now include exhausting their drivers so much that they get in fatal car wrecks; making workers continue a shift while walking around the dead body of one of their coworkers; and most recently, investing in companies only as a means to steal their IP and launch competing products. Last week, Amazon warehouse employees launched a walkout and called for a daylong boycott of the site. Jeff Bezos will testify before Congress next week because the DOJ is investigating the necessity of antitrust proceedings. This is the toxicity we support by subscribing to Prime, getting packages delivered daily and letting Alexa organize our lives.

A friend of mine posted about the IP issue on Facebook and was wondering if any of her friends had stopped using Amazon. Honestly, we should. Of course in practice, the answer is more complicated. I’ve been an Amazon customer since I was 13. I’d save up my allowance money so I could pay my mom let me use her credit card for used books and CDs. Later that turned into textbooks, Kindle e-books and MP3 albums. My use of Amazon picked up when I started working, and didn’t want to spend my few hours off in a crowded store looking for socks or whatever other random thing I needed.

I should boycott Amazon. I can get a Nook and buy e-books from Barnes & Noble. I can cancel my Prime subscription and download music from iTunes. But in the end, how much does that solve? Just because those other companies aren’t making headlines doesn’t mean that their labor practices are squeaky clean. And in some cases (Nook vs. Kindle) switching would mean getting an objectively worse product.

This is why living under capitalism is hard. It permeates your whole life and there are just too many issues to fix. Too many traps to avoid. Too many things to care about. ON some level, I understand why so many people just say f*ck it and live in willful ignorance. We can’t afford to do that though. 2020 has been an awakening. I hope that this moment of demanding accountability is actually the start of a real movement to change things.

 

 

 

Millennials Are The Torchbearer Generation

Millennials get a lot of crap. We’re stuck in childhood, we lived with our parents too long, we’re killing the napkin industry and business formal dress codes, etc etc. Of course, a lot of Boomers act like we haven’t experienced three recessions; the collective trauma of 9/11 and repeated mass shootings; and the realization that we won’t outlive the planet unless we take swift and drastic action to curb climate change.

I look at all of that and say that we are the generation that has redefined adulthood. It wasn’t by choice but there have been some positive externalities. Most of us have experienced long periods of unemployment or underemployment,  so our careers and salaries weren’t good enough to justify giving up everything else in our lives that we enjoy. At 30+ years old we still eat cereal, watch cartoons, and play with puzzles and coloring books. We  signal boosted the importance of mental help and are ending the stigma around seeking therapy. We started demanding inclusivity from not just in the media, but at our workplaces and churches too. We grew up on liberal ideals, and most of us didn’t become Republicans. Sure, maybe it’s because we’re still broke. But the end result is that if you don’t get rich by the time you’re 30, you usually stay humble even if you get rich later. And humility fosters empathy and cooperation, something the Boomers were solely lacking.

Perhaps most important of all, we might be the first generation to actively encourage the passion and idealism of the kids behind us instead of trying to kill their dreams. If we can survive the Boomer backlash to our efforts at making a better world, the eventual political coalition of Millenials and Zoomers will be legendary. (I read Zoomers that as an alternative to Gen Z once and it stuck.)

The amazing thing is that before they turned 18, the Zoomers absorbed by osmosis all the lessons we had to learn the hard way. It’s because of us that they feel so free to be themselves. Are they more sensitive than we were, less jaded, less tolerant of the sarcasm that’s just thinly veiled judgment? Yes. But that same sensitivity has 16 year olds sneaking out and breaking curfew to join the Black Lives Matter protests. 13 year olds are confronting their parents on their BS (something that took most Millenials 30 years of living and 2 years of therapy). They learned early that adults don’t know anything, and America values money over everything. They’re sick of America’s shit and they’re going to take us into a more progressive future, whether or not they have to drag us kicking and screaming.

I’m looking forward to it.

Not All Nerds. . . Just You

Last weekend, actor/comedian Donald Glover, aka musical artist Childish Gambino, headlined Saturday Night Live. He also released a brand new single and music video, “This Is America”. I don’t know if he just cemented his relevance at the right time, or people felt just that strongly about seeing him dance shirtless for five minutes, but he seems to have reignited the “black girls don’t like nerds” debate (which is just a subset of the “girls don’t like nerds” debate). The truth is, it’s not all nerds. It’s YOU.

I have strong feelings about this subject and I consider myself an expert. I’ve been a nerd my whole life and I went to college at Georgia Tech, arguably one of the nerdiest schools in the country. Half of my family and 90% of my friends are nerds. I know plenty of nerds with thriving love lives, and it oftentimes boils down to three things.

  1. What’s wrong being confident?

    It’s true that, on balance, school age nerds aren’t getting checked for like that. But the popular kids were maybe 10-20% of the class and everybody else was just there. I’m not here for a grown ass man complaining about how the head cheerleader laughed at the Valentine’s card he gave her in th grade. GET OVER IT! Sure, I was bullied in middle school. And back in high school I got curved by a couple of nerds too. But I didn’t attribute any one guy’s rejection as an indictment of my lifelong undateability. Stop letting other people determine your self-esteem!

2. Stay in your lane

I don’t care to find the episode, but the tv show Friends actually had a good theory on what scientists call “assortative mating”. That is, most relationships occur between people who are more similar than not. Friends‘ take was that if you rate the entire population on a scale of 1-10, you can only successfully date within two numbers of your number. So if you’re a 6, you probably can’t pull anyone above an 8, but you won’t be happy with anyone less than a 4.

 

Blerd = black nerd, ICYMI.

My whole life I’ve seen nerd guys strive for the sorority presidents, homecoming queens, and Instagram baddies of the world and ignore cute nerd girls that they hung out with every day.

3. Pretty Pays

Urkel was a solid 4, who somehow managed to get caught in a love triangle with two 8’s. But that’s TV, and when Urkel transformed into Stefan he was an 8 himself. Which brings me to my third point…attractiveness matters.

 

Now there are certain things–height, body type, facial features–that are hard or impossible to change. Life is a lottery and we don’t all win. But even if you are, objectively, less attractive than the average person, there are things you can do. Half of the allure of Stefan was confidence. He knew what he wanted, and went after it. He stood up straight and made eye contact. And I’m convinced that potion had some Sudafed in it too because Stefan wasn’t a mouth breather and didn’t speak in a nasally whine!

Now, it’s clear from the picture above that when he tried, Steve Urkel was actually a 7 not living up to his full potential. All those things men say about wanting a girl who “keeps herself up”–staying in shape, hair done, nails done, cute clothes–apply in reverse. You may not look like Idris Elba but you damn sure don’t have to look lia mess. Find some clothes that fit you properly and make sure they’re ironed. Get acquainted with Proactiv. Find a good smelling cologne or after shave, and don’t forget the deodorant. Keep your hair cut and groomed in a style that flatters your face (you’re not Killmonger or The Weeknd, so don’t try it).

So what’s the takeaway?

 

All that being said, the heart of this “nerds never get the girl” argument is entitlement. And it’s the same entitlement that forms the core of the extremist “incel” (involuntary celibate) community that has spawned several mass shooters. You are not entitled to anyone’s time or affection. Companionship and an active sex life are not rights. All you can do is put your bait out, and see what bites.

Soundbites

I haven’t posted in a while, but I’ve had some too-long-to-tweet thoughts knocking around my brain so I decided to put them here. A lot of this is old news but I assume you all come to this site for my sparkling commentary.

Mo’Nique and Netflix

So here’s the Cliff’s Notes, in case you missed it: Mo’nique got offered $500k to do a Netflix comedy special, and Netflix also asked her to do an audition for them. She asked Black people to boycott the site, and proceeded to cut up all over everywhere. Wanda Sykes revealed that Netflix only offered her $250k, and DeRay got $5 million.

Now I believe (and the data show) that the gender pay gap is a real thing, and it’s worse when you adjust for race. But I have questions, sis. Businesses always lowball their first offer and so I wonder if she made any attempt to negotiate? Regardless of having an Oscar, Mo’Nique hasn’t had any major credits since that Christmas movie a couple years ago. In the entertainment industry you’re only as relevant as your last success. It might have been a smarter move to negotiate them up to $2 million, knock it out of the park and come back asking for more when you have the receipts.

Robin Givhan and Journalistic Ethics

Pulitzer prize winning journalist Robin Givhan was invited to serve on a panel at the BET Leading Women Defined conference. There was an interview with (forever First Lady in my heart) Michelle Obama, where conference attendees were asked to put their phones away as the event was a “safe space”. Well, Robin wrote this article about the interview and was kicked out of the event a few hours after the piece was published. A detailed synopsis can be found here. At any rate, I have to side with the reporter. Unless you say something is off the record, it’s on the record. And a media outlet such as BET should know the protocol for dealing with journalists. The panel was being recorded in a room full of hundreds of women, in what world was that a private or confidential affair? This was an avoidable scandal.

On Cardi B & Tiffany Haddish

People seem to be really surprised by both of these women and I’m confused. Cardi B is the living embodiment of everything rappers have been praising in their songs for years. Tiffany Haddish is funny in the same raunchy way that Tracy Morgan and Eddie Murphy are, and funny sells. But folks seem to just be sooOoOoOO aMAzEd that they became successful being “regular”.

WHAT?!?

Dave Chappelle is regular. Chris Rock is regular. Lil Wayne is regular. Drake is regular (basic, even). Are we really surprised in 2018 that women can be atypical and also successful? Are there really that many grown ass women out here who feel like they can’t bloom in the fullness of their being? How incredibly sad. And I don’t mean that in a snarky way. I was bullied as a child, but in a way it was the gift that keeps on giving. I learned early on that I had to count on myself for my esteem and sense of worth. I learned that  you can fight people or placate them, make yourself invisible or try to fit in, and they will find something wrong no matter what you do. Might as well be yourself.

 

On Hairdressers

Every Black woman has a salon story. Getting our hair done is a time honored pastime. While the natural movement (and broke millennials) have caused a shift away from weekly wash & set appointments, it’s still a thriving industry for weaved and braided styles and hair color services.  But these new school hairdressers are something else. They’ll still overbook you, but now if you’re not in the chair at 11:58 for a 12:00 appointment, you’re hit with a salty text message informing you that if you arrive later than 12:15 you will forfeit your appointment and also, your $50 is nonrefundable. If you want a custom hair color, you get charged extra for the dye. If you want a weave or braids, you need to arrive at the salon with your hair freshly washed, dried, moisturized and detangled. My God, do I need to put in my own cornrows too??? A friend of mine said a hairdresser once asked her to bring her own shampoo, I kid you not! A scalp massage used to be part of the shampoo, now it’s a $15 upcharge. And getting your scalp greased (hands down the BEST part of the salon experience) is completely defunct.

On Thrifting

I use an app called Poshmark to resell items in my wardrobe that I’m done with, as well as final sale, nonrefundable items that just didn’t work out. I never expect to get back more than 50% of what I paid for an item. Americans generally prefer new stuff, so thrifting still has a stigma attached to it. Also, I don’t buy designer brands and they don’t make clothes like they used to. Still, I typically only sell things that look basically new. If it has stains or rips I just give it away, and I put in the effort to write detailed descriptions and take close up pictures in good lighting. And yet people still complain. I got a two-star rating this week for packaging.

B*tch, you bought a sweater for $12 and 20% of that is going to the app fee! Your sweater is getting folded into a flat rate priority box, and you will deal. If you want tissue paper, ribbon, a thank you note, and a perfume sample go buy a new sweater at full price!

I want to live in Wakanda

Black Panther fed my spirit.

I’ve always enjoyed superhero stories. I love science fiction and fantasy, and comic books almost always contain a little bit of both. I’ll admit that before the movie came out, I didn’t know much about Black Panther other than the fact that he existed. I watched the miniseries back in 2010, but that was it.

As you can see, the production value is decidedly subpar. But the story was good and the voice talent (Djimon Hounsou, Jill Scott, Kerry Washington, Alfre Woodard) was great. I thoroughly enjoyed it, but promptly forgot it existed as I had no real expectation of ever seeing  a live action version. I watched Blade but never really got into it. Halle Berry as Storm in the X-Men movies was a disappointment, Halle Berry as Catwoman was an even bigger disappointment. Don Cheadle was good as War Machine but he was still a sidekick. It was a feel good moment, but not one that made me run to theater.

Then Chadwick Boseman showed up as Black Panther in Captain America: Civil War, and Marvel announced a Black Panther movie and I was excited. As casting news kept trickling out, I got even more hyped up. My brother (an OG comics nerd) has watched all the #BlackPantherSoLit and #InWakanda feverishness with a detached skepticism. I’m a skeptic too, but I couldn’t suppress my inner child on this one.  We went from a low budget cartoon on BET to this:

I GLADLY bought my opening weekend movie ticket almost two months beforehand.

*******SPOILERS FROM THIS POINT ON********

Black Panther was EVERYTHING. It felt so good to watch a movie where black people and black problems and black culture were the focus, and not an afterthought. The production was loving and thorough, as each Wakandan tribe incorporated references to actual African cultural clothing, hairstyles, and rituals.

Best of all, the women were the black women I know in my own life–fierce, sexy, competent, multifaceted. Wakanda’s elite fighting force is all female. They rock bald heads and armor but still retain their femininity. Their general had a black male lover who respected her. T’Challa was in love with a covert operative who wants to serve not only Wakanda, but disenfranchised people all over the world–and we catch her in the middle of a mission to save African women from being sold into the sex trade. And all four of the women featured in the main cast are brown to dark skinned. It just felt so good to see women of my complexion being both objects of affection and trusted advisors to royalty.

T’Challa flanked by his love interest Nakia, on the left, and general Okoye, on the right.

So often the token black person in media is lightskinned; recently, more and more often they also look mixed and/or racially ambiguous. Kill all the diversity birds with one stone, as it were. But Black Panther is different. Because Wakanda is an African country untouched by colonizers, the Wakandans are overwhelmingly dark skinned–with natural hair! I’ve honestly never seen this in a movie that wasn’t about slavery. Wakanda is the Africa that exists in every black American’s mind, a myth of what could have been if slavery had never happened.

Lupe Fiasco captured this feeling in the track “All Black Everything” on his Lasers album. It’s one of my favorite songs of his, but it makes me feel so emotional that I can’t just listen to it at any old time. The first time I heard it, I felt chills down my spine and tears pricked my eyes. I’m an African American descendant of slaves; I’ve actually seen my ancestor’s burial grounds and the record that reduces his life to a mark on a tally sheet and a  comment  in the margins that “He was a good slave”. I am also descended from the Muscogee/Creek Indian tribe, a tribe whose remnants exist mostly on a reservation in Oklahoma.

But Black Panther takes us a step beyond the color blind utopia that Lupe imagined, into a world where Blackness is, at least in one corner of the world, undefeated. It’s supreme, even, and because the Wakandans were  more concerned with pursuing excellence than being conquerors, no one else had to be oppressed in order for them to thrive. However, their choice to remain isolated means that the rest of history still unfolded as we know it. Could a small but technologically advanced country have defeated colonization on the African continent, creating a unity of nations so powerful that it stopped slavery long before the Civil War? We don’t know. But Erik Killmonger’s (righteous) anger at Wakanda stems from a feeling of abandonment, that Wakanda was strong enough to help its brothers and sisters in the diaspora and chose to turn away instead.

Killmonger was a powerful villain because in him, I recognized the same anger I feel whenever another black person is gunned down by the police, or gets a sentence three times harsher than the one given to the white person who committed the same crime. I feel that anger when I hear rhetoric about welfare queens and entitlement mentalities. To keep it 100% real, I felt that anger when I heard Africans complaining about black people wearing kente cloth and dashikis to the movie theater. My roots are lost to me. Ancestry.com can tell me I’m from Nigeria and most likely of the Yoruba tribe. But I don’t have a cousin whose house I can stay at. I don’t know what village I’m from. And anti-American sentiments are widespread enough in Africa that I wouldn’t necessarily be welcomed if I went exploring to find out.

The conflict between Killmonger and T’Challa is one that every African-American descendant of slaves faces. Do we fight and live  solely to protect ourselves and our families from the dangerous forces of white supremacy? Or do we share our resources in order to preserve Blackness across the country and across the world? It’s a hard choice, especially so because white supremacy is so vicious and the resources that we have are not nearly as much or as organized as Wakanda. We don’t have vibranium weapons to ship to the hood, or a superpowered king who can bring in allies from the United Nations. We all we got.

Even though Black Panther grappled with some heavy questions, I left the theater feeling lighter spiritually. For a couple of hours, I was in Wakanda; and there at least, black people would get a happy ending.

WAKANDA FOREVER.

I’m a lawyer, but I’m still terrified by the police.

About two years ago, I experienced police intimidation firsthand. Prior to that date, I had only been pulled over by a cop once and didn’t actually get a ticket because he didn’t have his speed gun out to know how fast I was going. (#Blessed.) I had been in the car once before when my husband got a speeding ticket, but it happened in Macon, Georgia, a city with a significant black population, and the cop was black too. These things make a difference. The cop was brusque, but not threatening.

This time was different. We were road tripping our way back from Austin, Texas for a friend’s birthday. We had reached the area between Austin and Houston where the highway dwindles down to two lanes on each side, and we passed more cows and horses than other cars. Gerald was speeding, and so we weren’t surprised when we got pulled over by the state trooper. But the events that unfolded will haunt me forever.
ST: “License and registration, please.”
G: “Sure, officer. I need to get them out of my glove compartment, is that okay?”
ST: “I don’t know why you’re asking me.”
G: “I just want to make sure you know what I’m doing, officer.” (gets out license and registration) “May I ask why I’m getting pulled over?”
ST: “Sir, get out of the car.”
G: “Sure, I just want to know why I’m being pulled over.”
At this point, things escalated. The cop went from zero to raging maniac instantaneously, he was yelling so loudly and intensely that he was damn near frothing at the mouth. “GET OUT OF THE FUCKING CAR RIGHT GODDAMN NOW!” Gerald opened the door and before he could get one foot on the ground, the cop put him in a bear hug and hauled him out onto the ground. “YOU’RE RESISTING ARREST! STOP RESISTING!” In a flash, he had handcuffed Gerald, frog marched him to the squad car and slammed him face down onto its hood.
All I could do was scream silently, inside.
At this point, the state trooper’s buddy had pulled up to the scene. He put Gerald in the back of the squad car and the “arresting” officer (I put that in quotes because you’ll notice the conspicuous absence of Miranda rights recitation) came back to talk to me. Now that he had established dominance he was calm, confident, in charge of himself again. He grinned at me jovially, putting all his pearly whites on display and smacking on a piece of chewing gum like it was the only sustenance given to a starving man.
He turned on his good ol’ boy charm, asking me how I was doing, if I was in trouble, if Gerald was on drugs and that was why Gerald was so “agitated”. “If he would just act reasonably like you, this could have all been avoided,” he declared. The words stung, given the fact that at no point had Gerald raised his voice or pulled a punch–he merely had the audacity to exercise his Constitutional rights and ask the officer why he was being detained. Meanwhile, my so called reasonableness was me doing my best impression of a docile house slave in attempt to get us both out of the situation alive and uninjured. After some time of back and forth–it felt like an eternity, but the clock showed just 45 minutes–they let Gerald go and wrote a ticket for speeding, something which could have been done without ever having him out of the car.
I’ll be the first to admit that this account is an approximation of what happened. I was so afraid for my husband’s life that I couldn’t think straight. You can argue all you want about how we should have handled the situation. But there’s the law, and then there’s real life. When you’re on an unpopulated road in the middle of nowhere, facing down a power tripping cop with a gun, you do what you have to do to survive. In that moment, I was more concerned about not watching my husband bleed out on the side of the road than I was recording the incident and getting the officer’s name and badge number. So once again, the bad apple gets away with it. But I wake up next to my husband, whole and well, every day so I have no regrets about how I handled the situation.
The coda to this story is a conversation I had a few weeks ago at the hair salon. Much like barbershops, beauty salons are a place for all types of conversations. One of the other clients in the shop that day was a black, female police officer. She was talking about her job and of course that led the dialogue back to police brutality. I shared a brief version of the story above and was met with unbridled skepticism. She interrogated me about the details, damn near accused me of lying, and told me that we should have just complied without questioning because “Miranda rights are just what they show on television. Nobody really does it in real life.”
I understand that being a police officer is a hard job. They deal with people in crisis situations and people are rarely happy to see you–at best, you arrived just in time to stop something horrible from happening to them. Usually, the police show up after something terrible has occurred, or to tell people that they’re doing something wrong. But it’s also a job that they knowingly chose. And because police officers literally hold the power of life and death, it’s their responsibility to be better than the average person. More empathetic. More thoughtful. More careful. A barista who’s having a bad day can’t do anything worse than screw up your coffee order. A cop who’s having a bad day can kill you. Yes, they put their lives on the line. But it’s a hazard of the profession that they chose. Given these unique circumstances of the job, I don’t feel bad for cops who complain about their public image problem. They’re worried about popularity. We civilians are afraid for our lives.