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!

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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.

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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 that is virtually defunct thanks to the actions of the American government.

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.

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.