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.

State of the Union

It’s 2016 and election fever is in full swing. (I’m amped up to vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary). Sadly, that means the Obama era is at an end. This was a once in a lifetime experience! Even if it doesn’t take another 220 years to elect the second Black president, Barack Hussein Obama will always be the first.

Of course, even though a lot of people tout Obama’s presidency as the beginning of a postracial era it was nothing of the sort. Instead, it put a magnifying glass over tensions that had been left to simmer for years. Minorities and women getting ahead is okay as long as the economy is booming, but the Great Recession exposed America’s true colors. But I think the time has come for Black people to have some real talk with themselves.

Let me preface this by saying that I don’t absolve white people of their responsibility to act like decent human beings. There is no excuse for racism, the same way there is no excuse for rape.  But if we’re waiting on white people to collectively apologize for slavery or issue some kind of reparations, it’s not going to happen. The fact that many white people are awakening to the reality of racism and bias in various areas of life is a victory. a lot of folks denounce Bernie Sanders as not being enough of a progressive because his platform is based on class and economic issues. Well, guess who makes up a disproportionate share of the poor in this country? At this point, it’s like we’re cutting off our nose to spite our face. As vindicating as it would be to get reparations, it’s a pie in the sky dream.

The Oscars boycott is a recent example. The Academy Awards have been “so white” since day one. But what are black celebrities doing about it? I’m a firm believer in DuBois’s Talented Tenth theory. The best of us have a responsibility to reach back. The African American Film Critics Association was founded in 2003, but most of us have never heard of it. Last year,  the BET Award for Best New Artist went to Sam Smith- a white singer who didn’t even attend. Granted, most of us don’t have the resources of the 1% to affect policy and invest in our communities on a large scale. But Oprah, Will & Jada, LeBron James, etc. do. In addition to pushing for governmental policy changes, we should be demanding our own give back. It would be more productive to encourage our own people to create opportunities for those who come after, than to continue to beg the establishment for recognition. Essence magazine is no longer black owned and it’s basically 100 pages of ads for Walmart, lotion, and hair care products along with 3 articles on how horrible it is to be a black person. Yet when the sale happened, we didn’t boycott.

Things need to change. We need to build bridges with other people of color and stop playing Oppression Olympics. The experience of every minority culture in America is unique, but Blacks, Latinos and Asians share a common struggle of being treated as lesser than the white majority. We need to get out and vote–not every 4 years for the president, not every 2 years for Congress, but every. single. year for the mayor, city council members, comptroller, superintendent, whatever. So much policy is made at the state and local level–sales tax, property tax, school districting, zoning laws are all decided every year by old white people, because the rest of us (not just black people, but EVERYONE!) don’t vote.

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.

Dollars and Sense

It pains me that raising the minimum wage is even a debate. In a capitalist society, you’d think that more money for everyone to spread around would be a good thing, but apparently not. Seems that a lot of folks are surprised, appalled, and even downright pissed that fast food workers dare ask for $15/hr. When it comes to money, it seems a lot of people can’t (or won’t) apply logic and just do the math. I swear Americans despise poor people because we’re all convinced that one day we’re gonna make it to the 1% even though statistics say that’s nearly impossible. I mean it’s the 1%, not the 99%, for crying out loud! I’ve seen a lot of chatter surrounding this thanks to the “Fight for $15” strikes that happened this week. I’ve got more to say than will fit in a tweet or a Facebook status, so I decided to dust off my blog and cut through the BS.

First, the entire point of creating a minimum wage was so that every person who made the effort to work full time would be able to feed themselves and their families. The analogy used by the Supreme Court in addressing that this law was constitutional was that if wages fall below a certain point, you are basically doing  slave labor.  Post- industrialization, women’s lib, and desegregation, the types of jobs that are relegated to minimum wage have changed. Factory assembly line jobs are  almost defunct. What hasn’t changed is that minimum wage jobs are typically thought to be disposable. The fact is, somebody has to take out the trash. Somebody has to flip the burgers we eat two and three times a week. Somebody has to fold the cheap clothes we buy from Target and Old Navy. Somebody has to be the mall security guard. Somebody has to drive the metro bus. For whatever reason, it’s easy to ignore the issue because fast food workers are apparently not worthy of a living wage.

There’s a lot of talk about how raising the minimum wage will destroy ambition. That has not and will never be true. Minimum wage is still minimum, and $30,000/yr is just  barely comfortable for a new college graduate. It certainly isn’t enough to support the kind of lifestyle that most people would be content with living forever. And I’d bet money that raising the minimum wage would get more people into the workforce and off welfare. Why? Because in some states, you can actually live just as (un)comfortably on food stamps and Section 8 housing as you can working a full time minimum wage job- and you’ll have a lot more free time to boot. If you already grew up in the projects, why work harder to stay in the same place? Hell, there are professional women quitting their jobs to be homemakers because their $50,000 salary won’t cover the daycare they need to be able to work, much less the additional food, clothing and shelter costs children entail.

“But fast food isn’t meant to be a career”, you say.” Well, teenagers can’t work full time because they have school. Most retirees don’t want to work, and age discrimination screens out most of the rest of them. To reiterate, as long as we demand cheap consumer goods we need low wage workers to provide them. Some of those workers will inevitably be adults with families. Well, as discussed above, there’s a demand and a need for minimum wage jobs. No economy can support a 100% white collar workforce. At that point, the cost of living would skyrocket because we’d be importing groceries and paying jacked up rates to keep the lights on. Even if everyone could afford to attend college, not everyone would want to- and that’s perfectly fine. Doesn’t mean they don’t have a right to live. But even if college was compulsory, we’d just end up with a whole bunch of degreed burger flippers.

What’s sad is that is seems like people need someone to feel superior to. Sure, maybe you make only marginally more than the Wendy’s manager- at least you have a degree, so you can call yourself elite. In reality we need a raise in wages, minimum or not, across the board. Subsidies and tax breaks for corporations have kept the prices of consumer goods low, but wages have remained stagnant. Even wages for professional jobs have not kept up with inflation because corporate profit margins are bigger than ever before. Nobody wants to advocate for bettering the lot of the poor because we all believe that someday we’ll be millionaires. Truth is, if you don’t own real estate, stocks, bonds, and a trust fund, it’s just a matter of how many missed paychecks it will take for you to end up on welfare.

The lesson of the day? Stay woke. Capitalism will chew you up and spit you out.

 

Fight-for-15

 

Get mad when it counts

There are a lot of valid reasons for black people to be angry: Police brutality. Disproportionate unemployment. The school to prison pipeline. That being said, I’ve seen a lot of outrage over trivial issues. Sure, human beings are both frivolous and profound. But there is so much anguish wasted on the  WRONG DAMN THINGS! For example: the current vitriol leveled at rap artist Iggy Azalea.

I like her music. It’s catchy and has that southern twang I’m used to from my favorite rapper T.I. However, I can be objective and acknowledge that Iggy’s no great MC. She’s not in the same class as Lil Kim, Outkast, or Biggie. But neither is Migos, Future or 2 Chainz, and I don’t hear anyone hollering for them to pay homage to the socio-political history of hip-hop.* I’m a history major, so I understand that it feels like white people only ever take from black culture without giving back- because that’s largely true. It happened with jazz and it happened with rock n roll; this is not new. The difference is that nobody who hasn’t been living under a rock would think that white people invented hip-hop. It took 30 years for the world to even receive a white rapper that would be taken seriously, and Eminem was judged by a much higher standard than any black rapper at the time. The man raps in iambic pentameter and it wasn’t until his third album that he really became mainstream and fully accepted into the hip-hop community. Black people may be a minority in this country, but we are the leading exporters of cool. The side effect of that is swagger jacking- imitation is the highest form of flattery, right? We should really be impressed that hip-hop is so powerful that it made a 16 year old white girl leave her country to chase a dream.

I say all this to say that if we’re going to start drawing lines about what real hip-hop is and isn’t, we need to start at home first. Example: Nicki Minaj. The girl can spit. She’s a lyrical beast. But she relies heavily on her sexuality to sell records (like Iggy) and often eschews hard core rap for poppier records that reach a Top 40 demographic (also like Iggy). I like her music, but Nicki is basically the Lady Gaga of rap: a massively talented woman who doesn’t exercise her full potential for fear that it won’t be marketable. I can’t entirely blame her though. The marketplace is flooded with subpar rap music. The fall of CDs, record labels, and traditional artist development means that music is fully democratized, for better and for worse. Soulja Boy got rich and famous off of a song he made in his bedroom, that never would have gotten past a label A&R rep. Future sounds like he’s singing into a water bottle. Juicy J’s flow sounds like ratchet nursery rhymes. I can’t understand what the hell Young Thug or The Migos are saying. 2 Chainz seems to exclusively make songs best heard in a strip club. Yet, the latter three can be heard all over the radio. But nobody is pointing at them and saying it’s a rap apocalypse, or that they don’t know enough about hip-hop history. If rap is “our thing”, then shouldn’t black artists be held to the highest standard? Shouldn’t we be boycotting all the artists who glorify sex, drugs, and female debasement before we start assuming that the lone white, female rap artist is single-handedly destroying the genre?

Personally, I don’t think rap has to be all one thing. Much like there are different subcategories of jazz, the same thing goes for rap. Some of it is political. Some of it is inspirational. Some of it is just good to dance to at the club, or blast in your car. There are lowbrow and highbrow elements to every artistic medium, and that’s okay. You wanna be mad at something? Don’t get mad because white people are saying “on fleek”. Be mad because the black girl who invented it didn’t think to trademark it, and now some white people are making money off it. Don’t be mad at Iggy, be mad that her sworn nemesis Azealia Banks twitter beefed herself right out of a record deal. Don’t be mad that Macklemore won the Grammy instead of Kendrick. Be mad the BET Awards are a joke, the Soul Train Awards haven’t cracked the mainstream, and black America still thinks the height of artistic merit should be determined by the whims of a panel of old white men who probably didn’t listen to the album.

There’s plenty to get mad at. Get mad where it counts.

 

*Speaking of which, when was the last time hip-hop was really relevant for being a political movement? Aside from the handful of rappers like Kendrick, Macklemore, Lupe Fiasco,  Common and The Roots who are known for socially conscious tracks- and a few others like Wale who participated in the Ferguson protests- hip-hop is mostly prized for its cool factor and being a party starter.

 

Girls Run the World

“Why don’t women get along? Because we believe that being bad is better than being powerful.” – Iyanla Vanzant

Much of what we say to women about a woman we don’t like boils down to “Who does she think she is?” And sometimes, it’s legitimate. I’m the last one to tell you that we can all be kumbayah, all the time because some people are just flat out rude. BUT. You should not let someone else’s behavior dictate your own, and no matter how justified you may feel in disliking someone, it doesn’t give you license to cut a fool too. However, those situations are not the ones that I want to talk about. I want to talk about why it is that we so often say, “I just don’t like that chick” on first impression. While I’ve definitely uttered those words more than once, I’ve much more often been on the receiving end. People (90% being the female variety) have told me that I’m spoiled, stuck up, arrogant, unfriendly. This usually followed a time where I was not deemed to be accommodating enough to other people’s agendas. When conversations arise that result in me voicing my high expectations for suitors; situations where I affirm my belief in self-care and say “no” to something; when I refuse to bend over backwards or change myself to convince someone to like me- that is when I am suddenly, “too much.” But why is that?

The Iyanla quote above made me think: when we unabashedly set high expectations, we are exercising our power. And that is uncomfortable because women are socialized to hide it. We are victims of learned helplessness. Somewhere along the way, we allowed ourselves to be convinced that feminine softness, or the idea of Biblical submission, meant that we were obligated to be everything that men wanted and ask permission for our autonomy. No, not at all! The way I see it ,being a woman simply means that you don’t use a bludgeon where a stick will do. Countless studies have shown that women’s tendency to lead by consensus, and collaborate in the workplace, is just as effective when strategically deployed as more aggressive leadership techniques. And note that I said “strategically”: the nicest person in the room doesn’t usually win in business, but you can also look out for your own interests without trampling on others. And there is also power in putting yourself first. Women also absorb the idea that we need to be everything to everybody and end up putting themselves last. I rebuke that notion. As the youngest child in my family and a self-proclaimed princess, putting myself first isn’t as hard for me as it is for others. I know that if I’m not good to myself, I can’t be the best student/lover/friend/sister/worker that I can be. I feel no shame in asking for help when I need it, or letting myself be pampered because when I am happy and healthy and grounded, I have nothing but positive energy to put out into the world.

So what about you? Are you comfortable claiming your power?