Movin On Up: Thoughts on Class Transition

I’m a first generation lawyer. I’m a second generation college graduate on one side of my family, and the first lawyer on both sides. I say this because, by and large, the legal profession is still an elitist profession. Your earning power and therefore worth (to some people) is based on your pedigree. Were you on law review? Did you do a judicial clerkship? How highly ranked is your law school? You practically need a class just to figure out how to get into law school. After all, the law is an old profession which means it was founded by wealthy, land owning white men. I, a black woman with dark skin and natural hair, do not at all fit the traditional mold of what an attorney is.

This isn’t me, but it’s how I feel on the inside.

Becoming a lawyer involves a background check before law school and after graduating to take the bar, astronomical tuition, an ethics exam, an expensive bar prep course, and 2-4 day bar exam. Then you finally get to be a lawyer. Being an attorney is expensive, though. You have to get continuing education credits (sure there are free ones, but it will take you the whole year to get your credits because they’re usually only 1 or 2 hours and you need somewhere between 10 and 20). Then there are the annual state licensing fees. Then there are the bar association dues, which don’t buy you anything but networking with other lawyers except every bar association event has a damn cover charge. Let’s not forget the wardrobe, because you can’t look like a lawyer in a $40 suit from Ross.

My husband, a third generation college graduate and computer engineer, is slightly more advanced in his family legacy but similarly situated in his career. Silicon Valley is new but it came with all the old problems. Fortunately, money does solve some problems. We just disembarked from our home buying journey and it was been interesting to say the least. We could have bought a home that was $25-50k less and 15-20 minutes closer to both our jobs. But it came at the expense of living in a food desert that houses the worst school district in the area. The practical choice was clear but I still felt conflicted about making it.

I say all that to make it clear that while we are doing well, and are set to possibly end up a little better off than our parents, we are not wealthy. I don’t feel so secure in my position that I can afford to try and be the good influence of the neighborhood. I’m not ready to save the hood by living in it. The risk of buying a home that depreciates in value, of my child going to a school where they can’t be challenged because 70% of the students are not performing at grade level, of not being able to put my kids in dance or sports because the closest teams are an hour away–I can’t take that chance.

Theoretically I would love to give back–to do more community service, mentor with the Boys and Girls Club, all that good stuff. But I just don’t feel like I have enough time. Since I work in legal aid (which is half social work, half lawyering) I feel like I do community service 40 hours a week. While it’s more fulfilling than private practice, it’s much more emotionally draining because most of my clients’ problems can’t be solved by legal intervention. My brother is a bit, shall we say, militant in his political views. I”m a comprimers because I’m just honest about the fact that I like the creature comforts of capitalism. I’m not ready to burn it all down and live in a hut just to prove a point. Where is the balance between working for the cause and enjoying your life? I can’t afford to quit my job and be an activist full time. When I’m not at work I want to recharge and enjoy my husband, my friends, and some good books

What is the answer? I have no idea. All I can do is try to navigate the double consciousness of being a self-aware Black person in the [orange-haired President] era with a modicum of grace.

Life as Performance Art #MicroblogMondays

The “pics or it didn’t happen!” social media mentality that has infiltrated our lives is grating. What’s worse than going to social gatherings where people spend more time tweeting and instagramming the event than actually participating? Then there’s the fact that algorithms and Big Data have an insane about of power. They know so much about me already that I don’t want to give them every single mundane, intimate, sacred or profane moment. My entire life is NOT up for public consumption.

All the best times of my life happened when I was living it, and although I’ve liked thousands of Facebook and Instagram comments, I couldn’t quote you a single one of them. I want to put my energy towards the things in my life that give me joy and memories, not just lolz.

Click this link for more info about Microblog Mondays, which supports people who want to reclaim their personal blogs.

Sorry To Bother You Again: The Black Futurist Playlist

Sorry To Bother You was such a deep movie, and it put me in a mood to digest more media like it. My review (despite its length) just barely scratches the surface and there was a lot of stuff I didn’t get to. So if you’re interested in doing the same, here are my recommendations.

WATCH

Atlanta (FX, 2016-present)- If you aren’t watching this show, you should be. It’s hard to describe but most episodes are kind of like a magical realism black Seinfeld. But then there are episodes that veer into very weird territory (especially in the second season).

Bamboozled (A Spike Lee Joint, 2000)- This isn’t science fiction, but it is a satire very much in this vein.

Dirty Computer (2018)- This 45 minute visual album is sci-fil all the way. The protagonist is a black queer woman whose identity is literally being erased by technology. The music shows her journey of self acceptance and rebellion against the status quo. 

Get Out (2017)- Also something you should have seen by now, but it’s still very much in the vein of STBY and I’d be remiss to leave it off. 

Lamborghini Angels/ITAL (Roses)/Audubon Ballroom (Lupe Fiasco, Food & Liquor II: The Great American Rap Album Pt. 1, 2012)- There’s a lot packed into this 12 minute music video if you listen and watch closely. Interestingly, while this video was officially released it is no longer on Lupe Fiasco’s or his former record label’s official YouTube/Vevo page, even though all of his music videos push the envelope. I’d love to hear your conspiracy theories if you’ve got them. 

“Negrotown” (Key & Peele, 2015)- A comedy sketch that cuts so deep you have to laugh to keep from crying. 

READ 
“When Survival Equals Destruction- Let’s Talk About Sorry to Bother You” by TaLynn Kel

“Sorry To Bother You is Great Science Fiction, People” by Wired.com Culture Editor

“The Case for Reparations” by Ta-Nehisi Coates- This longform essay is sci-fil only in the sense that reparations is seen as an impossible fantasy by most. Yet, Coates deftly rips apart the idea that slavery, segregation, Jim Crow, and the civil rights struggle are ancient history. It’s an idea that only benefits the system of white supremacist capitalism that America is built on. Germany paid reparations to Europe after WWII. When apartheid fell in in South Africa there was reparations and a restorative justice panel–why should the US be different? 

Futureland by Walter Mosley- This writer is best known for his noir detective novels starring the rakish, smooth, but troubled Easy Rawlins. Remember that Denzel Washington movie, “Devil in a Blue Dress”? That was based on the first book in the series. Mosley is also a very talented sci-fi writer and this collection of stories remains one of my favorite.

Dark Matter: A Century of Speculative Fiction in the African Diaspora”, edited by Sheree Thomas- Another great collection of black sci-fi, this one pulled from black authors across the ages, including W.E.B. DuBois. If you read nothing else, check out Derrick Bell’s story “The Space Traders”, which is even more interesting in light of the current administration.

LISTEN

Everybody (Logic, 2017)- I actually reviewed this album in a post last year. I’ll link it here so I won’t repeat myself, but the TL;DR of it all is that this is a conscious concept album that bangs. Give it a try. 

“If Your Love Cannot Be Moved” (Stevie Wonder ft. Kim Burrell, A Time to Love, 2006)- Stevie Wonder is best known for his love songs. This isn’t one of them. It’s a deep cut, not one of his singles, but the lyrics remind you that Stevie lived through segregation. He was born in 1950 (just like my parents!) and started his music career in 1961, just 7 years after Brown v. Board of Education integrated schools and another 3 years before the Civil Rights Act ended segreation altogether. When he says “You can’t say we shall and not fight through hell. . . You can’t shout out peace and then vanish in the crowd” or “You can’t free the slave to enslave them differently”, he means that shit. This is a revolution song, no doubt about it.

They Don’t Really Care About Us” (Michael Jackson, HISTORY, 1995)- The title says it all. But in case you forgot, they (whether that be the Republican Party, patriarchy, the 1%, or corporate interests) don’t care about anything but what they can get out of you. So get off your ass and VOTE in this election and everyone that follows. 

Capitalism is a scam.

I’m tired, y’all. I have to admit that Drumpf’s America is wearing on me. After 8 years under our glorious King Obama, I had bought into the notion that we were heading into the twilight of the worst inequality and that better days were ahead. Now I see that the ugliness of racism and bigotry is not going to go quietly, and is in fact still actively sowing seeds of hatred faster than we can dig them up.

I get why white people are mad. Truly, I do. I don’t get paid what I’m worth. The rent is too damn high and so are the utilities, the groceries, and the gas. I have an advanced degree and over $50,000 of student loan debt. I live in a six figure household and I don’t even have one full month’s income in my savings account.

But I don’t blame this on immigrants, queer people, or minorities because they haven’t done shit but try to survive and thrive in a system that is set up for everyone but the richest to fail. 22.5% of my income goes to federal taxes, while corporations pay a top rate of 21%. But given the wealth of deductions, setoffs, and loopholes, big businesses are only effectively taxed on profits, rather than gross income. I don’t get to deduct the gas for my commute, or the payments on my student loans. I can’t even deduct the cost of my bar license renewal and continuing education fees because they’re less than 2% of my income.

Love of money is the root of all evil, and that evil comes to bear in capitalism. The natural end of capitalism and a 100% free market isn’t equal pay for equal work, or even pay commensurate with productivity, skills, or experience. It’s slavery or at best, indentured servitude. Capitalism prizes profit above all else, which means that business will never, I mean NEVER, pay their debt to society. A safe workplace isn’t a natural result of capitalism because cutting corners to increase output makes more money than making sure the factory equipment isn’t going to cut someone’s hand off. After all, basic needs are priced so far above production cost that you’ll have no problem finding a replacement for your crippled employee because people have work or starve. Wage inequality hasn’t been this high since right before the New Deal, and before that, the dawn of the Industrial Revolution. Not to mention that at the rate global warming is progressing, parts of the world will start becoming uninhabitable within our lifetime. I don’t understand why people can’t, or won’t, see that we need to band together and fight for humanity as a whole. Capitalism is killing us and too many of us are refusing to fight back.

 

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.

Be Pro, Not Anti

I started to title this post “Nobody Cares What You Hate”, then decided to scrap it because it would completely negate my point. I still think it’s catchy though.

Anyway, the internet has basically become a free for all when it comes to people’s opinions. And whether it’s due to a natural cognitive bias, or just the fact that people are more likely to share negative feelings in order to get them off their chest and feel better, negative opinions run rampant. A glance at any social media outlet will show you that entire friendships have been formed on the basis of mutual hate. We are all Silky Johnson. Nothing but hateration and holleration in this dance soiree.

What set me off was the return of Game of Thrones, which has basically become nerd football season. The show’s popularity has now seeped into the mainstream, but it’s one of those shows you either love or hate. And as the fanbase has grown, so have the voices of the detractors. Every Sunday, without fail, I would see posts on my newsfeed about how annoyed the GoT-avoiders were by our obsession with Westeros. Then there were another dozen or so people whining, “Am I the ONLY person who doesn’t watch Game of Thrones? [eye roll emoji]”.  Now we’re heading into actual football season which has prompted the predictable memes declaring that anyone who doesn’t like sports should just sit down and shut up until February.

Okay . . . . . . . . . . . . .

WHY ARE Y’ALL LIKE THIS?

 

I know snark is practically a currency now, but why must everything anybody likes (or doesn’t like) be shitted on? We have an objectively incompetent president, global warming has contributed to two devastating hurricanes in the past month, and apparently N@zi$ are making a comeback. If you’re going to complain, there are better things to complain about than the fact that people like Beyonce.*

These are hard times, and everyone has struggles no matter what brave face they put forth to the world. You can’t control a crazy boss, or freeloading coworkers, needy kids or a sometimes thoughtless significant other. And talking about the things that are really bothering you can feel too personal, too vulnerable. Complaining about insignificant things vents off a little pressure, and there’s usually a chorus of friends who hate the same thing cheering you on. Another culprit is isolation. When I was younger, I only had a handful of classmates who enjoyed reading books as much as I did, and most of them wouldn’t publicly admit to it. So my way of empowering myself was to define myself as the anti-cool kid. I was special, but in a way nobody understood. Once I got to college and met like minded friends who were nerdy and confident, I started shedding some of those tendencies.

Sometimes, though, our complaints stem from pure jealousy. We often look down on people who are relentlessly positive on social media and accuse them of not being real. But how much of that is people pretending not to have problems at all, versus choosing to focus on the positive? There’s not reason to be envious. Happiness is not finite. The fact that someone is (or appears to be) living their best life does not make the likelihood of me being happy any less. There is so much bad out there that I enjoy a laughing baby video, a photo of someone’s freshly planted garden, or hearing about a law school classmate’s victory at trial. I need those moments of levity to get me through.

So let me know your thoughts. What do you love that other people love to hate on? What’s something that’s making you happy this week? Let’s sprinkle some good vibes up in here!