Archive | March, 2010

By Golly..he makes sense

31 Mar

Last night much to my husband’s horror when we made our weekly family trip to the library, I checked out Glen Beck’s Arguing with Idiots. Now I imagine some of you are wondering whatever would make you do such a thing? I know…its Glen Beck…but I have to say I was curious, after all a fair number of our fellow country folks really seem to like him.

So before bed last night I set out to read his book and I must say he makes sense….if you don’t dig too deep to realize he drops a smidge of truth with a whole lot of exaggeration. After all on page 3  he talks about how a minimum wage worker in America is still one of the wealthiest people in the world. That may true when you look at that minimum wage worked compared to some guy earning less than $2 a day in a third world country, living in substandard housing praying he doesn’t get sick when he drinks the fucking water.

Problem is, that is comparing apples to oranges and some things should just not be compared. After all our American minimum wage worker often must pay for shelter, utilities, food and childcare…hell, I haven’t even mentioned how that worker is getting to and from work. Unless the job is in walking distance from his house presumably this worker must pay to ride public transportation or pay the costs associated with maintaining a car. Let’s not even talk about the fact this worker might want to occasionally get a physical and maintain his teeth, chances are that minimum wage job offers no healthcare benefits and if it does unless they are completely free, he most likely can’t afford them.

Again let us compare that to my buddy in the 3rd world country who lives in a shanty or hut, still has extended family nearby that watches the kids and again you can quickly see, there is no fair comparison. At the end of the day both these folks have a fucked up life and that minimum wage working American most certainly does not see himself as wealthy when he can’t even get his teeth cleaned or buy fresh fruit and veggies because he doesn’t earn enough money.

Yet when I look at Beck’s original statement without any further discourse well he makes sense. Sad thing is in America we like our information distilled down to bite size pieces that don’t require much on our parts…critical thinking is just not that stylish. It’s why when news breaks that a washed up pop star like Ricky Martin admits he is gay (dude…Stevie Wonder could have seen that shit and he has been blind since he was what? 12?) we are far more interested in that news than thinking on a deeper level about the ongoing wars or fact that just that day a couple gals in Moscow decided to blow up a bunch of folks up on the subway.

Look, I admit I am guilty of it too. I recently checked out one of Howard Zinn’s books and returned it unread. Why? I flipped through it and it was just too much to get into. I used to be a fan of Noam Chomsky’s works but in the past 5-6 years I have not read more than half of one of his books. Again, too much work. But in less than a night I have made serious headway into good ole Glen Beck and many other Americans who in the past year and a half have been pumped up by Beck and his admonishment that we take back our country have also read his books and some even watch his show.

Yet without any deeper discussion to separate truth from fiction that is how we get a nation that is splintering itself and I fear headed in a really bad direction. I wish I had an answer…maybe my academic and progressive buddies need to make their books pretty to look at and stop with the big words. I mean thus far I have ran across no words in Beck’s book that make me reach for the dictionary or think hard at all.

Well have a wonderful Wednesday!

Really…it’s everywhere

29 Mar

I was relaxing Saturday afternoon catching up on Season 3 of Mad Men courtesy of my love who decided to treat me to the gift of renting the entire season at one time rather than making me wait for them to become available on Netflix. It was a lazy day, kidlet was chilling with Papa upstairs so Mama was engrossed in America circa 1960’s when the telephone rang. Initially I ignored but after looking at the number on the caller id, realized it was my good sista friend who used to live in Maine but now resides in southern New England (CT, MA and RI are southern new England, I live in Northern New England). Let’s just say that since she left Maine she has felt no love with the place and I can dig it, hell she spent damn near 10 years living in the same town in Maine made famous by a certain family that gave us 12 years of presidential rule in the last what 25 years…yep, that town, starts with a K and that’s all I got to say about that.

Now when my girl first moved to Maine she was still youngish and happily married to her knight in shining armor, a white fella a good 10 years older than her who made a shitload of cash. So she wanted to live in the best school district for their boys with zero crime…you get the picture. Well lets just say that 10 years in that town took a toll on my girl and that knight in shining armor well he morphed into a cockroach. Right about the time life started changing for my girl she found Blackness in a major way, no more undercover Blackness meaning she was Black when we hung out but did a code switch when she was around whites. Nope she went from being the favorite Negro to having her son’s teacher slap a restraining order on her when she no longer played the game. So yeah, to say she caught the bitter bug about this place would be an understatement.

So she packed up the kids after a bitter divorce and moved back to where she came, but thanks to the divorce and the pesky need for the kids to see their Papa she still is in Maine a couple times a month. Anyway, I gave her a call back since I had a feeling I knew why she was calling. See, a mutual friend had just been in the paper because she was dealing with some racist shit in her little town here in Maine. Long story short, our mutual buddy came across an email that a town official had received and forwarded to other folks…tuns out that email contained a rather unsavory “joke” about Michelle Obama who as we all know happens to be the FLOTUS. The nasty little joke compared Mrs. Obama to an ape, really not very funny at all. Our mutual buddy took this email to the media and lets just say in certain places in Maine folks have a lot to say about this, some felt it was racist as hell and others felt  that our buddy was just an oversensitive Black woman playing a deck of those race cards again.

So my girl wanted to talk about this, also she wanted to get a sense of what I planned to do since I do have a venue for sharing my thoughts courtesy of the monthly column I write for a local publication. Of course you know, I have to say something and those thoughts will hopefully be published later this week unless my editor decides otherwise. But what I really want to get to is the heart of the conversation with my girl, she made a seemingly innocent statement that I have been sitting on all weekend. She stated that she felt Maine was and I quote a racist ass state.

Now I know my girl has a lot of bad feelings about Maine, it’s that lovely relationship that goes sour like milk left out on the counter all day. You forget that once upon a time you liked that glass of milk. In her case she forgot she used to love this state. Lately all she can see is the bad but lets not throw the baby out with the bath water. Make no mistake there are some racists here but the fact is they are everywhere.

Big cities and urban areas are not immune to racism, shit I grew up in Chicago and in the city limits there were and maybe still are neighborhoods you knew were not places to go if you were Black. You might be fine in downtown Chicago but go 20 mins south to Bridgeport and there were whites who would have no problem pulling out the N-word or jacking you up. I remember years ago, a young Black boy from the adjoining community rode his bike into Bridgeport and a group of savage motherfuckers beat that boy silly to the point of brain damage. This story has repeated itself in numerous so-called diverse areas across the United States. Racism and ignorance to the point of violence is real and not at all limited to small white towns or lily white states. Shit I suspect Southern Illinois is still scary place for Black folks.

I often talk with friends from away who remind me that I live in a white state and remind me how much of a drain it can be on the Black soul. I agree it can be a drain but at the same time being Black anywhere in this country can be a drain on the soul. Looking back on life in Chicago, I was denied jobs due to my race…a brokerage firm flat-out told me they could not hire me because the clients would not want to deal with me because of my race. Once I called about an apartment in Chicago’s Lakeview area, an area that seems open and accepting after all its the home of Boystown (gay community) and well on the phone the place was available but when I showed up less than 2 hours later it was magically gone. I could go on…on the flip side and I am being honest I have not found my race to be a barrier to housing or jobs in Maine. I thought they would be but I actually landed a job, a job that by Maine standards paid damn well with complete benefits less than 2 weeks after moving to Maine. Hell, I thought being a Black woman in Maine would make it harder instead professionally in some ways its been a plus. The biggest challenge has been that salaries are much lower than I want factoring in the 100 grand in student loan debt I am carrying.

Now I know some would say that maybe I was just in the wrong areas in Chicago, well I spent my high school years and a year in my early 20’s living in a predominantly Black area and that wasn’t a cakewalk either. I was either teased or ridiculed for my “white” taste in things or looked down upon because I have working class roots…it was a damn I can’t win for losing situation. Get dissed by folks that are not like me and dissed by the one who are like me. So I have come to a place where I cannot let outside shit affect who I am, yes I miss certain things about living in close proximity to my own kind but I try for the most part to not let it get me down. Technology has allowed me to create a virtual sista circle of Black women who are similar enough to me, that I have support, some are sistas I have met in real life and some I only know via email and phone calls but its enough to sustain the soul.

I wish there was some truly ideal place where one could escape the ugliness of hate but in this country no such place exists so rather than focusing on the negatives I choose to create my own positivity no matter where I go and suggest that others do the same. I like to joke that I create my queendom no matter what…as for the Mainers I suspect if we wanted to call an entire state racist, I say look to southern states. I suspect places like Alabama and Mississippi have a few more racists than a place like Maine. Here we might have a bit of ignorance but not all ignorance equals racism, sometimes lack of exposure creates ignorance but those can often turn into teachable moments.

Wanderlust

26 Mar

Well I think the title of this post says it all…I got a bug to get the fuck out of dodge and see some of this great big world we inhabit. I recently had a discussion with my Pops where he reminded me that despite being a good wife and mother that I need to remember that at the end of this life, its my life and that I should make sure I don’t live it for others. His words struck a chord and well for the first time in years I have allowed myself to dream, to dream of a life outside the confines of this country. A life spent traveling and living and enjoying.  A life not tied down to the minutia that sometimes threatens to strangle the life out of me. 

Don’t get me wrong, I enjoy the life I have but there are days I ask myself is this it? Let’s see, I have an emotionally rewarding and socially important job that adds value to the world. I have an amazing spouse and two amazing children, one who is an adult and will be charting his own path. I have a house…you get the drift. I have all the things adults generally like to have. But I have to be honest of all the things I have ever dreamed of, a chance to travel and even live abroad has eluded me. Partly because at 18 I was a wife and soon to be mother, so I never had a chance to take to the road. I have spent my entire life since the age of 18 being responsible (mostly) but more importantly focusing on the needs of others. Even the things I did that do personally benefit me such as returning to school were about the fact that I wanted to be in a place that I could provide for my kids. So while I was personally fulfilled by that choice it was not always about me.

Now the Spousal Unit and I have often talked about retiring to Belize where we have heard Americans can live a relatively comfortable life but today it hit me…why wait until we retire? Why not take the show on the road now? Or at least as soon as we can make the plans. At first I said nah…but after spending some hours surfing around, I am starting to think it’s entirely possible. After all the Spousal Unit earns the bulk of the cash and is self-employed, he has spent 8 years in Maine working for clients who are nowhere near Maine. All he needs is high-speed internet access and a phone along with his laptop. While my job cannot be done from afar, I could go back to consulting and grant writing which could be done from afar. As you can imagine the wheels are turning…now we need to see what are great locations to set up shop for 3-6 months at a time? That’s the question we are asking ourselves…if you have any ideas I’d love to hear them.

We are also toying with the idea of even considering RV living for a bit if leaving the country for long-term living proves too tricky to navigate in the short-term, which we are defining as 1-2 years. Right now we are thinking we would still maintain our home here in Maine but I gotta say the idea of being going upwards of 6 months at a time is attractive as hell. I imagine some of you are thinking..she has gone mad! Nah, just trying to live and see the world.

So dear reader, I ask you have you ever just thought about throwing caution to the wind and heading off on a journey? If you have done anything similar to what I am proposing, I would love to hear from you, in the meantime have a fabulous weekend!

Maybe it’s not quite party time yet

25 Mar

I debated whether or not I was going to write about the health care reform bill and its passage but after realizing that I am probably not the only one who initially was happy about this until I read the fine print. I figured maybe I would share my thoughts on the matter.

It’s safe to say that without a doubt affordable health coverage is a huge issue for most folks, after all not even being gainfully employed means that you will have access to coverage. Hell, I know…the agency I work at is small and barely manages to keep the doors open much less provide me with any health insurance. The Spousal Unit is self-employed and in good years we paid the outrageous costs for self insuring which is not cheap at all until our income went into free fall in late 2007 and we spent a period of time being uninsured. Last year in a fit of desperation I applied for the State Children’s Insurance Plan better known to most as the SCHIP program that provides coverage to kids whose families earn too much for Medicaid but are without insurance.

Well in a fluke move that I don’t understand or as my Dad calls it an act of God, not only was the girl child approved but actually our entire family was approved for state medical coverage. However before you get your panties in a bunch, you will be happy to know that effective April 1 due to increased income we will be rejoining the millions of uninsured though we get a 6 month transition phase so at least I can get my hernia repaired before I go back to being uninsured.

I say all this to say I have been closely watching this discussion because with the Spousal Unit self-employed and me working at a job that does not offer benefits, I was anxious to find out what this all would mean to me. Now I will admit that at over 1000 pages I have had to look at the cliff notes version and I have found several that distilled this down to an understandable and practical level.

For starters single folks earning less than $14,400 and a family of 4 earning less than $29,000 it seems these folks would most likely be routed into the expanded Medicaid pool, I have to say after having spent a year with Medicaid, frankly while it’s not too bad for kids. In many states it sucks for adults, lets see no dental coverage, no vision and the number of providers that actually take Medicaid is shrinking.  I can only hope and I admit maybe my understanding is off so please feel free to chime in, but I see more folks on Medicaid as a real bad thing. Case in point when we were informed that we were eligible for Medicaid, almost 75% of the providers they listed in the booklet that we could sign up with were not taking anymore Medicaid patients. Need to get a referral on Medicaid? Good luck with that!  In the end the physician that girl child and Spousal Unit had been seeing  allowed both of them to stay on as patients since we had been with him for years. I ended up sticking with the sliding scale clinic I had been going to when I didn’t have insurance and let me tell you wait times to actually see my provider are quite high. Again the powers to be are going to have to tweak this big time to handle the rush of new patients in the Medicaid system, of course they have 4 years to figure it out.

Which brings me to another point that an online buddy with Medicaid experiences brought up, generally in order to get Medicaid there are asset limits, so again will the government be tweaking this? Otherwise all those newly signed up folks with shiny Medicaid cards could be in for a rude awakening.

Well now that I have covered the free coverage lets move on to folks who are either self-employed or working at gigs with no coverage, well depending on your income and for a family of 4 we are talking an income of up to $88,000 you are eligible for the subsidies and can buy your coverage in the brand spanky new exchanges that will be put together. Right now if I am reading correctly, you won’t have to pay more than it seems 9.5% of your income for coverage. So if you are Joe and Jane Doe and you earn about $60,000 as a self-employed family you can expect to pay almost $6000 a year for coverage. Excellent!

Well to be honest in a decent year our family income is in that general ballpark and today’s world with the cost of living paying almost 10% of my income for health insurance is not always doable. Hell, it’s the reason we went without for over a year. I can only hope these plans will offer real and comprehensive coverage which might…and I mean might make them worth the money.

Look, I admit there are some positives to this bill, folks can no longer be cut off  because they actually get sick and use the plan nor will folks with preexisting conditions be turned away and yes its good to know that young adults can stay on Mom and Dad’s plan. Hell, Medicaid dollars will now pay for free-standing birthing centers…these are the cool things.

But I have to say that when I saw online friends proclaiming joyously that everyone will have coverage I wonder did they understand that everyone will be pretty much forced to buy some coverage. See, everyone being told to buy coverage thus making us all insured is very different from we all are getting insurance for free. I admit initially I didn’t notice the difference until I saw some buddies of mine who I know are deep into social justice issues, some like myself are front line workers who seemed to not be rejoicing that made me wonder what this really was all about.

Mind you if you decide to opt out of this, you will get fined, oh initially it will be a small slap on the wrist penalty of $95 a year but it will go up with each passing year that one chooses not to become insured eventually to 2.5% of income or $695 a year, which ever is greater.

Now I am not even going to get into how this will affect employers since that would be its own post but I will say I wonder if this will cause a negative impact on future hiring or more employers using independent contractors to skirt the law.

Look, I like Obama,I voted for the man, I think we need healthcare reform but this bill now law seems deeply flawed, I can only hope though as the Spousal Unit said last night that over the years maybe it will be tweaked enough to provide some real coverage. Because right now as it stands we basically just got told we all need to buy some health insurance and frankly the idea of anyone telling me how to spend what few coins I have does not sit well…friend or not.

I welcome your comments, after all with a bill this large it’s entirely possible I missed the boat and if that is the case please let me know. Only thing I ask is that we keep it civil.

High pressure parenting

21 Mar

This is a bit of a rant and also a chance to purge, so sit tight. At the moment I am feeling like a bit of a parenting failure…my crime? I did not groom my son early enough for college. See, my son elder boy is 18 and a high school senior, he also happens to be class president, captain of the debate team and president of the thespian society. Generally when you hear that you think gee, that must be a kid with straight A’s who is definitely headed straight to college. Well in this case you would be wrong.

Let me tell you about my son, he is a good kid, a kid we have allowed to be a kid since after all he has had the heavy burden of being the child of parents who split when he a mere babe…he has literally spent his entire life shuttling between me and his father. Old friends remember when he used to live with me year round, new friends only know him living with his father but through it all we have always been a family.

In the early years of school he maintained decent grades, nothing that was going to tear the roof off the school but he did well. In junior high, he was hit with the death of my mother whom he was close to, the Spousal Unit and I bought our house and then a year later after being an only child for almost 14 years he got a little sister. It was also during this time his father who was never in a serious relationship after we split up, hooked with a woman he would eventually marry who brought not one but four kids to the relationship. To say things were a tad crazy when he started high school would actually be a understatment. In a very short period of time he went from being the only kid to having to share his attention in both his parents households. He has often shared that in many ways it was easier to adapt  to girl child’s arrival than it was the arrival of what is now 4 step siblings who were also teenagers with 3 of them being girls.

His first two years of high school, while he wasn’t failing any classes he also was not earning straight A’s, I would occasionally talk to him about the future and college but at the same time senior year and college seemed so far away. It was during sophomore year that his father and his new lady-love decided to move back to the midwest, a move that elder boy was ambivalent about but decided to go with because he wanted to be closer to my family and also wanted to live in a larger place. Moving actually turned out to be a good thing, elder boy blossomed at his new school where his being a child of color was no longer an issue. He had Black teachers as well as white and was able to build  a more diverse group of friends, he got involved in school. His grades sky rocketed, along with his popularity. While that move was painful for me personally, after all I walked away from everything to move to Maine and be with him, that move in the middle of high school was a positive for him.  As a parent we all want what is best for our children, in some ways he felt he had the best of both worlds, vacations out here but going to school where he actually fit in and was challenged intellectually.

By the end of junior year with a year of solid A & B’s as well as honors level classes, as well as a growing love for theatre, elder boy got serious and realized he definitely wanted to go to college. In many ways the life story of Barack Obama had inspired him, my son liked Obama so much that he even volunteered for the campaign in 2008 though it would be 2 years before he could vote. So we spent the past summer checking out colleges, the boy visited several campuses in both New England and in Chicago before settling on the school of his dreams…the University of Chicago.

Well after much discussion and debate the boy applied to 4 schools and well this week, things came crashing down. To date he has been wait listed at one school and rejected at two and we are waiting to hear from the last school. Right now my son has a great attitude, he has been plugging along with his classes and shows, in fact he is directing a show at the end of the school year and was approached by a semi professional theatre group about getting involved with them. As we wait to hear from this last school we are re-accessing the next year and I suspect leaning strongly towards a gap year spent doing theatre. I am so proud of my son and his attitude and the fact that he is not letting the rejections get him down though I know that no from the University of Chicago hurt on a very deep level. He had actually interviewed with them at the end of summer and while he felt the interview had gone well, I suspect that his freshman and sophomore grades of  B’s and C’s hurt his chances badly despite where he his now.

Which leads me to my rant. I think we put too much pressure on kids and don’t allow kids to be kids. The other night I was on a discussion board of parents with seniors who are also dealing with this college stuff and was surprised at the general attitude that kids must be groomed early on for college especially a “good” college. One parent stated that if a kid goes into high school not doing A work then clearly that is a kid not ready for college. Excuse me but we are taking 14 yo kids! Personally I feel the maturity gap between a 14 yo and an 18 yo is huge. Having seen it with my son, I am starting to believe that our current education system as it is functions is deeply flawed on so many levels. Yes I would have loved for elder boy to have gotten A’s in his freshman year since this story might be different but at the same time I have seen my child mature into someone with deep passions and convictions and I question would those have developed if I had beating him over the head to get straight A’s. Too many times we look at grades instead of looking at the whole picture. It’s times like this when I look at friends who have opted out of the whole school system and think they are on to something.

Right now we have parents who I think put too much pressure on their kids to succeed yet in their quest to do that most are in danger of becoming just more cogs in the wheel. I was also stunned to hear of families where kids applied to upwards of 13 colleges. Mind you it ain’t free to apply to these schools. I am sorry its just too much, yes if you apply to a zillion schools you greatly increase your chances that your kid is going to get into at least one. But really is it so bad if the kid doesn’t get into any? I admit yesterday morning I was a wreck thinking what if elder boy doesn’t get into a college, then I thought so what? Hell, I was 25 when I decided to go to college and having lived life, my enjoyment of school was far greater than what it would have been earlier since I tried school earlier and it just wasn’t for me at that time in life.

Nope, my son will be just fine. I actually find myself thinking to be young and not bogged down with life responsibilities like a house, spouse or kids provides a great opportunity to explore the world and learn. We had been talking about giving him the gift of travel for his high school graduation gift and now that it seems he will have time  if he wanted to he could expand that time from a few week trip to a few month trip, what an even better gift? I always wanted to travel but having married and had kids early I have never been able to get off this continent.

But parents maybe we would do good to let our kids be and not apply so much pressure, as for elder boy I know he will be fine. As he joked the other night “Ma, this sounds like a movie in the making…kid gets rejected from every school he applies to and goes on to create some cool gadget and becomes rich” I told him anything is possible son…anything is possible.

Got to revisit the dog issue

18 Mar

This is a reprint of a post that I did back in 2008 when I first started blogging. I got a fair number of emails about it since I sounded like an ass to some degree but I stand by what I wrote. What inspired me to bring this back up is that earlier today I was checking out a potential chiropractor locally who I had heard about, so I did what folks do these days and went to check out the website. Well I was ready to make an appointment until I got  to the staff page and noticed that the office dog was part of the staff. Look, I know folks like their dogs but as someone who is just not  that into dogs, when I am going to get medical care I really don’t want to see a dog in the office. I will be honest and say that since this original post in 2008, I have warmed up a bit more to dogs since the girl child is a huge lover of dogs and at some point we may consider an english bull-dog but for now its all talk.

Dogs and Mainers..they really love their dogs

In case you didn’t know, Maine is a very white state, I believe its only second to Vermont as far as the whiteness factor. Now, when a sista decided to move here 6 years ago, I knew it was white but I figured what the hell, I already own one white person (aka spousal unit) and despite growing up in Chicago I attended predominantly white schools, so I felt as comfortable as a sista can around white folks. Heck, I figured one white person is about the same as another, how different could the Maine white folks be versus Chi-town whites or my own California version?

Well I would soon learn, they are a little different out here, for starters they all seem to have a deep love affair with fleece and anything that comes from LL Bean. Now in the defense of my fellow white Mainers, LL Bean is headquartered in Maine, so that makes sense and while I do find most fleece clothing lacking on the style factor, the reality is its cold as shit here 11 out of 12 months (nah, I am kidding its cold 8 out of 12 months, on the real I generally turn my heat off in June and that is real.. mind you I am from Chicago so I know cold weather, here it’s not hawk cold like in Chicago, it’s a low-grade type of cold that never ends).

However the one area that I discovered where Mainers are different from the folks back home is with regards to their deep and abiding love for their dogs. Now to be totally stereotypical, in general it seems white folks love the dogs way more than Black folks. I have known Black folks who loved their dogs but it just isn’t the same. Back in Chicago, my biggest gripe with dogs was that folks seemed to never want to keep em on leashes or they would use a leash so damn long that you wondered why they even bothered.  That said, most of my dog issues back home were in my neighborhood, so I could reasonably assume that if I went to downtown Chicago, I didn’t have to worry about seeing dogs. It was an understanding, you keep the dogs at home, the park, or near your home.

Mainers though, well, they take their dogs everywhere and I don’t mean that jokingly, I have seen pooches sitting patiently in the car at the movie theatre parking lot. Um, why? Seriously, the average movie is at least an hour and a half if not longer with previews, you cannot bring Fido in the theatre so it seems to me, Fido would be happier at the crib chilling out. I have seen dogs at eating establishments in our largest city despite the fact that there are laws forbidding such things, yet I guess the general assumption is everyone likes dogs.. Who cares if Fido is running around while you are enjoying a latte or in a real life example trying to get a burrito?  Most Maine folks don’t but guess what I do, I don’t like dogs, I used to be extremely scared of dogs, now that fear is only reserved for large dogs and scary breeds aka pittbulls, dogs of that ilk.

Which brings me to last night, the family and I went to a street festival in town, gorgeous night to walk and partake of some good greasy french fries and other foods I generally avoid. So how come my night was almost ruined by folks strolling around at a festival/fireworks with dogs? Not cute lil dogs, no folks walking Rottweilers and pittbulls at a family festival, come on now what the hell is that all about?

I guess I was more bothered because just a few days earlier a dear sista friend originally from NYC who lives here in Maine, contacted me about a situation she was having with dogs. She has asthma and was trying to connect with a group of folks for a work retreat and she simply asked the leader of this get together to not bring the dog because she has asthma, well long story short, leader woman who is a  White Mainer said no, the dog is family and he goes where I go.

Well, as you can imagine that spawned some heated dialogue but for both my girl and I we realized that culturally Black folks just don’t dig on the dogs like White folks do. I have a Black girlfriend here who has a large dog and whenever she invites me over, she has no problem putting the dog up for the few hours I am going to be over. Yet with white folks, you ask can they move the dog so you can breathe and they act like you tried to smack the shit out of em.

It’s cultural differences like that, that despite folks like me being married to a white guy and Obama being the Democratic nominee for president that keep me aware that we have a long way to go before white folks and black folks will truly connect. It’s cool to love your dog but damn what about the humans?

Poverty is the new Black

17 Mar

Times are tough, during this never-ending great recession its hard to find anyone who has not either been affected directly or knows someone who is going through hard times. Even folks who are still working and earning decent money have been rethinking how they had been living and cutting corners much to the irritation of our national economy. After all we have a system designed to spend cash not save it, but wise folks with jobs are seeing their credit lines reduced and realizing that should they get the pink slip, they need to have a plan.

For those searching for work, jobs are hard to come by. I keep hearing the figure that there is one job for every 6 folks applying…needless to say someone ain’t gonna get a job. Its one of the reasons that unemployment benefits are being extended and we see folks using entitlement programs such as Medicaid (or whatever cutesy name they call it in your state, here in Maine its called MaineCare) and food stamps. Even without jobs folks gotta eat and healthcare is needed.

Now before I launch into what I am about to say let me state I have been poor as an adult with a kid. When my son was born, I had to receive government assistance for the first year of his life. I was 19, my then husband was 21 and we had no jobs. I had quit my job a few weeks before my son was born and we needed to eat and pay rent. My ex husband came from a well off family and while his Mom was helping us we needed more help. So I went down to what used to be called the Public Aid office aka the welfare office. I fit the demographic at that time, young, Black and with kid and was promptly signed up for benefits. A whopping $268 in cash, a medical card and about $220 in food stamps. Yes, I still remember the amounts…some shit you don’t ever forget. Now this was back in the early 1990’s well before welfare reform and long before someone decided that food stamps benefits should be given on a card.

No, back then you received an envelope filled with colorful paper that did not look like money. Let’s just say that when you went to the store everyone knew you were on welfare. It was embarrassing but I was fond of eating so I did what I had to do, when elder boy was a year old I got a decent (about $10 an hour job and this was when minimum wage was still less than $4 an hour) job and let the welfare benefits go. To say I was happy about that was an understatement. Yet in that first year of my son’s life the benefits allowed us to eat, granted we weren’t eating lobsters and steaks but we had the basics.

So as someone who is intimately aware of poverty both having had it touch my life as a child and as an adult, I generally understand that sometimes folks need help and I don’t begrudge folks that help since ideally in a society we will help those less fortunate that ourselves.

Yet when I read this article yesterday, it left a funny taste in my mouth. In case you don’t feel like reading it, the basic story is you have young educated folks many who are not the normal food stamp demographic who are out of work and they are receiving food stamps. They use their food stamp benefits to buy local and organic foods. On one level I really don’t care what the fuck they are buying, I mean it’s better than using your benefits for Twinkies and Doritos. I think what gets me is the fact that from the tone of this piece you have folks who are single (this is a group that used to have a hard time receiving benefits) who are well-educated and in some cases and I am guessing have access to resources yet they are choosing to receive benefits. From the article, it seems many are artists and well in this economy jobs are hard to come by. Now I will be honest and say this is where I channel my inner Republican but I can’t help thinking if you are single and broke and educated you most certainly have more options than a poor woman with kids. Shit, you can work the 2nd or 3rd shift at a gas station and survive…get 2-3 roommates or hell if all else fails move back home and help chip in on the rent.

In an environment where many (often with kids) are struggling yet often miss the cutoff for benefits by a few dollars to see privileged folks almost boasting about their new found poverty is a smack in the face to all the working poor. Those would be the folks who struggle day in and day out regardless of the economy, who work hard and never get ahead. I was talking to some friends about this many who are dealing with their own financial woes as extended students in graduate programs and they mentioned never in a million years would they choose this path. If times got tough enough they’d either go home or as I stated, bunk up.

It seems to me that certain career paths are always going to be dicey from a financial perspective and sadly art school and MFA’s are not known as money makers by and large, it’s just a fact.

Yet we have young folks who are embracing poverty as if it’s the latest style. Funny thing is that any of us who have been impacted by poverty know that there is nothing stylish about poverty. It’s not something you do for a season in most cases, hell I consider myself one of the lucky ones in that I was able to escape and maybe that’s why the idea of seeing folks almost delighting in their new found poverty status rubs me the wrong way. Shit, no one wants to be poor, get any job, do whatever you can because most of us know that for many entering poverty is much like the Hotel California. You can check in any time you like but you just can’t ever leave.

PS: If any of you hipster kids stumble across this, I say shop more wisely, I remember I used to have to shop the sales and shop wisely to make my benefits last all month and even then by the last days of the month we were eating the dregs of the pantry The fact that you spend freely at Whole Paycheck is what makes me question your true need.

Struggles of a young Black Man & the Great Recession

15 Mar

Today’s post is actually an email that my brother who is a tad younger than me sent. Unemployment rates are high as hell and if you are Black its even worse. I thought what he wrote reflected the struggles that many are facing and in some ways captures the angst of many who were sold a bill of goods that their education would move them up the socio -economic ladder. Instead we have a growing group of indentured servants who are enslaved to student loans that won’t be paid off till they retire or worse yet are canceled upon their death. The Great Recession is restructuring America in ways that we won’t fully understand for years to come, as the middle class shrinks and we have a growing number of poor folks in this country.

Anyway here are my brother’s words:

What do you do when you do everything you were told to do
and get no result?
What happens when you have a back up of a back up and yet still struggle?

No one can plan for the likes of the recession, especially the one we have had
but as a person that is a hair under 30, I have been working since 16, I expected more.
Much more!

Education? Check! I have been blessed to have a Bachelors in Architecture, and a Masters
in Real Estate. How ironic I have education in two areas that are severely affected by this
nasty recession.

Networking? Check! I have been working in trade association and organizations for over 10 years
to better enhance myself, knowing that just a degree is not enough to be armed with in this
war for success and financial security

Job hunting? Check! I have sent out hundreds of resumes! I have followed up. I have worked with
these fly-by-night companies that say they can enhance your resume, and no call backs.
Knowing ones self worth, its quite depressing to ask for a calculated living wage from potential employers, and have people and employers
say that’s too much? At what point does it become common sense that people need to live amongst HR managers, upper
management, and C-suite executives?
What is also sad is having a masters, and incurring all this debt for the sake of the financial prosperity
has gotten me nothing but harassing calls from Sallie Mae, and the frustrating of not being able to pay
but only defer, defer defer.

What is one to do? Everyday I dedicate hours to calling firms back, sending resumes, tapping my network but
to no avail. Nothing is more frustrating then to find out that your education has made you “overqualified” which
a lot of times now translates to, “Yeah you are probably good, but you cost too much and the C-level execs dont want
you cutting into their 6-7 figure bonuses for you”
Lack of faith in corporate America makes one quite hesitant in believing in any form of job security these days.  However
try explaining that to people who don’t have degrees or family members who assume that since you have multiple degrees
you must be not applying yourself.

Tried entrepreneurship? Check.. By necessity of survival, and trying to keep a roof over my head, I have been pushing to get
my company off the ground. Spending countless hours doing research on business related matters, as well as pumping out
product for the clients I scramble to get, but its not enough! To be in the arts right now is to be a stranded in the middle of the
ocean, during a hurricane with no raft! Any and everything one can do to improve themselves, i have tried and retried again and again.
Left feeling like Peter in the boat with Jesus, proverbially speaking, I have been fishing all night! Praying without cease, I am
wondering, when and where will I find my other side of the boat, to find my abundance?

Even now, I could go on and further elaborate, but I wont.. because I want this story to be heard, as well as continue to job hunt as my rent
is already past due, so I have to get back to fishing!

Yikes! We are only worth $5.

11 Mar

A friend linked to this piece on Facebook and after reading it I knew I had to write about it, since some on my Twitterfeed were talking about this as well. Turns out that single Black women have a median net worth of $5 compared to single white women in the prime of their work life who have a median net worth of $42,600.00.  Among the married and co-habitating ladies Black women have a median net worth of $31,500.00 compared to married and co-habitating white women who have a median net worth of $167,500.00.

Yikes! No wonder more of my white friends can afford to be stay at home Mamas and the sistas are working, hell…it comes down to dollars and cents. Seriously, while that figure of $5 may be shocking, I have to be honest and say I am not surprised. Among my Black girlfriends most of us are first and maybe second generation college graduates, many of us are carrying heavy debt loads, and its not always because we have no common sense as far as money. In many cases the only options out of the working class we saw our folks live with was by heading to college, yet many of our families had no cash to contribute to the process. So guess what? You end you end like me with 6 figure college debt with a job that will never allow you to pay it off.

Which brings me to another point, I think professional Black women are disproportionately in low paying fields such as teaching, social work, low-end healthcare…jobs where the top salary may only hit 50-60G’s with a graduate degree maybe a tad more if you are in a high cost of living area. I have always been drawn to social work and at many of the agencies I worked at in Chicago, the low and mid level staff was Black but the folks in charge were white. I’m not making a statement just making an observation.

Sadly and I was guilty of this, too many of us do not gravitate to fields with high paying salaries and while white women are just as guilty of this, a lower paying career is less of a detriment if you have either a mate or some family money to prop you up. I recall many of my white coworkers were partnered to partners who were high wage earners so earning less was not an issue if one partner can carry the weight.

On the other hand and I am ducking while I say this and I admit it’s a generalization but one was born of my personal experiences, too many of my sistas spend what coins they have rocking the latest and greatest styles. Or having a fly car…last year a dear friend of mine fresh out of divorce court with no settlement went and bought a huge ass SUV fully loaded and oh…she had no job. I love her but come on, that’s just not a good decision. We can’t drive a hoopty as I used to call em, we got to have a nice car, fly hair, fly furniture and then wonder why we don’t have two nickels to rub together.

By the same token I know some sistas who have it going on financially but lets face it too many of us don’t and I am a card-carrying member of that club so I can talk shit about it. I have told my story before, basically my parents taught me jack about money and I have learned the hard way after I jacked up my credit, now I am rebuilding my financial life. I think in lower class families its pretty common for folks not to talk about financial management, instead telling a bright kid go to college and you will do alright financially. Well I technically am better off than my Pops thanks to my education but when you factor in my debt, I am not..at best we are even.

In order for sistas to build some wealth, we need to truly explore careers that pay well. If I could go back, I probably would not have gone into human services. Following one’s bliss is cool but at a certain point financial stability is even better. I also think we need some serious financial management taught through schools and community groups and frankly I think this needs to be across the board to everyone not just Black women. I also think sistas we need to stop putting so much into material objects. Getting your hair done at the shop every week for $50-60 is insane, again…I have been there, I know how it is

I am not Suze Orman or Dave Ramsey but I suggest we pick up some of their books and get to studying because sistas a net worth of $5 is just not cool.

ETA: I wrote this piece last night in a rush but there are some other reasons why I think Black women tend to have less wealth. Too many times we take on the responsibility of caring and providing for family members at a level that I have rarely seen among my non Black friends. I will be honest and say that some of my debt is because I made the decision to help my parents out when my Mom was dying, 6 years later that money I owed the IRS has grown. Granted most of us are not faced with ailing parents but we will come up off the cheddar to help this one or that one…in many cases being told we can afford because we have that education or that job. All the while knowing deep down we don’t have the cash to spare but we want to save face so we do it. Now you may not do this but I suspect if you are a Black women reading this, you know at least one sista who does this.

Frugality on hold

10 Mar

It’s been a while since I have talked money, partially because I have not been riding the frugality train as hard as I had been in the past. Things have started to look up with regards to income, of course that’s the life of a freelancer. Some years the Spousal Unit has had a great yearas a freelance writer and editor and then there are years like the past few where things have been tighter than…use your imagination.

Seriously though, I realized that while the past year we survived, we put a lot of things off that needed to be taken care of and recently have been playing catch up. The man and I broke down and got much-needed eyeglasses, truthfully he needed them more than me since I wear contacts but I always like to have a pair of recent glasses around for those days when my eyes are not feeling like wearing contacts.

While I have enjoyed thrift store shopping the fact is there are some items I am just not buying used, so we have been playing catch up with personal items. I must admit though my single biggest splurge was the Tony Lama boots I bought clocking in at $260 with tax. There was a part of me that felt guilty about buying em, but I will be honest I have been wanting a pair of cowboy boots for quite a while, last pair I had lasted a good 5-6 years and they were no name ones. I also have not bought a pair of decent shoes in years and that is not an exaggeration. I used to be a die-hard Dansko wearer, last pair I bought was 4 years ago and they are still going strong with my oldest pair at 12 years still in rotation.

One of the reasons I had not bought shoes aside from not having any extra cash is that I am big believer in you get what you pay for as far as footwear. Yeah, you can go to Payless and get a pair of $20 kicks but my own experience doing so is generally they either fall apart or have my feet hurting. Thankfully my old shoes have lasted and definitely have some life in them but sometimes you want something just because….in this case I have been through financial hell and back in recent years and while there is a temporary lull, I just needed something for me.

Now that we are getting adjusted to having a little more breathing room in the budget, we have no plans to go hog wild but I admit the past few weeks have been nice. I am reminded that having extra cash is nice, sometimes it allows you freedom. This past weekend, we took the girl child to see Nemo on Ice, it wasn’t planned but it came up and she really wanted to go. Just a few months ago, we would have had to say sorry sweetie instead we were able to go and while I found the show boring and all the extras they were selling to be quite costly ($10 for cotton candy? Come on now), I was one again reminded that sometimes life is meant to be enjoyed and money can help that happen.

So its time to get back on the frugality wagon as we prepare for tax season, and some travel plans. How are your attempts at frugality coming for this year? What are you doing in this area?