3 min read
Disclosure: I received compensation for this post. All opinions are my own since I have too many lofty standards for integrity to write about something I don’t believe in. Plus, this is a legit post in and of itself.
Since moving to New York not too long ago, I’ve stayed in six different homes in three different boroughs. All but two of those places I booked through Airbnb, a peer-to-peer service similar to Uber and Tinder, but not for ride-sharing or getting your freak on. It’s like matchmaking for people with short-term rental property and people looking to rent. I’ve got stories for days about my experiences as an Airbnb renter, but I want to touch on one in particular.
You may be familiar with #AirbnbWhileBlack, the hashtag that quickly gained traction on Twitter, and attracted coverage from several media outlets. NPR even hosted a Twitter chat on the subject. Tweet after tweet, Airbinb users contributed personal accounts of rental requests being rejected due to discrimination by the host.
Back in 2014, a Harvard study found that: “…requests from guests with distinctively African-American names are roughly 16% less likely to be accepted than identical guests with distinctively White names.”
This data doesn’t surprise me as someone named “Keisha,” born and raised in these United States, where the current presumptive Presidential nominee from the Republican party wants to ban Muslims from immigrating, export undocumented residents – zeroing in on people of Mexican-descent, and refers to Black people as “the Blacks.”
I’ve encountered some roadblocks with hosts – specifically three different White men – whose listings showed their rentals as available on the dates I wanted, but they denied my requests when I inquired. Each claimed their rentals were already booked. I didn’t think too much of it, other than feeling frustrated that they wasted my time. However, when I read that other Black people had experiences very similar to mine, I couldn’t dismiss the issue.
In one particularly glaring example of #AirbnbWhileBlack, a young black man, Rohan, shared his jaw-dropping exchange with a White host who denied his booking, again claiming unavailability. Amazingly though, when Rohan’s White friend inquired about reserving the place for the same dates, miraculously the rental became available! Divine intervention or good old-fashioned racism?
When Black people point out racial bias (of the conscious and unconscious types) and outright racism, we sometimes hear a common lazy retort from the callous and unsympathetic: “Well, why don’t you start your own thing then?”
That’s exactly what Rohan did.
Along with his co-founder Zakiyyah, the two developed a new vacation, and short-term rentals service: Innclusive (formerly known as Noirebnb). This new platform aims to provide a space where people from all backgrounds will feel welcome regardless of what you look like, how you identify yourself, what you believe in, or what name you were given.
The discrimination issues extend beyond Black people, as folks from other marginalized groups (including non-Black Muslims, and a transgender woman) have reported similar issues. They inquire about booking an available rental, only to have the host deny their requests, again responding that the listing is already booked. How curious.
Clearly, something needs to change and short of ending all forms of bigotry overnight, a platform like Innclusive stands to expand access to the home-sharing economy to people who might otherwise be shut out or disadvantaged.
I believe in the concept of home-sharing – despite a few bizarre experiences, including a near poisoning by carbon monoxide! – especially in a society where we’ve become increasingly isolated from each other. When you meet the right host, you have the chance to connect with someone you may not have otherwise met. Other benefits are the comfort of a more personal experience, as well the opportunity to live somewhat like a local – factors which differentiate home-sharing from hotel stays.
As someone who faces potential discrimination by hosts on Airbnb, I look forward to trying out Innclusive. Who needs a side helping of racism when they’re searching for that perfect spot for their next vacation?
Have you experienced discrimination online? Do you think there’s a need for spaces like Innclusive?
5 min read
You’d think after all the times I’ve moved as a kid and an adult, that it’d get easier, less stressful, but noooooo. As usual, life has other plans, and laughs at yours.
Life: “Mwah haha. I spit on your plans! I will do as I see fit. Ya dig?”
In case you missed the announcement on Facebook, I officially moved to New York! You may (or may not) remember that I mentioned in San Francisco, I Think I’m Over You that I desperately wanted to leave the city, but I didn’t reveal where I intended to move. So now you know.
Why New York? I am originally from here, some of my close family lives here (whereas I had zero family in California), it’s probably my favorite city in the world, and it’s mostly cheaper than San Francisco, which is bananas.
The past couple of months post-move have been alternately frustrating, depressing, and surprising. Due to all the roadblocks, a string of “bad luck,” and random happenings, I questioned my decision to move here before I had all the factors in place that I felt I needed to make it work.
Brief lowlights of my time in New York:
- My beloved cat – who has been in my life for 14 years – has kidney issues (along with stress related to the move) and I had to drop a grip of much-needed funds to take him to the vet. Some may question spending a lot of money on a cat’s health, but he’s important to my mental health, and other than his kidney issues – which are mostly treatable – he’s a happy kitty. The positive from this is that I discovered a wonderful vet in the City with great feline-bedside manner, and a calming way with their owners.
- A job I thought I was a shoo-in for ended up not working out due to a sudden hiring freeze (they were prepping my offer letter!), and without a job it’s difficult to rent an apartment since New York requires you have proof of income that’s at least FORTY times the monthly rent. That’s right FORTY TIMES!
- I’ve moved around a lot, staying in various Airbnbs in Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens – one place where there was a gas leak while I was sleeping, and I am lucky we didn’t get poisoned. At another place I found a used cupcake pan with crusted old bread in it sitting in the oven. Disgusting!
- A kind and generous friend also offered me his place to stay for about a month while he traveled, since my circumstances left me feeling displaced, and on edge. It’s exhausting bouncing from place to place – not just for me, but also the two kitties who have no idea what’s going on except that the home they’ve known for over three years suddenly disappeared.’
- On the bright side, as a result of all this apartment-hopping, I have gotten a chance to get to know different neighborhoods, which will help me decide where I want to look for apartments since I’m more informed. Luckily, my latest Airbnb host offered me the option to sublet her place, so I have somewhere stable to stay until I’m ready to search for an apartment of my own. Phew!
- One of my grandmother’s who I am very close to (not the one who lives in New York) had two strokes and she’s been in rehab for a couple of months now. It distressed me that I couldn’t afford to fly to visit her and offer my support.
I fell into one of the deepest depressions I’ve experienced in years. Crying all the time, feeling hopeless, like no one wanted to hire me, feeling dumb for moving, and generally possessing an overall pessimistic attitude, whereas I’m usually fairly optimistic and hopeful (some would say idealistic). Quite frankly I didn’t see how my life would get better. It seemed as though I was destined for failure.
Just when you think you’re done learning certain lessons, another situation arises to reinforce what you previously learned, or to hammer it home since perhaps you didn’t learn enough the first time. Like the universe is saying, “Girl, listen! Trying to help you! Gotdammit you’re hard-headed.”
These recent experiences have left me humbled (and beaten down). However, through these trials, I’ve relearned the importance of acceptance. Once I stopped fighting my circumstances (I believe this is what some Christians refer to when they say “Jesus take the wheel”) and dwelling on how things “should be,” my attitude slowly improved and now I can see rays of hope again.
The past few weeks things have started to look up:
- I got a new day job. Hooray for not being a broke bitch anymore.
- Two of my three sisters moved here also within the past couple of months, which is like a dream come true for me!
- My mom lives here (not my “bonus mom” Country Life, City Wifetm). I’m fortunate enough to have two moms and a dad. Three parents to worry about me and say things like: “It’s cold outside, put on a jacket!” I’m almost 40 years, but parents don’t stop being parents. I also have a whole mess of aunts, uncles, cousins, and cousin’s kids whom I haven’t met, or haven’t seen since my childhood days.
- Coffee made the way you like it. No fixing it up yourself.
- All the New York pizza I could ever want, anytime I want it.
- Breakfast sandwiches at delis which cost less than a meal at McDonald’s
- I was able to give a tourist directions last week. I felt proud. I’m slowly becoming a New Yorker again!
- New York so far is wonderful. I’ve met so many friendly and chatty people. The neighborhood enclaves actually feel like neighborhoods. It’s refreshing after living in a city where it felt like people were scared to make conversation with strangers. Just the other day I had a random conversation about music with a guy working at a juice store.
- The independently owned pet stores almost all seem to have cats that live there, and it’s endearing to see a grown, burly man who owns the store, speak lovingly about his love of his kitties. (Side note: the bougie cat food I buy cost almost 50% less than the San Francisco prices.)
- After months of no other promising job prospects, suddenly last month I found myself busy with interviews at several different companies. When it rains, it pours as the saying goes.
Throughout this rough period, my family and several friends have comforted me, and offered me support; a generous and caring friend lent me funds (which embarrassed me to need) so I didn’t have to worry as much about how to pay my bills, eat, or afford a place to stay. I’m extremely grateful for all of them; they helped me feel loved, and less alone.
Now that I can think more clearly without the distortion of depressive thoughts, I better understand that things happen for a reason, and I may not know why as soon as I’d like, but with patience and time, the path usually reveals itself. I look forward to seeing what’s next and hope I’m headed toward a more positive trajectory than a tough one, but either way I am better equipped to handle it.
Have you ever been through a period of life so tough you couldn’t see your way out of it? How did you handle it?
4 min read
You may have heard of Angkor Wat, but it’s far from the only temple in Cambodia. Located in Siem Reap, the famous monument shares the city with at least 1000 other ancient temples that also attract curious visitors from all over the world. I had the opportunity to explore four of these incredible feats of architecture on my recent trip to Southeast Asia and each is magnificent in its own way.
Ta Prohm, constructed in the late 12th century, provided the backdrop for a scene in the film Lara Croft: Tomb Raider and it’s easy to see why. Towering trees border a wide dusty path and form a leafy canopy, providing sweet relief from the blistering heat. Once inside the complex, you’re surrounded by flourishing vegetation, piles of stone blocks, and more massive trees, some with roots so mighty they’ve scaled their way on and through the abandoned structures that still stand.
Ta Prohm was once a Buddhist monastery and university. It took 80,000 workers to build it – according to a Sanskrit inscription found in the temple. There are 39 towers and over 500 former residences where 12,500 people lived across the nearly 650,000-ft2 property.
Banteay Srei is one of the smaller temple compounds, but it’s still quite impressive. It stands out among the other temples due to the pink sandstone used to build it, waaaay back in the mid-10th century.
If the temples in Cambodia were a singing ensemble, Angkor Wat would be the Michael Jackson/Beyoncé/Tina Turner/Justin Timberlake/Sting of the group. It truly is stunning. Angkor Wat (“Temple City”) – which dates back to the mid-12th century – rests atop about 500 acres of land, making it the world’s largest religious structure ever built. As with Banteay Srei, the fine detail of the elaborate carvings and motifs etched into the stone walls of the galleries are awe-inspiring. Imagine how much labor went into constructing such an incredible structure.
Our group visited the temples twice, once in the afternoon, where so much sweat streamed down my face it led one of my tourmates to chuckle and ask: “Did you pour water over your head?” The second time, we got up earlier than anyone should ever have to, so that we could watch the sun rise over the towers. It was all totally worth it.
Watching the sun rise over Angkor Wat is clearly a popular activity.
On the way back to the van, after enjoying a pre-packed breakfast, a monkey accosted me.
Bayon holds the title of most “theatrical,” or perhaps, the most “quirky” of the temples I toured. Even the entrance to the complex makes a statement. As you approach the south gate, to the left sit 54 gigantic heads of gods and to the right, a line of 54 demons. Not to be outdone, crowning the towers of the iconic, 75-ft tall, arched entryway are four faces of the bodhisattva, each looking out in all four cardinal directions. Beyond the gates lies the “city” of Angkor Thom (“Big Temple”) – once the capital of King Jayavarman VII’s empire – fortified by a massive 328-ft wide moat which surrounds a 26-ft high laterite wall that protects 360 acres, including Bayon temple. Neighborhood watch on 100.
Everywhere you turn in the Bayon complex, there are eyes watching. Over 200 faces etched into stone cap the 54 towers at the site. While the identity of the figures decorating the temple is unknown, some speculate they are likenesses of King Jayavarman VII and a reflection of his inflated ego. The mysterious expressions on the stone faces has led some to dub them the “Mona Lisa of Southeast Asia”.
Beautiful, intricate motifs cover the walls of two galleries that surround Bayon’s main temple. The bas-relief carvings reflect the daily lives of the Khmers in the 12th century, as well as tales based in Hindu mythology.
More from my Southeast Asia series:
Part I: I Survived Crossing the Street: Ho Chi Minh City, Vietnam in 36 hours(ish)
Part II: Phnom Penh, Cambodia: An Emotional Visit to S21 & The Killing Fields
Part III: Tarantula Eating, Silk Spinning & Candy Making: A Road Trip through the Cambodian Countryside
5 min read
I don’t recall seeing “chow down on deep-fried tarantula” on the tour itinerary, but when our local trip guide reviewed the day’s plan – mouth in a wide grin, eyes dancing at the mention of “eating spiders” – there it was. Given I’m willing to try (almost) anything once, I was game. Besides, I’ve already tried beetle, scorpion, and cricket, so what’s a big ass spider?
During the 6.5 hour drive from Phnom Penh to Siem Reap we made brief stopovers in several small towns in the Cambodian countryside. Towns served by the same unpaved and uneven two-lane road from which vehicles zooming by kick up mini-dust storms so intense, that sometimes those closest to the edge wear face masks for protection. One of those places is Skuon, more colloquially known as “Spiderville” because of its proliferation of tarantulas.
Eating spiders may seem weird to some, I know, but during the brutal reign of the Khmer Rouge, catching those sizable, eight-legged, hairy insects could mean the difference between starving and starving a little less. Nowadays, deep-fried tarantulas are considered a delicacy and enjoyed as a snack.
Three cute Cambodian children greeted me as I descended the steps of the passenger van once we’d pulled into the parking lot of an outdoor market. The only boy among them – I guessed he was around 9 – said to me: “Sister, you are beautiful.” The oldest girl, standing to his right, shook her head and added, “Your hair is so pretty.”
What is this? Me? My hair? My looks? Who put these kids up to this? People with my dark skin, kinky hair, and African features aren’t exactly held up as paragons of beauty in the US. I wasn’t accustomed to this type of attention.
I didn’t have much time to consider the kids’ comments before they began trying to charm me into buying from them: plastic bags filled with mango or other fruit, colorful origami birds, and various smaller packages of what vendors were selling in the stalls 15-feet away.
K_, our Cambodian guide, strongly discouraged us from buying from the kids – much to my dismay. It’s hard to say no to a sweet child with a gap-toothed smile who’s pleading with you to buy fruit “so that I can go to school.” However, as K_ explained, if they’re able to make an income by hawking goods to tourists, sometimes parents will pull their children out of school so they can work instead. I knew the kids I met were in school because they told me so when I complimented their great English. We’d arrived during the students’ two hour lunch break.
Despite my refusals to part with my cash, the kids trailed me – like an entourage – as I walked toward the market and the many platters stacked high with an array of fried insects and fruit for sale.
K_ handed each of us a crispy tarantula leg to try. We giggled and teased each other through the experience. Once I got over the initial disgust at the idea of what I was eating, the tarantula actually tasted decent – not like chicken, more like beetle. The salt, sugar, and oil flavoring no doubt helped. It did take me a while to chew though. Like the hairs from the leg didn’t want to leave my mouth. Ick.
As we were gearing up to leave, K_ tapped my shoulder, pointed toward an aged woman wearing a deep-pink head scarf and clothed in long, floating layers, and told me: “She said she likes your hair.”
This never happens to me. What is this magical place?
I waved goodbye to my adorable, pint-sized entourage from behind the window as our van eased out of the lot.
From Silkworm to Silk Scarf
Santuk Silk Farm in Kampong Thom marked the second stop on our countryside excursion. Run by a US veteran of the Vietnam War and his Cambodian-Laos partner, the modest farm employs 15 women and one man from the local community. The weavers work hard spinning the silk into beautiful, color-rich scarves. We got the opportunity to learn about the process of turning the byproducts of silkworms into soft threads for weaving – a 6-week cycle – from one of the co-owners.
After getting the lowdown on the world of silk, we sat down to a home-cooked meal for lunch.
The cat family of the farm joined us for the meal, eagerly anticipating fallen morsels and scraps. A small dog resides on the farm, as well. For lunch, he chose to kill one of the clucking chickens. Thankfully, I did not witness this animal act of gallinicide, but a few of my tourmates did.
Sugar Palm Candy
Not too far from the silk farm, we made a pit stop at a roadside sugar palm candy stand. Made from the sap of sugar palm trees, the hardened candy is sweet enough to make your eyes pop. You can also cook with it, boil it into a juice, or melt it into your tea or coffee if a shocking jolt of sugar isn’t your bag.
After making our purchases, we piled back into the van and our driver, Mr. S_, pulled out onto the dirt road. The afternoon had barely settled and already we’d done so much; I couldn’t wait to reach the next stop and adventure.
What’s the strangest thing you’ve ever eaten? Would you eat a deep fried tarantula?
7 min read
Warning: This post contains images and content of a sensitive nature
I didn’t really know what I was getting into when I decided on Cambodia as a travel destination. A few years ago, a co-worker’s raves of her visit to the fast-developing country in Southeast Asia sparked the idea. After watching several stunningly-shot Cambodia-centered episodes of The Amazing Race, it rocketed up my travel wish list. I envisioned magnificent ancient temples, vast rice paddy fields, picturesque remote fishing villages, and bumpy thoroughfares teeming with tuk-tuks.
Bordered by Thailand to the west, Laos to the north, and Vietnam to the east, Cambodia’s culture, traditions, and cuisine are a unique amalgamation of the influence of its neighboring nations, as well as India, and the Khmer – a civilization which dates back to the first century. In the past decade, Cambodia’s made tremendous progress recovering from a tumultuous recent history that includes a civil war, genocide, and tyrannical political rule.
Tuol Sleng Genocide Museum and Choeung Ek “Killing Fields”
Phnom Penh – Cambodia’s capital city and the first stop on our Cambodian tour – is considered the Nation’s cultural, commercial, and political center. In fact, residents of less thriving surrounding towns flock to the city seeking educational and job opportunities, in a country where the average citizen earns less than $80/month.
It is also home to a former high school which was turned into a detention and torture center and renamed “S21“, during the vicious reign of Pol Pot and the Khmer Rouge in the 1970s. Under Pol Pot’s brutal regime – the main goal of which was to rid Cambodia of its intellectuals, the elite, or any sort of hierarchy, and instead carry out a warped vision of a self-sustaining peasant-ville – it’s estimated that over 1.7 million Cambodians (1/4 of the population) died in these years as a result of starvation, disease, or execution by the Khmer Rouge. S21 has since been turned into a genocide museum and renamed Tuol Sleng.
Upon arrival at S21, new prisoners – women, men and children – were photographed, given a unique number, stripped of their clothing and possessions, and held captive for several months, before eventually being executed. Several rooms in the museum display victim’s photos. Cambodians made up the majority of victims, though a small number hailed from other countries like Laos, Vietnam, Australia, China, Britain, Thailand, Canada, and the United States.
Throughout the museum, graphic paintings reflect the inhumane conditions under which the prisoners lived. Some of the devices and instruments used during the guards’ Nazi-level torture methods are also exhibited.
Initially, those executed at S21 were buried on the property – until they ran out of space. Later on, prisoners were transferred from S21 to a larger site less than 10 miles away, Choeung Ek – one of several mass burial grounds or “killing fields” throughout the country – where they were sometimes forced to dig their own graves.
Now a memorial site, the grounds at Choeung Ek are well-manicured with an expansive green field dotted by robust shade and palm trees, and interspersed with large dirt pits – remnants of the mass graves – where fragments of bone and clothing poke out from beneath – even more so after a fresh rain washes away the soil.
We had an additional guide for our visit to the genocide memorials, a lovely young Cambodian woman whose grandparents were killed by the Khmer Rouge. Without a trace of bitterness or anger in her voice, she implored us to share our thoughts and experiences from that day with others so that collectively we can actively work to prevent such atrocities in the future.
In 2014, I toured Sachsenhausen, a former concentration camp just outside Berlin, Germany, and I wondered then how humans can be so evil to each other.
It’s the same thought I mulled over in Tanzania while standing on the site where hundreds of years ago people were auctioned off like animals.
Again, I wondered why, as tears streamed down my face at the September 11th museum in New York, listening to the gut-wrenching audio recordings of the terrified who didn’t make it out of the Twin Towers.
It’s a question many have asked and for longer than I’ve been alive. I know there’s no pat answer, nor a quick solution for evil-deflection. What I do know is the importance of acknowledging all of the past, no matter how difficult or upsetting, and doing better! We can be better humans.
There’s a saying in the Khmer language: ‘If a mad dog bites you, don’t bite it back.’ If you do, it means you are mad, too.
– Chum Mey, in Survivor: The Triumph of an Ordinary Man in the Khmer Rouge Genocide
A Royal Palace and a Riverfront View
With a free afternoon to explore Phnom Penh, after an emotionally taxing morning spent swimming in horror and death, I headed straight for the riverfront, Sisowath Quay. I’d already seen it at night, a lively area along the Tonle Sap River, the promenade populated with groups of teenagers; families lounging on the grass in the park; street vendors peddling drinks, snacks, and whatever else they could offload; scores of motorbikes buzzing about; tourists and locals alike filling the restaurants, shops, pubs and hotels lining the boulevard, all with the Royal Palace – where the Royal Family lives – as a backdrop.
Walking back to the hotel from the river, I got lost, despite the city being laid out like a grid – a French influence – and having a map. I spent the late afternoon wandering from street to street, down dusty alleys overflowing with small market stalls and throngs of people, with a different man calling out to me “Tuk tuk, lady? Tuk tuk?” every few feet (‘No thanks, I want to walk.”), attracting many curious stares with my “exotic” appearance, dodging vehicles with no intention of stopping for pedestrians, growing more and more disoriented (and agitated), sweat pouring down my face like rain (and this was the “cool” season), as my hearing overstimulated with the noise of dogs barking, roosters crowing, horns honking, and the general din of many voices speaking at once in a language I didn’t understand.
I consider myself an ambivert, but that afternoon, I never felt more introverted. I just wanted to go hide inside my hotel room and away from people! I think the weight of the morning’s visit to S21 and Choeung Ek had caught up with me. Finally, after almost two hours of wandering, and clueless how to get back to the hotel, I made one lucky tuk tuk driver’s day and asked him for a ride. Thank God one of my tourmates had handed me the hotel’s business card with the address before we split up. I showed it to the driver. “Yes, I know; I will take you!” Hallelujah.
Did you know about the Cambodian Genocide? What are your thoughts on it? Have you ever been to Cambodia?
Read Part I in my Southeast Asia travel series and stay tuned for more from Cambodia!
5 min read
Stepping into the bustle of Ho Chi Minh City (HCMC), your senses are overtaken by the cacophony of whirring motors from scores of motorbikes zipping by, and car horns blowing at pedestrians and cyclo drivers on the chaotic streets where traffic rules seem nonexistent.
Your skin dampens after mere minutes of exposure to the powerful sun and relentless humidity. In every direction you look, people occupy space, whether it’s working in one of the many retail shops, restaurants, cafes, hotels, street kiosks, businesses, and residential units that flank the roads, or pedestrians – some wearing masks covering their nose and mouth – boldly darting across the hectic roads from one side to the other.
Sidewalks are scant and the few that exist frequently serve as parking space for motorbike riders out eating or shopping.
My first impressions of Ho Chi Minh City (formerly Saigon) – Vietnam’s largest and most populated – where I spent less than 36 hours this past December, left me a bit dizzy and unsure what to make of it all.
Other tidbits about HCMC:
Pho tastes about the same there as it does in California
I had one goal for my short visit to Vietnam: eat a bowl of pho – that delicious noodle soup in a flavorful meat-based broth – in its homeland. Goal: met.
Living in California I’ve had the good fortune of tasting some of the best Vietnamese food outside of Vietnam. After all, outside of Vietnam, more Vietnamese-Americans live in California than any other state.
For lunch on my first (and only) afternoon in HCMC I ordered a traditional bowl of beef pho aaaaaand….it tasted no differently from what I’ve had here. To confirm my unscientific finding, I again chose beef pho for dinner later that evening. Aaaaannnnndd….same result. I guess that’s good? I get good pho at home.
Cyclo drivers deserve major kudos
Having arrived in Ho Chi Minh a day earlier than my tour began, I used the extra time to explore as much of the city as I could. At the recommendation of the hotel concierge, I opted for a cyclo ride around HCMC. What’s a cyclo? Imagine an oversized tricycle with a bucket seat in the front to hold passengers.
My driver spoke very little English – enough to communicate the names of the landmarks we paused to view – which is more than the Vietnamese I knew (“cám ơn” or “thank you”). At various points along the 2.5 hour ride, I’d close my eyes and inhale deeply, while with the ease of a pro, he steered us through the frenetic tide of vehicles careening in all directions – as I mentally reaffirmed my desire to live a long life.
It’s difficult to gauge the age of my cyclo driver – I think he’s at least older than I am. His skin was worn with sun, smoke, and life lines, but he exuded youthful energy. He pedaled that giant bike – with me on it – for nearly 3 hours. Granted we took brief breaks here and there, but still. Good for you, dude. Just goes to show that you can be fit at any age.
Being Black gets you noticed
Did you know that I’m kind of a big deal in Vietnam? The minute I walked out of the airport, I noticed so many eyes fixated on me that had I not been prepared for this, I’d have thought that maybe my blog had taken HCMC by storm. Finally famous in this bitch. Everywhere I went, I attracted attention. They never mention this phenomenon in the travel guides..
None of it was meant to be rude or to cause me discomfort. It’s just that some people have never ever in their whole long lives seen a black person IN REAL LIFE. Generally, when I would smile at the owner of the gawking eyes, they’d return the greeting with a sheepish grin.
Even though Vietnam is one of the least religious nations in the world, Christmas is a thing.
Albeit in a secular sense and no doubt influenced by “Western” culture.
That final evening in the city, I met my tourmates – the 6 other people I’d be spending the next 10 days with. At dinner, the conversation flowed easily as we dined, until it ended abruptly as a scene grew directly in front of the open-air restaurant. When the crowd drifted away, we were shocked to see a terribly disfigured man dragging himself across the pavement.
It’s hard to know how to react or what to say in that moment. My mind reeled with conflicted thoughts and questions. Our group fell silent for several counts as we all processed what we’d just witnessed. The images will be with me for awhile.
The next morning, we said goodbye to Ho Chi Minh City and hit the road shortly after the roosters crowed – I could hear the cocky birds from my hotel room. Within a few hours we’d reach the border of Vietnam and cross into Cambodia.
I’ll have to return to Vietnam. My visit was entirely too short and I hear good things about Hoi An, Halong Bay, and Hanoi.
Stay tuned for more in my series on my travels throughout Southeast Asia!
Have you ever been to Vietnam? If not, is it on your list of countries to visit?
9 min read
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When I considered writing an end of the year retrospective, my face scrunched up in disgust as I reflected on 2015. Not my favorite year by a longshot. So much of it felt like a continuous struggle – like I’m in the middle of a significant lesson which I’ve tired of learning. Part of that may be the depression talking. It’s been one of the roughest years for me in a long while on that front and I know how much it can cloud and distort a person’s view of situations. A year is a fairly arbitrary measure of time and in the space of those bookends much transpired – good, bad and adjectives in between. There are layers to this life thing.
Instead of dwelling on the year’s lows and looking at the year simplistically, I opted to capture the essence of each month – a reflection of what was going during that period in time – including the books I read, TV shows I binged, trips I took and posts I wrote that resonated with people. It turns out that 2015 wasn’t as “garbage” as I initially thought.
2015: Year in Review
Highs: Woke up in Prague after a fun New Years Eve. • Designed and ordered my first box of business cards as a writer and blogger. • Was excited to be followed by Taye Diggs on Twitter until I found out he follows practically everyone.
Lows: Driving 90 miles north to UC Davis’ Veterinary School to see if my beloved, 13-year old cat has cancer (inconclusive, tests are $$$$)
Binge-watched: Frasier (all seasons – there are 11!), The Originals (s1)
Read: The Andy Cohen Diaries: A Deep Look at a Shallow Year ☆☆☆☆☆
Traveled: Prague • Warsaw
Wrote: GoodBye Weave; Hello Curls! (Most viewed post in January and in all of 2015)
Highs: Littlest sister visited from Texas!
Lows: Littlest sister went back home.
Highs: A photographer friend profiled me on his site • Heard Talib Kweli speak on race and hip-hop at The Commonwealth Club • A friend sent me surprise flowers for my birthday. I love surprises like that!
Lows: Not being able to fly to Texas to celebrate my (Texas) mom’s milestone birthday
Binge-watched: Arrow cont’d • House of Cards (s1-3)
Read: Disintegration: The Splintering of Black America by Eugene Robinson ☆☆☆☆☆
Wrote: No, I’m Not a Mommy (most comments of the year)
Highs: Being invited as a guest on a radio show. I thought my nerves were going to get the best of me, but I did it and I didn’t make myself look like a fool! • Caught up with a good friend from L.A. who was passing through San Francisco for a blip. We laughed so hard; it was just what I needed.
Lows: The Uprising in Baltimore, Maryland after the death of Freddie Gray – specifically the way many mainstream media outlets distorted events, as well as how excessive policing goaded and further traumatized people already in emotional distress.
Binge-watched: Marvel’s Daredevil • Bones (s5-9)
Wrote: 5 Myths About Black Americans That Need to Disappear (4th most popular post of the year)
Highs: My friend’s super fun bachelorette weekend in Palms Springs • Attended my first blog conference (Bloggy Boot Camp in Temecula – Nia Peeples was there!) • Reunited with my Europe travel buddy for a weekend
Binge-watched: Bones cont’d
Traveled: Palm Springs • Temecula / San Diego
Wrote: Not Your Grandparents’ Brand of Racism
Highs: Watched two friends who seem made for each other get married • Saw an excellent and poignant one-woman show at The Marsh called Black Virgins Are Not for Hipsters • Danced to tracks spun by Ryan Hemsworth at 1015 Folsom • Saw Kim Kardashian talk about the sexual objectification of women in the media (yes, really) at The Commonwealth Club (While I’ve never been her biggest fan, I have to admit she gives a charming interview and is likely smarter than she’s given credit for). My friend J and I are now technically in an episode of Keeping up with the Kardashians since the cameras were there with Kim and panned over the audience.
A friend sent me an email out of the blue saying “write a book please” – it meant a lot. • Bree Newsome climbed a flagpole and took down the anachronistic Confederate Flag waving in front of South Carolina’s capitol building!
Lows: A delusional white supremacist befriended and then murdered 9 black parishioners in a Charleston, South Carolina church. Being in the office – where I was one of very few black employees – feeling alone in mourning the lives lost, because no one else seemed care about what had happened – at least not to the degree I did.
Binge-watched: Orange is the New Black (s2-3)
Read: Half of a Yellow Sun by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ☆☆☆☆☆
Wrote: Don’t Call Me “Girl”
Highs: First BlogHer conference • Spent time with my (New York) mom and my grandparents • Took in another one woman show, this time by Anna Deavere Smith called Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education at Berkeley Rep – disquieting commentary on the US educational system and the “school-to-prison” pipeline. • BlogHer.com picked up my post What Emotions Am I Allowed to Have as a Black Woman for syndication!
BlogHer 2015 is hands down the best conference I’ve ever attended. Among many highlights: I learned more than I probably am even aware; shared an inspiring moment of solidarity led by the co-founders of the Black Lives Matter movement; met one of the bloggers I admire, Awesomely Luvvie (and acted like a fool incapable of forming proper sentences); listened with great interest as the talented film director Ava DuVernay imparted words of wisdom; and engaged in refreshingly honest discussion on sexual harassment, intersectional feminism, and domestic violence helmed by three formidable women behind a few of the most powerful “hashtag activism” movements on Twitter in recent years.
I also met some wonderful new people, and to wrap it all up we celebrated with a party where Boyz II Men performed, Nick Cannon DJed, we “whip and nae nae”d, and dined on all the McDonald’s we could eat!
Lows: My friend died from cancer • In a case of police abuse that hit frighteningly close to home, a 28-year old black woman named Sandra Bland was found dead in her jail cell under extremely suspicious circumstances – after a questionable arrest. This just weeks after the murders in Charleston. Again, working in the office – trying to get through the day coherently and without breaking into tears – seemed like a form of self-flagellation.
Binge-watched: Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt • Veep
Read: The Plum Tree by Ellen Marie Wiseman ☆☆☆☆☆
Traveled: New York
Wrote: What Emotions Am I Allowed to Have as a Black Woman? (3rd most popular post of the year)
Highs: Reunited with my friends/favorite ex-coworkers to celebrate the life of our friend E- who died in July • Caught up other good friends in Los Angeles for Mexican food • Went to a San Francisco Giants game with a friend in town from L.A. • Surprised and honored to be included in Quirky, Brown Love’s 200 Amazing Black Bloggers (among great company).
Lows: The reason for the reunion • Took an unscheduled break from blogging to recharge
Read: The Girl on the Train by Paula Hawkins ☆☆☆☆☆ • Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates ☆☆☆☆☆ • The Misadventures of Awkward Black Girl by Issa Rae ☆☆☆☆☆
Traveled: Los Angeles
Wrote: White Supremacy: I Don’t Know How Much More of It I Can Handle
Highs: Visited my Vegas grandmother, got her signed up for seniors’ internet classes at her local library, helped her secure her membership at the ‘Y’ where she now enjoys taking chair yoga, and took her shopping because as I told her, just because you’re working out doesn’t mean you should dress any ol’ way and she was going to be a “fly granny.” 79 and still going strong. Get it granny! • Second youngest sister visited from Texas! • Danced my butt off at the Oakland Music Festival with said sister. • Invited onto The Unconventional Woman Podcast as a guest.
Lows: Had a mammogram to check out a lump (everything’s fine). • Second youngest sister returned home.
Binge-watched: Sliders (re-watched series) • Power
Traveled: Las Vegas
Wrote: San Francisco, I Think I’m Over You
Highs: Saw the hilarious duo, Tracy Clayton and Heben Nigatu, from one of my favorite podcasts Another Round at Popup Magazine’s inventive evening of live storytelling • Took Mattieologie’s Full Time Formula webinar on making real income as a blogger that got me all fired up • Caught up with two former co-workers • For Harriet published my piece Growing Up “Keisha” in a World of Ashleys and Joshes! • Did an urban hike on Halloween with the Outdoor Afro Club and my friend K (black people like the outdoors too!).
Binge-watched: Person of Interest (s1-4) • Charmed (re-watched from the beginning)
Wrote: Growing Up “Keisha” in a World of Ashleys and Joshes
Highs: With my second youngest sister, I spent my first Thanksgiving in over 20 years with my (New York) mom and her side of the family. Met a bunch of new-to-me and new-to-this-earth cousins. • Saw a live taping of The View and softened toward Raven; DJ Tanner was there!; left with a $100 gift card to Lulu’s and an Alessia Cara CD (the musical guest on the show).
Lows: A job I wanted that would have allowed me to work remotely didn’t pan out
Binge-watched Chicago Fire (whole series) • The Fosters (s3) • Being Mary Jane (whole series)
Read: We Should All Be Feminists by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie ☆☆☆☆☆ • Syrup: A Novel by Max Barry ☆☆☆☆☆
Traveled: New York
Wrote: Quit Talking about the Lack of Diversity and Do Something
Highs: Hung out with a high school classmate I haven’t seen since we graduated almost 20 years ago • Traveled to my 5th continent – Asia • Came in 2nd in my fantasy football league (I started playing again; I’m a hypocrite.) • Checked out a cat café in Oakland. So cute.
Binge-watched: Girlfriends’ Guide to Divorce • Casual
Read: The Short and Tragic Life of Robert Peace: A Brilliant Young Man Who Left Newark for the Ivy League by Jeff Hobbs ☆☆☆☆☆
Traveled: Ho Chi Minh City, all over Cambodia, Bangkok, Shanghai
Once I put it all down, it’s clear that I have a lot to be grateful for this year. It’s far too easy to focus on what you don’t have, haven’t accomplished, who’s not with you, or how much money you didn’t make. It’s important not to let the year’s lows overshadow its’ memorable highlights.
I am healthy, I have a safe place to live, I don’t have to search for food, my family is safe and generally healthy, I have friends and people who love me. So take that depression!
With all that said, 2016 I hope you are planning to bring it.
How did you feel about 2015? What were your highs and lows? What did you watch/listen to/read/create? Travel anywhere interesting?
4 min read
Over the weekend I had the displeasure of reading some of the most insulting, patronizing collection of words penned by a man of supposed higher education.
In an LA Times op-ed Jonathan Zimmerman, a professor at NYU, and judging by his photos, decidedly not Black, deemed it necessary to take to a national newspaper to tell Black students how to behave and advise university faculty and administration on how to treat them. Not only did he step out of his lane to admonish America’s least favorite ethnic minority, he had the nerve to use the name and highly regarded words of Black writer Ralph Ellison to do so.
Here we go again.
It’s almost inevitable that after each Black Lives Matter protest (or any protest where the majority of the faces are Black), particularly those which the news reports as “violent,” sanctimonious White people will finger wag at Black people, twisting the legacy of Reverend Dr. King to fit their narrative with some variation of: “Dr. King would be appalled by this behavior.”
— The Unorthodox Duck (@GeauxGabby) May 12, 2015
In fact, there is such a history of white people talking down to their Black peers the same way one speaks to a child, that there’s a term for it: white paternalism. What Jonathan Zimmerman wrote in his needless piece – without irony – smacks of this, no matter how academically he couches it.
Ellison would be appalled by our current moment on American campuses, where the damage thesis has returned with a vengeance.
The arrogance to presume one could know how Ralph Ellison – born only two generations after slavery was abolished – would view today’s Black student rights’ movement. A growing movement with a should-be simple request – to be treated with the same respect, and afforded the same opportunities, as their white classmates.
Zimmerman goes on to say:
I don’t doubt that African American students — and other minorities at our colleges — experience routine prejudice and discrimination.
[But, now I am going to undermine what I just said by dismissing the students’ grievances as simply a matter of hurt “feelings.”]
If we let ourselves be governed by feelings, we’ll go down a rabbit hole of competing grievances and recriminations.
What’s the competition? Students requesting they not be subjected to racial abuse by ignorant classmates and faculty; better representation among faculty and students; initiatives to aid in retention of students of color; and increased (or new) campus-wide racial sensitivity education programs – to name only a few of the students’ demands – isn’t about winning.
It’s about the same thing it’s always been about: Black people having to fight white systems tooth and nail to get access to the same opportunities and see equitable treatment.
If there’s a competition, Black people have always been at the back of the pack, and the US has a long history of doing everything it can to keep us there.
This isn’t just about “hurt feelings.” This isn’t a game. This is about survival.
This is about people having to demand they be treated as human beings.
It’s about having to prove to people whom – subconsciously or not – think less of you, that you deserve to be where you are.
It’s about having to repeatedly to explain your experiences to those in the dominant racial group whom are all too willing to dismiss them because it makes them uncomfortable to consider.
It’s about having to shout “Hey! Stop talking over us and telling us how to live. WE ARE EXPLICITLY TELLING YOU WHAT LIFE IS LIKE FOR US IN THIS RIGGED SYSTEM.”
To reduce these students’ harmful experiences on college campuses to nothing more than “hurt feelings” greatly underestimates the impact repeated racial macro- and microaggressions have on the mental and physical health of Black Americans.
We are not fragile people, that is true. We have survived centuries of oppression and inhumane treatment. So, if students are “complaining” about the atmosphere at Predominately White Institutions – and so.very.many are speaking out, including alumni – perhaps there’s something to it? Perhaps folks should listen to them.
Why does Mr. Zimmerman weigh his words above those of the students who are telling their own stories?
It concerns me that this professor, someone whose words are consumed by the most malleable minds, seems to have such little interest in listening to (and absorbing) the lived experiences of university students. He is not someone who I would trust as a professsor.
Like Ellison, I “am compelled to reject all condescending, narrowly paternalistic interpretations of Negro American life” from someone who has no idea what it’s like to be Black.
I will never have the honor of meeting Ralph Ellison, so I cannot presume to know how he’d feel about Mr. Zimmerman’s opinions. However, when I consider The Invisible Man, in which Ellison heartachingly details the hard-to-describe, yet nonetheless wholly isolating experience of being a Black American living in world not built for us – I somehow can’t see Mr. Ellison appreciating a white professor using his very personal work to belittle the experience of Black college and graduate students.
Is this the competition Zimmerman means?
What do you think about the recent Black student protests and their demands?
6 min read
Last week, a Black software engineer, Leslie Miley, made news when he shared why he quit his job at Twitter – where he was the ONLY Black engineer in a leadership role – in a thoughtful piece on the lack of diversity in tech.
In recent years, Twitter and other tech giants have come under fire for their noticeable lack of Black and Latinx employees, as well as women across ethnic groups. The numbers are even worse when you look at the leadership.
In his Medium post, Miley notes that during a leadership meeting, when he questioned what steps Twitter planned to take to increase diversity, a Senior VP stated:
diversity is important, but we can’t lower the bar.
Actor Matt Damon made a similar statement on a recent episode of the filmmaking contest Project Greenlight when producer Effie Brown – the only Black person in the room – raised questions about a film the panel was evaluating. Particularly, she was concerned about the portrayal of the film’s lone Black character – a prostitute – and how it may result in [yet another] a one-dimensional character and reinforcement of negative stereotypes.
In a talking head interview, of Effie’s comment, Matt said he appreciated her “flagging diversity” (is that like “flagging a typo”?) but that ultimately, the show and this process is about “giving somebody this job based entirely on merit, leaving all other factors out of it.”
What a lovely world he must live in where people get ahead solely based on merit.
Do people who say things like this actually LISTEN to themselves? Why do they think increasing diversity requires lowering standards? All this type of thinking accomplishes is maintaining the current unbalanced power structure where white men are over overrepresented.
Are we really expected to believe that there are so few talented engineers, actors, producers, and fill-in-the-blanks, who are female and/or non-white, that white men can’t help but hire themselves in these roles?
The film industry is a great example of how not to embrace inclusion. It pretty much fails at diversity in all areas – age, sexual orientation, gender, and ethnicity – the picture is more bleak for people working behind the camera.
Take directors, for example. According to a USC study on inequality in the film industry, of over 700 top films released between 2007 and 2014:
Of the 779 people who directed those movies, 28 were women, 45 were black or African American and 18 were Asian or Asian American (four from the latter groups were black or Asian women).
On Sunday’s episode of The Good Wife, a Black woman named Monica interviewed for a job at the very white Lockhart-Agos-whatever-they-call it-now law firm. She was one candidate of four, the other three were white men.
The show made it a point to have the hiring managers – three white men and one white woman, all whom nearly lost their ability to function normally in the presence of a Black person – discuss that while they liked Monica, she didn’t attend a top-tier law school (Loyola wasn’t good enough for them) and that her LSAT scores were lower than the white candidates’.
I’m not really sure what point the writers were attempting to make. They lost me at “not as qualified.” In the end, Monica didn’t get hired, and the firm’s sole female partner brought her in to tell her personally, while expressing her sympathies. As Monica rightly told her, “I’m not here for your white liberal guilt, I need a job.” [I may have inferred the bit about white liberal guilt.]
They couldn’t have made their point about diversity in hiring without making the candidate “less qualified?” You mean to tell me in very Black Chicago (where the show takes place) you can’t find Black lawyers to fit your elitist standards?
Back in June, while at the day job at Big Tech Startup, I recall sitting in a room with two young white men, talking through hiring requirements for several open positions to fill. One of the guys, the recruiter from HR, said:
Well, at this point, it’s summer, we’re going to get second and third tier candidates. All the best candidates have jobs by now.
He looked at me after he said it – I’d just met him – and added, sounding somewhat apologetic, “It’s just how it is.”
I found his thinking unsettling, but unsurprising. At the job before this, of a big hiring push for engineers, a C-level exec affirmed, “we want people who went to schools like your Stanfords, Yales, Browns, Harvards. Who’ve worked at the Amazons, Googles and Facebooks.”
It’s kinda hard to diversify when everyone’s pulling from the same pool of candidates.
Not everyone can attend an Ivy League university even if they wish to. Cornell was my top university choice, which while not an Ivy, is still a quite competitive institution. However, after I went to an information session it became very clear Cornell wasn’t an option because there’s no way I could afford the absurdly expensive tuition.
Instead I attended a state school with a top ranked information technology program. A state school with tuition 1/10 the cost of Cornell and still I had to get a scholarship, government loans, and work 30-40 hours a week, all while trying to graduate in 4 years – which I didn’t, despite my best efforts.
Unlike some of my more privileged classmates, I didn’t have my parents depositing cash in my bank account on a regular basis. I also didn’t have any adults in my life who could relate to my experience as an undergrad. I had no one close to talk to about the unique struggles I experienced as a Black woman at a predominately white institution with a major dominated by young white men.
As Leslie Miley’s article mentioned, some of these top companies also give favorable weight to new grads with impressive internships on their resumes. I didn’t have internships during the summer breaks. Too many internships were unpaid and how many folks can afford to work for free? I sure couldn’t.
I didn’t attend a fancy university, nor did I have a fancy internship and I didn’t graduate in a pat 4 years. However, I still managed to get hired at these companies with their lofty hiring requirements because I could do the job. Hiring decisions shouldn’t be so heavily weighted on factors that are impacted by socioeconomic status, race, gender and other elements largely outside of personal control.
I’ve read that Black women are the fastest growing group of entrepreneurs. I’ve written about my own entrepreneurial goals and how negative work experiences have played their part in my choices. I have to wonder how many of us have opted out of the traditional workforce because we can no longer deal with the extra weight of being a double minority in workplaces where increasing diversity is seemingly more of a trendy talking point than an actionable endeavor and continuous goal.
Despite the “browning of America” the Sunday morning political show landscape remains a panorama of middle-aged white man-ness. One notable exceptions is the Melissa Harris-Perry show which manages to fill a panel with a diverse group of knowledgeable folks every Saturday and Sunday. While not weekend morning shows, both The Nightly Show and All in with Chris Hayes cover politics and also manage to secure diverse panels of noteworthy, tv-ready people as guests. The guests are there if you actually look for them.
When it comes to diversity, can we just cut the crap? If you genuinely think there aren’t enough accomplished, competent, qualified candidates for a job other than white men – you have a problem which you need to address. However, if you truly want to increase diversity – it is going to take action.
We don’t need anymore research. We don’t need more task forces. What we need is for people to step outside of their insular circles. To quit using the same tired standards to find talent. To stop perpetuating isolating cultures of exclusivity. The time for excuses is long past.
It’s been my experience that if someone claims they want something, but continually makes excuses for why they can’t do it, it’s not a priority for them.
Do you have any ideas for how organizations can improve diversity? Why do you think more progress hasn’t been made?
7 min read
One of my closest friends is a white woman 30 years my senior – a Baby Boomer. We shared a cubicle wall back in the ’00s when we worked in IT at a large insurance company. I hated that job so much that some mornings I’d sit in my car and cry before leaving for the office.
It was the type of job where I had a micro-managing relic of a supervisor whom on a daily basis would periodically stroll by unsubtly peeking at our screens to make sure we weren’t surfing the internet. God forbid we take a break from the mind-numbing, inconsequential grunt work we were doing.
This is the same supervisor who for some reason couldn’t get my name right and would often refer to me by the name of one of the few other black female employees, who looked nothing like me and were at least 15 years older. I would pretend I didn’t hear him; after all, my name didn’t come out of his mouth.
Five days a week, I’d toil for hours at my desk in the large, window-deprived, cubicle farm boxed in by drab, ’70s-brown walls. An inappropriately loud middle-aged man who bang-typed on his keyboard and always seemed to be on the phone with his doctor discussing his various prescription meds, including one for ADHD, which explained a lot – sat in front of me. The back of his head, where unkempt gray hairs fought black for dominance, greeted me each time I looked up from my boxy monitor.
I worked in a Dilbert cartoon.
I’d often wonder, as I looked upward, “Why am I here? Why do I have to go through this? I am miserable almost every day!”
I wondered what lessons I’d learn from this job, what I would take away from it. I figured there had to exist a reason beyond the below-market paycheck.
One afternoon, feeling trapped in the office and trying to make it through the day without screaming, I eavesdropped on my surrounding co-workers. To my left, on the other side of my cube wall, my neighbor ranted about yet another blunder of then-President George H. Bush. I heard her say:
“Of course, he’s from Texas. I’ve never met a person from Texas who I like.”
I stood up, peered over the wall and interjected shyly, “I’m from Texas. Well…kinda…I lived there junior high through college.”
My neighbor, JC, a blonde woman with a kind face, bright expressive eyes, and a voice that brings to mind your favorite elementary school teacher replied, “Well, I like you, so maybe Texas isn’t all bad.”
A friendship was born.
As we got better acquainted in the following months, we discovered that despite our age difference we shared more than a few commonalities. Our friendship cemented, when on a Friday night she came out to West Hollywood – risking traffic misery – to celebrate my 27th birthday with me and a bunch of my twenty-something friends. My friends liked her and I loved that she was game for anything – even hanging out with people who whine about being old at the age of 27.
In the many years that we’ve been friends, JC’s seen me through heartbreak, job changes and career struggles, supported me through growing pains and has taken me in on holidays since I don’t have family in California. She is like family to me.
It’s an unlikely friendship. I notice the curious looks we get sometimes when we’re out in public together – often joined by JC’s husband, to whom she’s been married almost as long as I’ve been alive. It’s difficult to quantify how much our friendship has enriched my life. However, there are valuable lessons I’ve picked up which I’d like to share.
1. Don’t Take Your Body or Health for Granted
A few years before I met JC, a man having an epileptic seizure while driving lost control of his car and plowed into her parked vehicle where she sat paying bills in the driver’s seat. The accident nearly killed her and almost destroyed her body. She spent nearly a year in the hospital undergoing multiple surgeries as well as physical and mental therapy.
A self-proclaimed nature lover and outdoors girl who grew up in the California desert, JC had to re-learn how to walk and use her body – now rebuilt with skin grafts and enough metal to alarm an airport detector.
Her life as a maven of the outdoors was never the same after the accident. She can’t hike the way she used to. There’s always a mobility walker in the trunk of her Prius which she uses to help with her balance. She suffers through pain almost daily due to lingering nerve damage.
In discussing her accident, JC always reminds me of the importance of appreciating my body, health and youth. Not taking for granted how hard my muscles work just so I can walk, run and jump. To respect the vitality and mobility youth enables. As we all know, that mobility and vitality isn’t everlasting.
Staying physically fit and healthy is a priority for me. I use my youth to my advantage. I want to be that 70-year old no one believes is 70 because she’s bursting with energy and in fantastic shape.
2. You Can Be Friends with People with Different Belief Systems
JC is friends with nearly everyone. She’s warm, talkative, vibrant and very likable. Souls are drawn to her open heart, even those who don’t share her firmly liberal beliefs, about which she is quite vocal.
Conservative friends of hers will send her inflammatory memes and Snopes-worthy articles which they’ll vehemently debate knowing neither party will budge. Yet, they remain friends, despite their warring political beliefs of the type some friendships fall out over. It’s a testament to the fact that she accepts people for who they are and genuinely wants the best for everyone.
Some of JC’s friends she’s known since her childhood and early adulthood – though that doesn’t keep her from making new friends. With those she’s close to, she keeps in touch regularly – even talking on that device we use to text and check our social media. I aspire to be able to say the same when I hit her age. Maintaining friendships is important.
3. Always be Learning and Seeking New Experiences
From time to time JC will remind me of a conversation we had years ago that changed the way she views people in public spaces. She’d invited me to an art festival in Orange County, about an hour south of Los Angeles. If you’re unfamiliar with the OC, many cities there aren’t exactly diverse. Driving to Orange County is sometimes derisively referred to by Angelenos as “crossing the orange curtain” because in several ways it’s the polar opposite of L.A.
Though art is totally my thing, I declined the invite and explained why. I’d had some uncomfortable racial experiences in the OC. Particularly in the region where the festival took place, which was and still is overwhelmingly white. Some people would stare at me like they’ d never seen a black person before or they’d just not even acknowledge my existence. It’s quite alienating.
JC said that she’d never thought about it that way before. She’d never really had to. She’d see a sprinkling of people of color in a crowd and think “ah, diversity.” She hadn’t given much thought to how it’d feel to always be the minority in public spaces and endure the weirdness that sometimes occurs. I laughed when one day she emailed me about an event she’d attended and how all she saw were “old white people.”
We’ve spoken fairly candidly about race over the years. She’s been open and receptive to learning about my experiences and how the world looks through my eyes. Likewise, I’ve learned a lot about her lens on the world.
As an avid traveler, JC’s always encouraged me to see the world. I recall one afternoon visiting her wonderfully quirky, ranch-style home up in the beautiful Santa Monica Mountains and flipping through old photo albums as she narrated.
One album was full of photos taken on an African safari she’d gone on with her husband. As I turned the pages, I imagined how amazing it would be to visit Africa one day. For so long it had seemed like an unrealistic dream. Talking to JC about her experiences made it seem a more real and attainable goal to me.
In 2012, I visited Africa for the first time – Tanzania, specifically – and went on a safari. The entire trip was more incredible than I could have imagined. In the years since I met JC, I’ve visited countries on four different continents. I hope to make it to all seven by my 40th birthday.
Sometimes, the reason we’re placed in difficult situations isn’t immediately obvious. I never imagined in all those mornings I wept over how much I disliked my job, that I would one day be grateful for the experience. Without it, I never would have made one of the best friends I could ever ask for.
Do you have any unlikely friendships? What lessons have you learned through your friendships?
4 min read
In 7th grade, I pleaded with my mother to let me change my name to one less “black.” I didn’t use those words exactly, but I’d gleaned by then that, just like my dark skin, my name was considered inferior somehow. We’d just moved to Texas from Georgia where I’d experienced for the first time the anguish and confusion of being the only black girl in my “gifted and talented” classes full of white kids. I was in the midst of my racial identity crisis.
My mom took me and my sister to an enrollment assessment a few weeks before the school year began. As she checked boxes on forms and took notes, the counselor asked me, “Do you have a nickname you’d like to go by?”
Seeing this as an opportunity to create a new identity from the start, my eyes danced as I answered: “Yes! My nickname is Amy.”
She gave me a curious look, no doubt wondering how you get “Amy” from “Keisha,” then glanced at my mom, who pursed her lips and said firmly, “She doesn’t have a nickname. It’s just Keisha.”
I folded my arms across my chest, slid down in my chair and pouted. There went my chance to have a wonderful life as a black Amy. Keisha it would be. Me and my “black” name. Why had my parents saddled me with this glaringly “ethnic” moniker? My three sisters all have French names!
Recently on the talk show that I hope is in its ninth life aka The View, co-host Raven- “I am from every continent in Africa, except for one” Symoné spouted:
Just to bring it back, can we take back “racist” and say “discriminatory,” because I think that’s a better word. And I am very discriminatory against words like the ones that they were saying in the video. I’m not about to hire you if your name is Watermelondrea. It’s just not going to happen. I’m not going to hire you.
Raven, dear badly needing to have your mind decolonized Raven, have you ever wondered why we live in a world where words like “white” and “light” connote purity, but “black” and “dark” signify evil? A world where the “black” people have been continually subjugated merely for existing with “dark” skin? The same world in which names popular among “black” people, like Sheniqua, LaShonda, Terrell or DeAndre are derided, but names popular with the “white” people such as Susan, Becky, Josh and Tanner are respected?
As mentioned in this excellent piece from Gadfly on the Wall, black American names are often influenced by several factors including religious, historical, political, cultural and just plain old creative (and last I checked, creativity is laudable).
My own name is believed to derive from the biblical name “Keziah.” I’m eternally grateful to my parents for refusing to let me discard my name. A name which I’ve grown to love and wouldn’t change for anything.
I’ve seen the statistics, I’ve read Freakonomics and I know some people discriminate against those of us with so-called “black” (or pejoratively: “ghetto”) names because of their prejudices. What else is new? If it’s not my skin color that’s too dark, it’s my hair that’s too nappy or unprofessional, my nose is too wide, or my name that’s too black.
I learned a while ago to stop trying to change myself to fit European standards in search of acceptance. I like “Keisha.” What Keisha is, is what I make of it. My name doesn’t hold me back. You know what holds people back? Trying to be someone they’re not, to please and gain approval from others.
I am not interested in befriending, spending time around, nor working with people who would dismiss me without knowing me solely due to my name – which I didn’t even have any involvement in selecting. You become who you surround yourself with and I’ll pass on ignorance.
When I did the Jesse Lee Peterson show earlier this year, toward the end of the show, a white man who called in asked me to repeat my name. When I did, he replied with a snide chuckle, “Keisha? Oh that’s a good one” and then proceeded to try to put me in my place. I don’t need approval from the likes of him. He can keep his nose in the air. The molecules he’s breathing must smell foul with the stench of ignorance.
Again: there is nothing inherently wrong with being “black.” It’s a skin color. The meaning is human-infused. Likewise, there’s nothing inherently wrong about black culture. Our view of blackness is influenced by white supremacy which needs anti-blackness to survive.
For Raven’s sake, I hope she learns from this. There are people who will judge her for being a black lesbian with a shocking-pink birdhawk, dating a woman named AzMarie, but I will only be judging her for the ridiculous words that continue to spew from her mouth.
To the Keishas, Jamals, LaKeishas, Marquis’, Sheniquas, Tyrells, Ebonys, Darius’, Beyonces, Maliks and yes, Watermelondreas, embrace your name. Never let anyone make you feel you’re less than for being given the name you have.
What do you think? Do you agree with Raven or think she’s wrong? Have you been discriminated against because of your name?
As seen on For Harriet.
5 min read
I built my first business at 6-years old – a bakeshop, because when you’re that age, having your own store full of delectable sweets seems like the best idea in the whoooooole wide world. I lovingly designed the awning with alternating red and white blocks that stretched across the windowed storefront. I made the best damn paper cupcakes in Brooklyn and my mother was my favorite customer, exchanging the fake currency I’d cut out from green construction paper for inedible treats with an amused grin.
When I shared a version of this memory with the career counselor I sought guidance from a couple of years ago, she said, “I really think you are an entrepreneur. So much of what you’ve told me about your past and all the organizations you’ve started and your ability to lead people reminds me of my entrepreneurial clients.”
I dismissed her idea fairly quickly as I contemplated all the moving parts involved in running a successful enterprise. “No, no. I haaate having to sell and do the marketing. I don’t want to have to deal with numbers and managing money. Plus you’re not guaranteed a steady paycheck. Who needs the headache? I just want to get paid to think. To research ideas, study society and write about what I think. Where’s that job?”
I could tell my answer exasperated her. She clearly saw something in me that I didn’t or couldn’t.
Last summer, after the “shady layoff of 2014“, I recalled that conversation when I realized I’d been bestowed with an opportunity to make a significant career change. That fall I experienced a light-bulb moment: “Hey dumbass, you have that blog that you put a whole lot of work into for free because you like it. Why don’t you do something with that? People keep saying you should.” So, I did.
A year later, I’ve:
- transitioned from a hosted blog to self-hosted
- redesigned the blog interface
- registered as an LLC, with trademark approval pending
- tripled my social media following
- doubled my blog subscribers
- been paid to write for the first time ever
- been hired by brands to promote them
- attended two blog conferences as an official blogger
- discovered an additional passion for speaking my thoughts as well as writing them, thanks to a radio and podcast appearance.
I am running a business. I have become the entrepreneur my career counselor glimpsed.
Many of the items above seemed unattainable when I started out. Yet, I rarely take the time to stop and appreciate the results of my efforts. I’m proud of these accomplishments, but I still have a long way to go. With what I’ve achieved so far, I cannot yet say: “I make a living through writing, speaking and teaching.”
It’s a difficult undertaking. I’ve wondered many times if I’m making the right choices. Who the hell decides to walk away from tech paychecks to become a writer and blogger? Do people even read beyond 160-characters anymore? I hit 40 in a few years. I’m “supposed” to be firming up the foundation of my career now, not starting over.
I only confide in a few people about my doubts. As I’ve discovered, being an entrepreneur is at times, quite a lonely existence. In my experience, those who chose a more traditional career route, such as 9-to-6ers, have the most difficultly relating to and understanding what it is I’m trying to achieve. They don’t always get it. I didn’t fully get it myself. It took months of unlearning the working world view I’d held for so long before I became more comfortable with the idea of moving in a less stable direction.
Some will casually ask, “So are you still blogging?” as though it’s just a passing fancy and all the work, energy and money I put into it, as well as the fears and tears is just something trivial I’m playing around with. It’s insulting. It’s like they’re saying: “Are you done goofing off yet and ready to come back to the real world? Be chained to your desk like the rest of us!”
Earlier this year, I took on a contract job in my former field to pay the bills. The company is a well-known startup and a few years ago I would have had a greater appreciation for having their name on my résumé. However, at this point, I’ve seen what’s behind all the free food, fancy perks and “unlimited” vacation and I no longer buy into it. I’m here for the money, not to pretend like when the board members, C-levels and stockholders make stacks of bills, I see even a 1/100 of it. I’d rather work just as hard – if not harder, since I’m the only employee – and actually feel connected to the results of my work, as well as get paid what I’m worth.
Family and friends have asked, “How’s work?”
Knowing they mean the day job at the startup, I’d respond, “Oh the blog? It’s going. I’m making progress day by day.” Of course, they press further, “No, the startup.”
I give a speedy summary of the office perks, grumble about the coldness of the environment and end with, “It’s just a day job. I am grateful for the opportunity and the paycheck, but it has little do with my future and I hate every day that I have to go there.”
I get it though. Tech startups are fascinating organisms; I’m just jaded.
Returns aren’t fast and easy when you build your own business. As many a successful entrepreneur will tell you, few people blow up overnight. There are often years of toiling, tweaking and struggling behind what may appear as “overnight success.”
However, if you’re not making sustainable living right away, it seems as though in the eyes of some, you’re failing and again, it’s time to give up the dream. It’s like: “Hey, you’ve been doing this for 6 months. Can you quit your day job yet? No? Well, maybe you should think about doing something else?”
I realize I’m projecting some of my own fears onto others, but much of this stems from actual conversations I’ve had.
I’m not always sure what my next steps are – because in this life, the path is more uncertain, but I’m dedicated to what I’ve set out to do.
I don’t know if I’ll achieve my goals of being self-employed and retiring early, so I can really devote my life to issues that matter, but dammit I’ve got to try. If not in this life, when? The other way of life was killing me softly and life isn’t worth living if that’s what it’s about.
Do you own a business? What challenges have you faced as a business owner? Why did you decide to become an entrepreneur?
5 min read
I’m kind of back to not liking living in San Francisco.
Part of my disenchantment is probably my fault. I arrived here with big dreams I’ve yet to see realized. For one, I thought I’d fall into a good group of friends. Instead, someone I considered a good friend ghosted on me. Though I have made a few good friends whom I am grateful for, they’re from disparate circles. My social life is unrecognizable to me.
I also thought I might finally meet someone I can see a future with or at the very least someone whose company I’d enjoy more than Netflix and chillin’ solo. After all, they say San Francisco is one of the best US cities for singles. I don’t know if they actually talked to anyone who lives here because while I know many single people of different genders and sexual orientations whom are lovely, lovable people, they are not in a relationship, and most are actively searching.
I suppose if they mean this a great place to for singles if you want to remain single, that makes sense. Dating mostly takes place on apps here, at the expense, in my opinion, of people sharpening their in-person social skills. You can take your Tinders, Bagels, soul connections, rings and dings or whatever the hells and put ’em somewhere not on my phone.
When reality doesn’t live up to your high hopes, an emotional crash isn’t all that surprising.
There’s also the fact that everything here is so.damn.expensive. I think I must blackout when I pay my rent every month. That’s the only way I can understand how I continue to pay more than some people’s mortgage.
Of the people: I don’t get the seemingly dominant personality of passivity in this city. Just last week, I was at the drugstore in my favorite aisle – the candy aisle – when I noticed a woman walking toward me. As she neared me, she paused and started rummaging through her purse. I know she was faking. She walked with purpose down that aisle until she saw me. Now, I’m not very wide and I’m generally aware of the space around me, so it’s not like I was completely blocking her path. I’m not one of those oblivious aisle-blocking asshats.
A simple “excuse me” would have sufficed to get me to scoot the inch or two more needed for her clear passage. Instead, this lady acted like she had an urgent need to reapply lipstick or find a tampon. Who knows?
I could have moved preemptively, but I’ve done this dance before. I’ve been in many an aisle in this city and had this same scene go down. What is the deal with people? Is it timidity? Are they afraid to make contact with an unfamiliar human being? Politeness is appreciated, but there is such a thing as being so polite you make people want to scream.
The woman continued to dig in her purse – finding nothing because she was looking for nothing – until I finally inched forward, making sure to sigh heavily and roll my eyes at the absurdity of it all (hi, petty). There I was minding my business, trying to determine which pack of Sour Patch Kids would be the freshest, and here comes Timid Tammy ruining the experience with her fish spine.
I’ve also had people here give me that “Oh my” pearl-clutching glance because I dared speak up about something.
On the bus one afternoon, after a particularly tiresome string of hours at the day job, a budding-grey-haired woman with a folding shopping cart packed with several large black plastic bags, decided to throw a tantrum as she exited. She’d situated herself right by the door, so she only needed to make it a few feet to the steps. Each and every step she took came with a cranky grunt and dramatic muttering.
A minute later, she’d only progressed a few inches, so a kind man offered to help her the rest of the way.
“Noooo!” she shouted, mimicking the Wicked Witch of the West, “I don’t need YOUR HELP!” If she’d carried a cane, here is where she’d have shaken it at him with menace.
The defeated man backed away like a kicked puppy.
Around me, other passengers looked toward the rear window to see if another bus was coming. Nope.
A couple more minutes ticked by. The shopping cart and it’s pusher had yet to reach the steps.
Is NO ONE going to say anything? This is fucking ridiculous. This woman is holding up a bus full of people with lives because of her pride and stubbornness. Not even a peep from the bus driver – whose arm she threatened to bite off. She didn’t actually say that, but the quickness with which he recoiled like she’d hissed at him, indicated as such.
I couldn’t take anymore.
“Get off the bus!” I hollered.
A young woman across the way turned toward me with a furrowed brow. Oh stop clutching your damn pearls!
“Yeah, get off already!” the bus driver repeated, regaining his voice.
Soon other passengers chanted, some quieter than others, as the woman grumbled her way down the steps.
A few passengers clapped and whistled once the last of her landed on the sidewalk.
I hadn’t meant to start an uprising on the bus; I just wanted us to get moving. But, I bet you those people felt good taking control of their lives. We endure a lot of bizarre and sometimes frustrating encounters on these city buses.
Lastly, but most importantly, there’s the race thing. To put it bluntly: being black in San Francisco is existentially exhausting and socially isolating like nothing I’ve ever experienced. I’ve written about that on multiple occasions, so I won’t rehash it here.
With all of that said, I do not regret moving here. It’s still one of the best decisions I’ve made. My life now is incredibly different from the life I lived in Los Angeles. If I felt stalled in L.A. and wanted to push past the stagnancy by trying a new city, I got what I asked for and more. I’ve evolved in ways I never imagined. I believe moving here was a necessary step for my personal, emotional and career growth.
Barring some freak joyful miracle, my time in San Francisco is nearing its end. I had hoped this might be a place I could stay put for a long while, but I want to get out before I am driven completely mad. I also fear becoming one of the passive. That works fine for some people, but it gives me the itchees.
There’s only one US city next on the list. I’m not quite ready to reveal it yet as I’m still planning. I will say that it’s not happening this year, but if you’re a regular reader, you can probably guess which one it is.
October will mark 3 years here. I think I gave it a good shot.
Have you ever lived in a place you didn’t like? Also, if you are a passive aisle-passer, tell me why please, I’m curious.
1 min read
I’ve never really taken an official break from blogging in the three years of this blog’s existence – even when I’ve gone on vacation. So, I’m taking a break.
Quite frankly, I am exhausted by what’s going on in the world, particularly in the United States.
We’ve got a racist, ethnocentric, xenophobic, entitled demagogue running for President and dominating the media.
Meanwhile, people actually dedicating their lives to fighting for racial equality – you know, doing good work – are spied on or dragged through the mud and the media jumps on the story like a rabid pack of dogs.
Police shot and killed yet another black person and again people are blaming the victim and not questioning the police statements full of holes. Protestors seeking answers received responses in the form of tear gas and officers marching toward them armed like they’re off to fight ISIS.
And the Federal government is doing what about this?
That’s just a fraction of the nonsense.
I find myself becoming more misanthropic each day and wondering if humans will ever collectively get our shit together and stop behaving like assholes.
I have nothing to say about these events that I haven’t said before. I feel like I’m screaming into a void and it’s worn me out.
Lately I haven’t had the energy or focus to write and I don’t want to push out content I don’t feel proud of just for consistency’s sake. This goes beyond writer’s block.
On a personal level, I want to focus on continuing to build the foundation for the next phase of my life.
Ultimately, I am taking time to focus on my personal well-being. I need to get my mind right. Recharge so I can return motivated and enthusiastic.