Money < Culture

I have been struggling with consumer intersectionality lately. Maybe struggling is a bit dramatic, but I have endeavored to de-compartmentalize and live a more cohesive, singular life. This means that these days, being a mom and a professional needs to feel less like 2 sides of the same coin and more like the whole value of the currency itself. A union I’ve been pondering seriously these days, post-Nipsey Hussle, is how to bring together my values on money and culture into a succinct spending pattern. Anyone who knows me knows I’m a bit of a finance geek, who is also well-read on things culture and feminism. As of late, I’ve tried to merge those passions in the way I choose to allocate my buying power. I’ve read a bit on the BDS movement in Angela Y. Davis’ recent book “Freedom is a Constant Struggle” and for years I’ve been head over heels for Courtney Carver’s 333 minimalism and I’m a believer in knowing the entrepreneur who supplies whatever sliver of consumerism makes it out of your wallet and into your home. But what does that really look like in lived experience?

 

Honestly, it’s exhausting. I spend a great deal of time googling not just prices, but companies, before actually making a purchase. And, while I’m still a slave to amazon.com, they’ve seen a lot less of my business lately than in years past. Every holiday season there’s a new “shopping list” out of Black, women, trans, transcendent vendors out there, but considering I rarely spend money on traditional gifts I usually have long forgotten about these lists by the time I’m ready to buy. And, to be frank, every company has some problem. I was excited to buy Girl Scout cookies only to have them arrive and realize that the bulk of my stock was made with artificial colors and flavors. I recently bought a (great quality) bag from R. Riveter, and felt awesome about what it does to economically empower women, then I thought a layer deeper on all that supporting the military could mean. Then, there’s buying Black. I am a proponent of buying from small and minority businesses, but I have found that many are not as eco-friendly as I would prefer. For example, I love True Detergent (I know, I’m on a military roll here). They have removed the caustic chemicals from the liquid (YAY!), but what to do about all these plastic bottles (have you heard about the plastic whale)? And after all, I did buy a Sodastream to minimize plastic bottle consumption involved in my carbonated water habit, but that goes full circle back to the BDS movement’s recent calls for a boycott. I could go on…

Maybe my concern with intersectionality is just my most recent awakening to recognizing the challenges that a global economy brings. Products, like people, are a collection of many experiences. Nothing is as singular as it appears in an online store. Even your “African” clothing vendor gets their Indonesian-styled fabrics from Vlisco in the Netherlands, which has been living that neo-colonial life since been since. I say this to say, we are global creatures made local by choice and imagination. The products we create and the ones we consume reflect that reality. How can we live in the modern world and survive with our morals (perhaps competing ones) in tact? Here’s my strategy:

1- Save money. Buy less: I figure, if I buy less, I’ll have the time and the money to make smarter (though fewer) purchases. I’m trying to de-clutter my whole life – not just by Marie Kondo-style trashing the joyless items taking up valuable mental space, but by choosing to accumulate less with each passing day. After all, if I have to check the ownership structure, the eco-impact, and the “about us” page for every purchase, it’s highly likely that I’ll just give up before I even get to the till (British speak for the check out counter).

2- Make sure it’s healthy: Always search the Environmental Working Group to ensure that what I expose myself and my family to actually merits use. There are so many financial and health ramifications to each dollar we spend, the least we could do is know that before we buy. And, I always feel like I win double brownie points if I can go healthy AND zerowaste. It ain’t easy, but once I figure out what works well, it’s easy to replicate (or buy again).

3- Buy in bulk, if it makes sense: Expiration date and binge shopping not withstanding, I have gotten very good at buying in bulk to reduce waste. The easiest tends to be cleaning and household goods, so I’ve become a lover (and repeat customer) at bulkapothecary.com . From lavender to olive oil, and castile soap by the gallons, I haven’t been disappointed.

4- Check those niche holiday lists all year-long: Even for the smallest of purchases, I go back to lists from madamenoire.com & blackenterprise.com (among others) to see which new vendors are out there and which ones have been de-bunked. Below see a list of what I’ve been tracking lately, you know, in case you’ve got some holiday, birthday, household needs built into your budget:

5- Expect to get it wrong: If the VW emissions scandal has taught us nothing, it should be that well-meaning consumers also get duped. We can control very little outside of our own intentions, so even with the best of research and positive vibes, our money may land in the hands of tricksters telling us what we want to hear.

 

$h!t my son likes…

It is legend in Black families that Sunday mornings are cleaning days. There is an entire soundtrack to these days. There’s Blues and R&B, smooth jazz and more blues. As I recall, there was a lot of WBLS and Dave Koz in my house. Obviously, as we grew up, we listened to more hip hop and rap, which just killed the vibe because my parents didn’t start agreeing to listen to that until the likes of contemporary hip pop artist like Drake and DJ Khaled emerged. Now that I have a family of my own, I’m trying to establish traditions that make my third culture kids feel grounded in something, even if we pack up the ritual and transport it around the world every few years. So, Sunday music mornings it is…

Screen_Shot_2018_08_30_at_12.22.36_PM.pngMy kid is a ‘Little Baby Bum‘ addict, which means we live our lives in musical interludes of Baa Baa Black Sheep and Johnny Johnny’s lies. So, we know he likes music, but what does he like aside from London lullabies? I am on a quest to find out…

Last week, we tried a Bob Marley medley and he lasted about 2 songs before tuning out. Today, I tried to go a bit edgier and it was a bigger success. This was the playlist of what he managed to like…

Emile Sande – Hurts

Lenny Kravitz – American woman

Lenny Kravitz – Fly Away

OutKast – Hey Ya!

Stevie Wonder – All I Do

… before demanding that I read “Not Norman” by Kelly Bennett, which – oddly enough – is available on screen here:

So, with each passing weekend, I’m learning more and more that my kid is becoming a technology and animal aficionado, who needs to hear soul and trap music at frequent intervals.

 

Silence is a Choice

Social media is consuming – entertaining, absorbing, hypnotic, addicting. I have had my fair share of it lately. I often wake up to check Facebook and fall asleep on Instagram. Very little of the content is uplifting and it forces us, particularly disadvantaged and tortured communities, to relive our pain lest we forget. Though forgetting, itself, is a form of self-care, I understand the impulse to rehash, review, share, like, and proliferate opinions, injustices, happenings, and heartbreaks. But, I would be dishonest with you if I didn’t admit that I am feeling compelled to offer myself a detox. I should be able to take a break from it all, just as easily as I took a break from writing here and as easily as I did a silent meditation retreat in 2017. But, I’ve found it harder than expected to truly unplug.

See, social media allows me to stay connected with so many friends and family that I would – frankly – never talk to without social media as an aggregator. Some call it a skill, this contact building and maintenance that I do. I have learned that, with a toddler in tow and a demanding expat life to attend to, perhaps staying in touch is more time and emotionally consuming than it is worth. Further, there is so much waste in between connections – the ads, the videos, the stuff I didn’t come for. And even with my online presence at its peak, it is only months later that I realize that some of my online “friends” have passed away or have given birth… what to make of this kind of pseudo-cyber friendship?

In addition, I must admit that in spite of my job as a professional newswatcher, I really struggle to absorb news shared outside of my own social media networks. I used to scour the BBC News (because, really, I can tolerate it much better than CNN – can’t you?) and I’d devour an Economist, even if was months out of date. Now, I’m tired beyond line 5 on a screen and I’m satisfied with not having learned the facts. Some of this is about trust. I trust my circle to tell me what I need to know – not just interesting and screwed up facts about the world. I mean, the relevant stuff, like when am I going to get paid next and where to donate to help Jazmine Barnes’ family bury her. But everything between the important stuff is leaving behind emotional residue. And I need a serious rinse.

I’m not sure what moderation looks like anymore, but I do know what an overdose feels like.  Is it possible to produce content and not consume it? Can I post here and on FB and on Insta AND not read anything from anyone else? Or do I have to choose one and let the others go? Does WhatsApp count? What is responsible use? Is withdrawing “fair” to my “friends”? What exactly does a social media detox look like for a media manager? I have no idea, but over this year I will find out. While I try to disengage from consumption, I’ll hope you’ll bear with me as I shake off the cobwebs of writing for an unknown public. In the process of finding balance, I hope this experience will bring us all a little closer.

Happy 2019!

 

 

Am I welcome in Wakanda?

I was a late comer to Wakanda. When I did arrive, my Pan-African senses were pleased with the drips of South African house music and the incorporation of every beautiful textile the continent possesses. I was relieved that there was no tinge of jealous “authenticity” politics afoot. And off-screen, Black people everywhere rejoiced in 2 hours and 15 minutes free of racist micro-aggressions. What a sacred space at a troubled time.

Yet, I exited the theater wondering if I would be welcomed in Wakanda. African-American women were conveniently absent even from this supposedly inclusive and utopian Black space.  As an African-American woman, as a mother to an African-American son, as a wife to an African man, as a traveler to non-fictional African countries, as a scholar of Africa and its Diaspora, this movie hurt me to my core. Why is the African-American woman (STILL) subaltern in a contemporary display of utopian Blackness? (whaddup Spivak!)

And, further still, what exactly was being said about African-Americans? (Not that part at the end where we are basically rescued from the ghettos by our enlightened African brothers and sisters – that I don’t necessarily agree with, but I can live with it.) What I mean is, why are we always portrayed as Erik Killmonger? Self-centered, egomaniacal, bloodthirsty, violent, self-destructive, vengeful… shall I go on?

Now, I am no stranger to seeing Michael B. Jordan play characters of questionable character, but Erik Killmonger was too much. He was well-trained, but quick tempered. He used the tools in Uncle Tom’s Cabin to build his own coffin. Painted as a righteous mutineer gone power crazy, Killmonger is simultaneously the colonized and the colonizer’s worst enemy. He was the walking stereotype of the angry African-American man – maybe justified in the beginning, but notoriously drunk with power and toxic wherever he goes.

This movie, for me, reinforced negative stereotypes of African-Americans to present mythical African glory. This zero sum game is just another example of a colonized mind and the continuation of White hegemony, even in supposedly sacred and autonomously crafted Black spaces. Like braid extensions at the natural hair expo, I feel that this film still misses the mark. It gives credence to superficial narratives and it omits crucial voices.

Did anyone ever think that taking Erik from California to Wakanda was not an option, because – oh, I don’t know – he had a mother!? And from the Black excellence he exuded in the military, my best guess is that she was African-American as F. Taking her son wasn’t an option for more important reasons than Wakandan shame. That same love and pride that Angela Bassett (depicting an African mother) showered on T’challa, that’s African-American women all day. And somehow, that cultivator, that influencer, that decision-maker, that elder, was absent. Better yet, omitted. Why, for, come?

Like so many narratives about the conversation between Africans and African-Americans, Black Panther regurgitates tropes and past transgressions dominate the dialogue. We should be talking about partnership among troubled equals. This exchange could have been different on screen and should be different in real life. That passionate longing for belonging in African-Americans is somehow always framed as futile. Like asking for reparations, we are paternalistically discouraged from looking back and preemptively halted for fear that we will get (rightfully) unbridled or bloodthirsty – like Killmonger. Yet, like movements for actual reparations (Georgetown slavery Archive), African-Americans are owed the opportunity to make peace with their pasts. And, rest assured, we know how to do it without destroying our futures.

To watch this movie and not see a commentary on how African-Americans are our own worst enemy is to be deaf, dumb, and blind. Those who don’t see it my way, haven’t been to Africa and haven’t known this conversation as intimately as I have. This movie is nowhere near accurate.  When I first went to Ghana in 2006, I remember discussions with Kofi Awoonor about the Transatlantic slave trade. There were side eyes at the White girls in the group, whose White guilt was so thick you could cut it with a knife. There were layers of Blackness confronted when a light skinned Black woman was called mulungo (White, foreigner) and wasn’t embraced on her expected “return to the motherland.” It brought up her own uncomfortable memories of being ostracized for being bi-racial. Needless to say, everybody was working through their own positionality. Above all else, what gripped me from the many conversations between Blacks and Africans during that trip is a comment from one of the junior academicians at the University of Ghana. He said, “We lost you – our most powerful resource. Do you know what it is to lose your strongest, your most-able bodied, your youth? Look how we suffer because we sent you away.”

This is the real conversation. It acknowledges agency and objectification. It recognizes history as a continuum and not a series of ruptures. It talks about socio-economic consequences for labor migration. It speaks to cultural interconnectivity, not in terms of fictional theory, but in realities of development. This conversation is about restorative justice… not revenge.

This movie sucks the air out of the room because it falls so far afoul of this useful conversation. I hope moviegoers remember that we do not have to do our (neo-) colonizers’ bidding by having Hollywood ticket sales rebuild our burned bridges. No matter how many beads and handshakes we have on screen, the story is built on old tropes that don’t serve us in real life. Black Panther excludes the lynchpin connecting Africa to America – the African-American women, mothers, and aunties – the guardians of our cultural continuities. If Wakandan value doesn’t come in the form of inclusion of all Blackness, let’s hope it has cleared the way for conversations like these that call out the exclusions.  As a mother, an African-American woman, and a member of the Pan-African diaspora, I have to believe that this movie is not us. It is not us any more than X-men is us, no more than Batman is us. We do not live in Wakanda any more than we reside in Gotham City. Killmonger is not my son and I am not absent.

 

 

 

Abundance

“Life is too short, or too long, for me to allow myself the luxury of living it so badly.” – Paulo Coelho

And so it is that I have discovered something new about myself – yet again. I’ve grown accustomed to living based on a sense of shortage, so much so that I have manufactured conditions to keep myself trapped within those limitations. I give myself deadlines that are incredibly unrealistic and stress inducing. I use automatic savings as a way to hide money from myself because I spend less when I feel broke. I am in constant pursuit of minimalism, so that I can target spending to ethical vendors (fair trade ain’t cheap) and I can stop accumulating things that clutter my limited space. In and of themselves, these are wonderful practices in restraint. But, I have never truly learned to be disciplined. Instead, I tame my environment, so that I don’t have to be.

Let me give some examples of how I have this all wrong. I am afraid that if I have $20 in cash, that money will burn a hole in my pocket and I’ll use it to buy something dumb. When I have lots of time to complete a paper, I will procrastinate until the last minute and then “bang it out.” This all has worked well in the past, but today it’s no longer serving me.

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Photo: me.me

I think I’ve pinpointed where this limiting impulse comes from. This is going to sound weird, but I have always felt that I would die young. (I don’t know why and don’t try to make this into a “thing” – it’s not.) This feeling has been with me forever and it has always driven me to accomplish everything I want at the earliest possible opportunity. There’s been no waiting for later, no pause button, and certainly no ease in my sense of urgency. It makes sense that if you think you’ll die at 25, you’d ensure that every hour of every day is packed to the brim with experiences and accomplishments. Ok, so, the thing is that life is a marathon, not a sprint. Going at breakneck speed for so long has got me winded.

The scarcity model has stopped working for me principally because my environment keeps changing.  There’s no use in trying to use my Washington, DC cash free logic in southern Africa where the internet is shaky (you never really know if the ATM or credit card reader is going to work). I have to learn to keep cash on hand it and use it wisely.  Similarly, I have to do better with managing my time – my planner does not have be completely booked for me to feel productive. When I had a car, that felt like the right approach, but now that I’m taking Lyft to appointments, I realize the cost of being overbooked.

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Photo: Mashable

One benefit of moving is that I get to explore new places. But, one thing it has brought me is self-exploration. I don’t get to justify my actions on being coerced by daily circumstances. Eventually, those circumstances will change and I’m left with those same unsustainable bad habits, but no good excuse. In this case, I have to learn to function with discipline in times of abundance, rather than manufacturing opportunities to cry wolf on scarcity.  It’s just not sustainable.

This year, I am intent to break the habit of telling myself that I don’t have enough – time, energy, love, money, knowledge – and I must overcompensate for the deficit. I want to be disciplined enough to build in time to be thoughtful about my actions and decisions and to celebrate the process along the way.

Sure, I could write a paper in one night, but WHY?! It’s just a bad idea. It’s always been a bad idea and an even worse experience. I have time to do it well, to not torture myself in the process, and to be proud of what I produced when its ready, rather than bullying myself with falsified pressure to do it the least enjoyable way in the shortest possible time period.

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When I have $20 I have to think about how awesome it feels to have cash, to be able to buy something if I wanted. Better yet, I can be disciplined enough to see beyond the immediate consumerism conundrum and appreciate that I can use that money to buy something if I truly needed it and, thankfully, that’s a priceless privilege that comes with abundance.

Paulo Coelho’s quote reminds me that looking at this from the opposite lens can produce the same results. If I reframe my thoughts, I think I can control my approach rather than continuing to control the environment in which I operate.

Discipline is a craft I’m cultivating in a whole new way.

 

 

…i think i remember

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Kidspot.com.au – http://bit.ly/2o4qFP0

I was a candy striper for all of 5 hours. And… i think i remember becoming a feminist, a naturalist, and a home birther that very day.

My mother got it into her head that it would be great for me to volunteer at a local hospital. She got many such ideas. I was in a girls’ summer science & tech camp. I spent many a weekend in a bowling league. She’s got quite the imagination. In any case, this candy striper business was all her idea. I didn’t even know what the term meant (I wore my regular clothes) or what they’d have me doing, but if you’ve ever met my mother you’ll know that I didn’t have a choice.

It’s the morning. This hospital is on the Portuguese and Puerto Rican side of town. I’m assigned to the maternity ward. There were just a few names on the white board. Next to them were times and the names of prescription drugs. For example, 4:15am Petocin. Let’s just say, it was 9:00am.

 

I sat at the desk with a quiet nurse for a while and I accompanied her on her next set of rounds. I only saw one patient. She was pregnant. I now know she was in labor. She was disoriented, in obvious pain and clearly drugged. She was alone in her room, save the nurse and me. She woke up to moan. The nurse did something for less than 30 seconds. And then we left her room. We left her alone. It was then that I remember thinking 1) this is my last day doing this candy striper crap. And then i think I remember thinking 2) I’m never delivering my baby in a hospital. Last, I recall knowing 3) no woman in her right mind would want this for herself.

I’m not sure if this was before or after the candy striper incident, but i think I remember watching my very first reality tv show, Brandy’s “Special Delivery.” I watched then with the save avid intensity as I currently watch the Real Housewives of Atlanta, Love & Hip Hop every city in America, so on and so forth. This is to say, I was addicted. I distinctly remember watching Brandy cry as she toured hospital maternity wards, saying how she too didn’t want to have her baby in a hospital. (Though, she ultimately did. And we later found out that she totally lied to all of us about being married! So, I blame her for the beginning of fake reality television…alas…) I remember being disappointed that even the most famous, wealthy, positive, female, Black icon of my generation (Don’t you dare contest me: see Moesha, Thea and ‘the Boy is Mine‘ music video as proof) didn’t find a way out of a hospital birth that she didn’t want. This was just the rich & famous version of the woman I left writhing in drugged up pain in a lonely labor room in New Jersey.

I think I remember shortly thereafter deciding that I would be unapologetic about NOT delivering my baby in a hospital. And I think that might have been my first declaration of feminism. It was the beginning of setting boundaries on my health and well-being that would mean that, in the future, my adult self simply couldn’t be trapped by modern medicine, conventional wisdom or popular belief to enter into a situation where I too would cry as I toured hospitals and imagined myself as that lonely woman trapped in pain purgatory.

I did tour a hospital. And I tried to do it Brandy’s way, but I refused to see the likes of Pitocin and I kept feeling that I’d be pressured to accept in the moment. Ultimately, my inner compass guided me swiftly away from the hospitals and doctors, who I feared would do to me just as I had done many years before – leave a scared, helpless woman to fend for herself against nature and her own body, with not so much as half a care to holding her hand, reassuring her, or letting her know that she was not, in fact, alone.

 

People now ask me how it is that I managed to have a home birth. And for a while I really didn’t know where the conviction came from. But looking back now, I think it’s because… i think i remember knowing from a very young age that women deserved better care and that children deserved to enter the world in a better way. So, really, I didn’t have a choice.

 

Things I used to LOVE.

My husband always jokes that Americans use the word ‘love’ too loosely. And he’s right. We use the word ‘love’ when we really mean ‘like’ a whole lot and we use ‘like’ a whole lot when we really mean ‘um, ‘uh’ or ‘so.’ And we use those three sounds instead of just taking a break to breathe and think about what we really want to say. So, this got me to thinking (in a very round about way) about the times I used ‘love’ in the past, only to find out with time that it was just a misnomer. The list got me chuckling in my UGG slippers, which I categorically love. Here goes nothing, in no particular order:

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Alanis Morissette’s music – Isn’t ironic? I was a middle schooler once. This means I had poor taste in lots of things, not just music, but especially music. I LOVED “You Oughta Know” and “Ironic.” I distinctly recall waiting for them to play on The Box on those late nights that I was allowed to stay up during school vacations. I was definitely an 80s baby with 90s earlobes, so yea… I loved her sound!

Corn Pops – Apparently, they’ve been in the news lately for much more than their subtly sweet crunchy goodness, but for a very long time this was my jam. Between these and Crispix, Kellog’s had the monopoly on my breakfast cereal selection for years. Now, I know better than to think that those hints of morning sweetness are harmless. Back in the day, though, I loved these kitchen staples.

Drawing – While most kids in elementary school were winning sports trophies, I was winning poster and essay contests. Obviously, the love of writing has persisted, but most people are unaware of my artistic streak.  Through the 6th grade, I regularly won local competitions for my art work. When I went to high school, I took advanced fine arts courses and sent a portfolio with my college admissions applications, hoping to continue my work in a new venue. It was in high school that I learned the most about form, but it was also there that I met the end of my interest in drawing. I’ve since picked photography as my poison, but my mom’s basement tells the tales of my passion to draw.

Bikram Yoga – This used to be my sh*t! Back in 2010-11, I was regularly found sweating from the back of every joint, tendon and skin fold I possessed. And I absolutely loved it. Most people thought it was an irrational fad. Popular in theory, but unreasonably hot in reality, Bikram Yoga was 90 minutes of fat burning ‘me’ time that really got my body in shape, my mind in focus and my immune system in recovery.  Though it’s been over five years since I’ve done it, it’s still my exercise of choice – in my mind. (This was sexual harassment pre-scandal. I don’t condone what Bikram himself, btw)

Craig David –  I lived in Spain when he was popular and this guy right here was a teeny bopper heart-throb throughout Western Europe. I liked his music, but I loveeeddd him. Before there was Idris Elba, he was the first Black Brit to steal my heart. The same way I loved Soul for Real before him and Andre 3000 after him, I saw our future together.  So strong was my affection that I went out on 2 dates with a young Spaniard who favored Craig David, despite the fact that this young man wouldn’t even admit to being Black (uhhh….). Oh, the things we do for love!

In my defense, when I said I loved these people and things, I wasn’t lying. I meant it at the time. Genuine commitment and undying affection was what I pledged in my youth, but somehow with time ‘um’…’uh’… these passions faded. Now that I’ve had some breathing room, I’m hopeful that one day I’ll be able to revisit these touchstones and rediscover myself in these ‘likes’ of yesteryear.