Black Woman Blogging

One black woman's views on race, gender, politics, family, life and the world.

Sunday, November 8, 2015

A Darker Shade of Cardinal (Stanford Black Alums Coming Back to the Farm)

You will never meet Black folks like this again.

~ A Stanford Black alumnus, Class of 1978

Last month, I had the pleasure of attending my Stanford Class of 1985 Reunion.  Yes, it's been thirty years since I graduated college.  Well, not really, since I didn't graduate with my class.  The beauty of Stanford is that Stanford doesn't care about when you left; what matters is when you came and with whom you identify.  For me, that's the Class of 1985.

But I don't identify with all of the members of the Class of 1985.  I didn't then, and I don't know.  That became painfully clear to me at my reunion.  More on that later.

There's a reason why Stanford ranks so highly among African American students, and it's not its location in Silicon Valley.  Stanford embraces "microcommunities," and it is because of that embrace that I was able to have what I would call a Black college experience in a predominantly white institution, with absolutely no pressure to assimilate.  That's a good thing.  As I said to one of my Black classmates whom I hadn't seen since she left in 1985, my belonging to Stanford, if you want to call it that, is not tied to the institution; it's tied to the Stanford Black community that made it possible for me to get through Stanford while still being myself.  They are my belonging, and it is because of them that I even deign to return to a Stanford Homecoming.

To say that I belonged to the Stanford Black community doesn't go far enough to explain my affinity.  The Stanford Black community is an extraordinary Black college community, and I have both Princeton and Harvard with which to compare.

To its credit, Stanford, the institution, created the environment that allowed this community to flourish.  When I was accepted to Stanford, I had to fill out a housing preference form.  This form allowed me to voice my preference for what kind of dorm I wanted to live in (all freshmen, multi-class, cultural theme house) and whether I wanted a roommate of the same race.  While I thought I wanted to be in a predominantly white dorm (my high school had been extremely diverse), my oldest sister had the good sense to snatch the form from my hands, check the box for me to live in Ujamaa, the Black cultural theme house, and also check the box voicing my preference for a Black roommate.

My life has never been the same, and for the better.

What I experienced living in Ujamaa my first two years at Stanford rooted me in the idea of unlimited Black possibility.  I had never met so many Black folks who were on their way to their dreams -- future doctors, lawyers, engineers, writers, consultants, educators, you name it.  We worked hard -- on Thursday nights, the hallways were full of Black pre-meds and engineering majors working together on problem sets for calculus and a host of STEM courses long before we had the acronym for them.  We played even harder -- the Ujamaa Lounge, or, when a black fraternity or sorority was throwing a party, the Lagunita Dining Hall -- thumped hard with the musical magic our our resident deejay, Greg Gardner, AKA "GG Disco."  Black parties at Ujamaa or Lagunita Dining Hall rarely, if ever, bombed, because he was an excellent deejay with a great reputation not just on campus, but with all Bay Area colleges.

More than that, we had each others' backs.  I remember times when I missed classed because I was either ill or just lazy, and one of my Black classmates would put the class notes under my door.  I remember some Black classmates not having enough money to swing housing fees, and they'd simply bunk with a Black classmate who had housing. When one of us knew of a job opening, whether it was at the Faculty Club, the Stanford Linear Accelerator Center (SLAC), the Stanford Mall or doing research for graduate students, we hooked each other up.  At one point, I had four part-time jobs on campus during the summer, all because my fellow Black classmates hooked me up. We shared cars, mopeds, bikes, dorm rooms, whatever it took to get through.

And that Black freshman roommate I was assigned because of my sister's intervention?  She became my best friend and my matron of honor at my wedding.  All of my closest female friends are Black women I met at Stanford.  But for having lived in Ujamaa, I doubt I would have met, dated, and ultimately married Black Man Not Blogging.

In the words of one of my favorite Al Jarreau songs, we got by.  And through.  At least most of us.

I haven't since met Black folks that brilliant, resilient, resourceful, unpretentious and supportive.  Not at Harvard Law School, not at the Woodrow Wilson School at Princeton. I was naive enough to expect that I would have the same Black experience at Harvard and Princeton that I had a Stanford.  It was not to be, not by a long shot.

But I did have the same experience with white students at Harvard and Princeton as I had at Stanford.  With white students, I had no "melting pot" experience, but a "tossed salad" one -- we were in the same bowl, so to speak, but we didn't become part of each others' lives.  I know few, if any, white classmates from Stanford, and I don't feel at a loss because I received so much support and affirmation from my Black classmates.

When I attended the Stanford Class of 1985 panel discussion during Reunion Weekend and looked around the predominantly white audience, I nodded to myself and thought, "I didn't know these folks thirty years ago, and I don't know them now.  And I'm okay with that."  Why?  Because I looked down the row I was sitting in and down the row behind me where my fellow Black Stanford Class of 1985 alums were sitting and thought, "This is my belonging.  They are my belonging."

Yes, thirty years later, all the Black folks at Stanford were still sitting together.  This time, we all left together, too.

We are a distinct part of the Stanford experience but still part of the Stanford experience.  I prefer to think we are a darker shade of Cardinal.

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Friday, August 28, 2015

Donald Trump and the GOP's White Privilege Moment (The DNC Says "Thank You")

Tell me what you pay attention to, and I will tell you who you are.

~ Jose Ortega y Gasset

When people show you who they are, believe them the first time.

~ Maya Angelou

The GOP is paying a lot of attention to Donald Trump.  In the process, GOP Trump supporters are telling the nation exactly who the GOP is, and I'm believing them the first time.  And for that, the Democratic National Committee says, "Thank you, GOP."

At first I thought the whole Donald Trump thing would die out, especially after he made misogynistic remarks about Megyn Kelly.  I thought he definitely could not continue to pick up steam after using the term "anchor babies."

Not only did he pick up steam, he got Jeb Bush jockin' him and using the term, too.

Poor Chris Christie wants to avoid paying attention to Trump, but he can't seem to do so.  Yesterday on CBS This Morning, Christie said it wasn't his job to talk about Trump but to talk about his own ideas.  He did, however, take a swipe at Hillary Clinton, saying she was not qualified to run for president because of the FBI investigation of her email server.  That's funny coming from someone who almost caught a case himself behind a missing Democratic endorsement and some resulting bridge constipation induced by his staff.  The lack of self-awareness among the GOP candidates almost rival's Clinton's, what with her ill-chosen SnapChat joke.

But the rally in Mobile, Alabama -- Black Man Not Blogging's hometown -- said it all.  That crowd was whiter than the sheets at a Klan rally.  With Donald Trump, they were having their White Privilege Moment, getting high on their own supply -- of white privilege, that is.

"White Privilege Moment?", you ask?  Yes, it's a moment, for electoral purposes.

What Trump's supporters like about him is his "tell it like it is" way of speaking and his refusal to be "politically correct," with him making a sexist joke about a female reporter and making amends with her male boss, and not her, about it, or having Jorge Ramos thrown out  of a press conference for daring to take him on about his immigration policy (more about the two-faced nature of GOP immigration politics later).  These GOP Trump supporters like the idea of Trump telling countries like Mexico that they're going to build a wall between them and the U.S. AND pay for it, or threatening to put China in its place.  These poor folks long for a President who will tell marginalized people (people who don't look and/or think like them) and other countries what he ain't gonna do for them and what they ain't gonna do about it.

Cue "Dixie."

To borrow a turn of phrase from my mama, I'ma let them have their White Privilege Moment, just like they did when they put Mitt Romney up against Barack Obama and got b-slapped in the general election.  Why?

Because demography is destiny. 

Jorge Ramos is right -- the GOP cannot win the general election without the Latino vote, 'cause they sho ain't  gonna get the black vote.  Threatening to send U.S. citizens -- children no less -- born of undocumented parents back to their parents' home countries is no way to get the Latino vote.  Epic. Fail.  You can't even think of trying to tack to the center after being so far to the right of the Latino vote and much of the electorate in general especially in light of the two-faced nature of GOP immigration politics.

The GOP is so damned two-faced on immigration policy that it makes me want to scream.  Who does Donald Trump think builds his buildings, cleans his hotels and casinos, and serves in his restaurants?  If ICE did an immigration sweep right now of every Trump entity, I'm sure there would be a whole lot of undocumented workers caught up, undocumented workers who come to this country to work and whose presence in industries owned and run by GOP voters is benignly ignored when the GOP talks about immigration policy.  If "President Trump" were to ramp up deportations, California's agriculture industry -- its biggest industry by far - would come to a screeching halt.  Yet, California's central valley farmers, most of whom are Republican, are strangely silent on Trump's immigration policy.  Trust me, if you deport the undocumented, no one else is going to step up to do the hard labor they do, especially not my people.  Field work is so last millennium for my peeps, and they sure would open up a can of "Si Se Puede" union organizing in a heartbeat if you tried to get them to pick crops.  When it comes to immigration policy, the GOP has a stunning lack of self-awareness.

But the Trump supporters continue on with their White Privilege Moment.  In their mind, a Trump presidency would, to borrow from an old song, "lift them up where they belong," i.e., not having to give a crap about people who don't look or think like them.  Demography be damned.  And so they'll continue to support Trump because the White Privilege Moment feels so good to them, and because the rest of the GOP contenders collectively and individually lack the balls of a field mouse when it comes to having the courage to call Trump out.

But demography is still destiny.  The demographic the GOP needs but does not have in its winning coalition is taking note of who the GOP is paying so much attention to.  Just like the polls were misleading with respect to Mitt Romney's standing, they will be misleading with respect to accurately capturing the amount of Trump disgust among the Obama coalition of voters -- young people and people of color -- because these voters don't always vote consistently enough to be considered "most likely voters" pollsters use, and yet they come out in droves for the general election like a sneaker wave when there's a candidate they love (Obama) or hate (Romney or Trump).

Which means that Trump. Can't. Win.

But go on, GOP.  Enjoy your White Privilege Moment.

P.S.  Vice President Biden, please put Democratic donors out of their misery and run.  You know Hillary can't win, either.

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Sunday, August 23, 2015

An Inherited Mindset? (Or Why You Shouldn't Marry a Sharecropper's Child)

I had the good fortune to sit down with my 87 year-old uncle, whom I will refer to as "Uncle B," because of extremely bad fortune:  The death of his brother, my Uncle F.  The reason why this sit-down was such good fortune is because I learned a lot about myself from learning from him about his mother, my grandmother who I never met.

My grandmother died before I was born.  She appears in the 1930 census in the rural Deep South as a twenty-seven year old widow with young children.  Because my grandfather owned his own grist mill, a shoe cobbler shop, and the land his shop and his house were on before he died in 1928, my grandmother was a property owner in the Deep South during the Great Depression when she was widowed.

Which means she could vote as long as she paid her 50 cent poll tax. She paid, and she voted.

Mind you, this was no small feat for a widowed black mother in the rural Deep South during the Great Depression.  History tells us that black folks were getting killed for even daring to register to vote during that time, much less actually voting. 

Yet and still, she voted.

Uncle B. also told me of something that she did that might not have met with the approval of other rural black townspeople during that era.  Imagining a widowed twenty-something black mother during the Great Depression as being someone weak and in need of protection, I asked with fear, "How did people treat her?  Did they shun her?"

Uncle B. said, "No.  What could they do to her?  We were property owners.  We didn't depend on other folks."  Uncle B. elaborated on their property owners' mindset.  "Back then, we used to say, 'Don't marry a sharecropper's son' or 'Don't marry a sharecropper's daughter.'  It wasn't about them being a sharecropper's son or daughter.  It was about the mindset they inherited from their parents.  Sharecroppers didn't believe they would ever own anything.  If you don't think you'll ever have anything, you never will."

Uncle B. also told me that my grandmother was considered quite the catch after she was widowed because she could read and write and she owned property.  She had been sent away to Spelman for high school and college (Uncle B believes my grandfather, for whom she worked before she married him, paid for her education, but my dad always said her sisters paid for her education).  My grandmother would spend her weekends reading and writing letters for black folks who couldn't read and write.  Uncle B. also told me that when she broke up with one suitor, she told him, "I'm through with you.  Don't come back.  And get off my property." 

And when someone did her wrong or threatened to do her wrong, she called on her sisters, and they had her back.  And they would fight for and alongside her.  Even against men.

I'm so much like my grandmother that it's not even funny.

Does this mean I inherited a different mindset, from a grandmother I never even knew, no less?


Exhibit 1:  I am a fanatic about voting.  I once stopped a lecture in one of my Property courses to harangue my students about the importance of voting.  I scolded my black students, telling them that too many black folks had died for the right to vote for them to disrespect that sacrifice by not voting. When I was single, I wouldn't even date a guy if he didn't vote.  To me, the failure of a guy to vote was the equivalent of having bad hygiene.  Ick.

Exhibit 2:  I am a strong believer in property ownership and not depending on anyone financially. That's why I spent a year with Black Man Not Blogging creating and teaching a curriculum on financial independence for my family.

Exhibit 3: I have always believed that every act starts with a belief.  I never doubted that I  would go to college.  I never doubted that I would attend Harvard.  I never doubted that I would be an attorney.  I never doubted I would achieve any goal about which I was very serious, because I simply believed.  I did not have a sharecropper's mentality -- the belief that you won't have anything. 

Exhibit 4: I've never believed that I was less than men just because I'm a woman.  Last summer, I designed and helped oversee the remodel of my mother-in-law's house.  Quite frankly, I used the remodeling as an excuse to use my own power tools.  When I was putting up the last of seven curtain rods, all of which I had installed by myself (Thank you, Ryobi drill people!), one of my in-laws said to me:  "You really do think you're equal to men, don't you?"  I replied, "I just don't see what having a penis has to do with being able to measure and do math."  When I shared my in-law's comment with Uncle B., he said, "Well, that's just stupidity on steroids."  He turned to my sisters and me and said very seriously, "Girls, know your worth." Clearly, my grandmother knew her worth.   (By the way, only an 87 year-old uncle would call his fifty- and sixty-something nieces "girls."  Too cute.)

Exhibit 5:  I learned not to have qualms about dismissing men from my life if they were not for me.  When I was single, once I learned how to break up with the first two boyfriends, breaking up with the rest of them was easy, and I started to do so more quickly whenever I realized they were not for me.  There was one guy who owed me money when I was getting ready to break up with him.  I broke up with him AND demanded a check for what he owed me.  He paid me on the spot.  And yes, the check cleared.  Like my grandmother, once I decided that a man was not for me, I dismissed him for good, with one notable exception:  Black Man Not Blogging. Like my grandmother telling her suitor, "Get off my property," I kicked boyfriends or aspiring boyfriends out of my car, out of  my apartment, and out of my office at a law firm when I was single.

Exhibit 6:  When I need backup, I call on my sisters. They always have my back, even if they think I'm wrong, which is something we resolve within the sisterhood, not outside of the sisterhood.

Exhibit 7:  I know my worth.  My grandmother knew her worth.  So do I.

I'm so grateful for having had this wonderful grandmother I never met, for inheriting her mindset, and for my Uncle B. sharing her with me.

Now I have to think about the mindset I'm passing down . . . . .

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Monday, June 29, 2015

If You Wait Long Enough, Good Things Will Happen (Charleston, Forgiveness, the Confederate Flag, the ACA, Gay Marriage, and Amazing Grace on My Mind)

I'm going to let you in on a little secret:

Sometimes, I think God talks to me.

No.  Really.  Like when I heard a little voice tell me, "Put away some money.  You're going to need it."  I did.  The next month?  BAM!  Hit with major car repairs.

Or when Black Man Not Blogging and I were coming back from a day trip and stopped in a McDonald's in a South Stockton neighborhood.  He went in, I stayed in the car.  A little voice told me, "You need to get out of here."  I called him on his cell phone to tell him to get out of the McDonald's, that we needed to get ghost.  He did, and we did.  The neighborhood just felt unsafe.  If I recall correctly, the next day there was news of shootings that occurred in South Stockton.

When the Charleston shooting occurred, I was at a loss for words.  I couldn't believe that someone would gun down church members at a prayer meeting.  A PRAYER  MEETING! Could there be anything more demonic?

Then, in an act of what can only be called amazing grace, the victims' families started to forgive the shooter.

And that's when I heard the little voice:  "If you wait long enough, good things will happen."  I smiled.

In what appeared to be a whirlwind of good things happening, people began calling for the removal of the Confederate flag from the South Carolina state house and other government buildings.  Ebay, Amazon, Sears, and Wal-Mart pulled Confederate flag merchandise from their shelves or stopped selling them online.  Given Wal-Mart's southern roots, that's huge.  The cynic in me says that it was the fact that black people were killed in a church by a racist who literally wrapped himself in the Confederate flag that moved people to reconsider the flag, but I'll take this reconsideration no matter how it comes, even if I think it would not have happened but for the murders taking place in a church.  It forced white Southerners to choose between heritage and faith.  They chose faith.

The Affordable Care Act was upheld, as well as disparate impact analysis for housing discrimination under the Fair Housing Act.

The President found his voice on race, using the n-word to explain that this country's racial atrocities hundreds of years ago are not yet forgotten, the wounds not yet healed.  In the eulogy for Reverend Clementa Pinkney, President Obama found his voice on race once again, saying that although those who fought for the Confederacy may have been honorable, the cause for which they fought was not.  He  then raised his voice in a rousing rendition of "Amazing Grace."  And the church said, "Amen."

To top it all off, the Supreme Court declared bans on gay marriage unconstitutional.  To some, this may not be a good thing. I don't see how equality under the law can't be.  The southern states, and the Ted Cruzes of the nation, will stand in opposition, just as George Wallace stood in the door of the University of Alabama declaring, "Segregation today, segregation tomorrow, segregation forever" in the wake of Brown v. Board of Education.  Ted  Cruz will be remembered in much the same way as Governor Wallace would have been had he not had a racial epiphany.  The work of the LGBT community is not done, but there's just a little less of it to be done.

If you wait long enough, good things will happen.  Sometimes you have to wait centuries, sometimes a generation, sometimes a decade.  But if you wait long enough, good things will happen.


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Sunday, June 14, 2015

Mad About the Faux Sistah in Spokane? Really, White People? (White Hypocrisy and the Appropriation of Blackness)

I haven't been following closely the story of the Spokane NAACP president who is allegedly passing for black.  I'm not bothered by it, not at all.  As long as she is working for the greater good of black people in America --- and Lord knows, I wish more people would -- how she identifies is of no moment to me.

What is bothersome is the hype and outrage by the predominantly white media that this white woman is passing for black.


Here's where the hypocrisy and/or lack of self-awareness comes in:  White people have been appropriating blackness for their own for decades, and not necessarily for the betterment and advancement of black people.  At least this sistah faux sho' is trying to do something positive with it.

White people, here's a small list of all the blackness that white people have appropriated with little or no benefit to black people:

You appropriate our language.  Hell, you even trademark it.  You trademarked or appropriated "Let's roll," and "24/7" (talking to you, CNN) and now you're quoting black rappers on the cans of Sprite.  I ain't mad, but just be honest about what you stole.

You appropriate our hairstyles.  From Bo Derek in cornrows and beads running down the beach in "10" to Kim Kardashian trying to wear braids, you covet what you appear in public to disdain -- the versatility and style with which we go from rocking a 'fro to a bob.  Deep down, you, too want to be happy, nappy and versatile with your hairstyle.  Just own it.

You appropriate our physical attributes.  You inject collagen into your lips, implants into your asses, and spray tanner on your skin.

You appropriate our music.  Back in the day, you straight out stole it -- robbed creative geniuses of their copyrights. Hell, even the Master of Funk himself, George Clinton, doesn't own his own music.  What you couldn't steal, you pimped.  You corporatized hip-hop.  I ain't mad because at least Jiggaman got paid.  But at least admit what you did.  And although I'm appreciative that you cashed out Dr. Dre for his Beats empire, I'm getting a little tired of mediocre white singers trying to appear more talented than they are by being backed up by a faux black gospel choir, choir robes and all.  Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB) has a big problem with appropriating black religious symbolism for corporate gain.  It's the Baptist in him.

You appropriate our achievements.  You credit Matthew Henson as sharing in reaching the North Pole first when in fact he got there first.  I don't even have the time or the space to chronicle how many black achievements have been claimed by whites. 

You appropriate our men.  Oh yeah, you're afraid of them on the street, but not between the sheets. I've always believed that love knows no color, but for some of you, let's just say you're just curious, fetishizing, and not loving.

So at least this faux sistah is appropriating black identity for a black purpose.  Perhaps she hasn't been honest about it, but the lack of honesty is at least balanced out by her work on behalf of black people, which is more than what I can say about other cases of white appropriation of blackness that did not benefit black people.

What I find really offensive is the question, "Why would someone white want to pass for black?"

Here's why:  Because we're awesome.  Despite all that has been done to us, we're still here.  Battered and bruised, perhaps, but we're still here in our nappy, creative, persistent, undeniable genius in shades from off-white to blue-black.  WE'RE STILL HERE.  You stand on the economic foundation we laid for this nation, yet you still deny our humanity and question why anybody would want to be us.  Really, white people?  Really?  If you question why anybody would want to be us, you need to do an inventory of all that you copy from us and enjoyed of us.

For those of you in the white media harping on this story, I think you need to have one of those awkward moments of self-awareness and count all the ways white people have and continue to appropriate blackness without any benefit for black people.  And then go on ahead and write out a check to the Spokane NAACP.

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Tuesday, June 2, 2015

Fear of a Growing Black and Brown Renter Class (On the Power of Ownership)

As an African-American woman, there are some things I fear more than police brutality.

Like a growing Black and brown renter class.

There's  a relationship here.  Bear with me.

My office is the across the hall from a realty.  There's a Latina realtor there who I speak with occasionally in the hallway.  I can tell she works hard.  We started talking about home ownership among black and brown folks.  She's scared, too.

She's scared that the foreclosure crisis, and the intentional targeting of black and brown people for subprime mortgages by Wells Fargo, Countrywide/Bank of America and other major mortgage lenders, will permanently scare off black and brown folks from home ownership.

She's scared, as I am, that if our people stay away from home ownership, the wealth gap that currently exists between whites and black and brown people will widen even more.

She's scared, as I am, that if our people stay away from home ownership, the harder it will be for them to get into home ownership once they see the error of their ways.

And trust me, folks of any color who dismiss home ownership as "something only white people do," (and yes, I've heard that), are condemning themselves to another form of slavery:  Renting.

Investors at home and abroad are COUNTING on this black and brown growing renter class. I saw a story on the news a while back about foreign investors buying up tracts of brand new houses in Atlanta for the sole purposes of renting to folks who had lost their homes but still wanted to live in quality neighborhoods.  We all know that black and brown people disproportionately lost their homes in Atlanta during the Great Recession.  And instead of starting over and starting with what they can afford, the siren song of renting in an area where you can't afford will lead black and brown folks back down the path of rental slavery.

Investors from China are buying up Detroit homes on the cheap for rental property.  We all know that black and brown people disproportionately lost their homes in Detroit in the Great Recession.

Get the picture?

Allow me to digress again.  I recently had the pleasure of meeting an elderly, white retired U.S. Army colonel while on vacation with Black Man Not Blogging.  We started a conversation with the colonel because he was wearing a Red Tails Society hat and was surprised that we knew about the Tuskegee Airmen and the red tails on their planes.  He mentioned that he was a former Army aviator who was committed to preserving the memory and history of the Tuskegee Airman.  "We're losing them more and more each day," he lamented.

We got on the subject of home ownership.  He said he had been married for 61 years before he lost his wife, and they bought their home in a California coastal town for $126,000 a long time ago, and it is now worth way more than that.  He talked about how he inherited his brother's estate and, with that inheritance, was able to put "5 and a half" of his grandchildren through college without debt.  The half?  "One of my grandkids was stubborn about attending a private college, so we couldn't pay all of her costs."  He then mentioned that his late wife had inherited shares of stock in Caterpillar from her great-grandfather, who bought them when the company first went public.  The shares continued to split over time, and now he gets a check for $5,000 a year in dividends.  He mentioned helping one of his children buy a house in East Menlo Park at a time when no one wanted to live there.  They bought it for thousands, sold it for millions.  The appreciation in the price of his late wife's stock didn't impress him nearly as much as the appreciation in land that he and his family had experienced.  He chuckled, "Some people are paper people; some are land people.  We're land people."

Because of the power of ownership, the Colonel was not only able to put "5 and a half" of his grandchildren through college, but to live a comfortable life in his later years.

I can personally attest to the power of ownership in my own family.  My parents owned their home.  Both sets of my grandparents owned their homes.  Almost all of the aunts and uncle on both sides of the family owned their homes. 

With the house that my parents paid off, my father was able to take out equity and buy a new house when he remarried after my mother's death.  He then quitclaimed the house to my sister.  When the real estate boom happened, she sold the house at the top of the market to my brother, took the profits, and went in with my other sister on a brand new HUGE house in a gated neighborhood.  Not bad for two government workers who had been livin' in the hood.  And it all sprang from my mom and dad paying off their mortgage on their $19,000 house, $133 a month at a time, over twenty years (Remember the twenty-year fixed, anyone?)

That is the power of ownership.  But it starts small, like buying a house in a bad neighborhood to get your feet in the real estate market.

Renters, unless they are investing actively and wisely in the stock market, will have nothing to leave to their children.  No hedge against rental inflation when their incomes are fixed and limited in old age.  Nothing to help pay for their children's or grandchildren's college educations.  And it is higher education that positions people, especially people of color, to take up leadership positions in business, government and society in general.  To solve social ills.

Like police brutality.

Because if you're not in a position of power, you're not at the table where the decisions are made.  And as one of my attorney colleagues once said, "If you're not at the table, you're on the menu."

What black and brown people who swear off home ownership because of their past experiences don't understand is this:

1) A fixed rate mortgage freezes your housing costs over time.  As your salary increases, your mortgage doesn't, increasing your disposable income.  Rents always go up.  If you retire as a renter, your fixed income will always be chipped away by higher rents.

2) Your first home won't be your dream home -- it's your equity building home.  As my Latina realtor friend said, "Buy what you can afford, whether it's the best house in the worst neighborhood or the worst house in the best neighborhood.  If the neighborhood schools are bad, send your child to a charter school.  Live in the house for a while and if you don't like the neighborhood, rent it out and live elsewhere.  At least you're building equity."

3) Most people don't invest well enough so that they don't have to buy a house.  Although stocks have a higher rate of return on investment over time, real estate tends to be safer, especially if you buy and hold.  Shortly after BMNB and I bought our home in 2008, we were $100,000 under water.  Now we have a lot of equity because the market has bounced back and houses in our neighborhood aren't staying on the market very long.  As I said to BMNB when we were under water on our mortgage, "It's a good thing we like our house, because we're definitely not going anywhere."  I'm glad we couldn't.

4) Never, ever buy more than what you can afford, and don't let anyone tell you what you can afford.  During the height of the real estate boom, mortgage lenders were willing to finance BMNB and I for more than $1 million.  We knew we couldn't afford it.  We bought a foreclosure that we could safely afford.

5) If you rent, you are at the mercy of your landlord.  BMNB and I have the experience of being on both ends of the landlord/tenant stick.  When we were renting in Elk Grove, we received a 60-day notice for no reason other than that the landlord lost one of her houses and wanted to move back into the one we were renting.  On the other end, the tenant in our Colorado property is about to get a $200 per month rent increase when the lease expires in August.  Why?  Because she purposefully jacked up our kitchen countertops and DEMANDED granite countertops to replace the laminate -- WTF? -- and because the market has gone gangbusters and we can easily charge and get $200 a month more to pay off the mortgage faster.  THAT is the power of ownership.  I would be lying if I said I wasn't enjoying getting revenge on the tenant, especially since all the while I lived there BMNB wouldn't buy me granite countertops, and I was sleeping with him.

6) Get in where you fit, in however you can get in.  My sisters went in together to buy a house that neither could have afforded on their own.  My niece and nephew-in-law bought in the 'hood until they could trade up to the suburbs.  BMNB's first property, now our rental, was a townhome, because that was all he could afford.  Be creative.  If you can't afford a house, buy a condo or a townhome.  If you're handy, buy something you can fix up and put sweat equity into.  Our neighbors next door are the second generation to own their house.  When their father died, their mother bought a new house and gave the house to them, her sons.  However you get in the ownership game, just get in. Heck, start a down payment sou-sou.

7)  Home ownership takes sacrifice, but it's worth it.  When you're trying to get your credit together and save money for the down payment, you forego things.  You shouldn't buy unless you know you're going to stay in the area for at least three years.  And once you buy, you need to keep a steady job - even if you don't like it -- so you can keep your mortgage paid.  The benefit?  The tax write off for mortgage interest (which has saved us a HUGE amount of money); improvement of your credit -- the first thing that credit applications ask after your job is whether you rent or own; stability for your children, because they won't have to leave their friends or school just because the landlord says so. There are credit cards with credit limits that I couldn't dream of getting ten years ago before BMNB and I bought our house that are offered to me like crack.  My new relationship to credit card issuers is best summed up by rapper Mike Jones:  "First you didn't know me, now you all up  on me."

8)  Even if you lose your home, you can pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and try again.  My parents lost a home before I was born.  They rented until the children of one of my mother's friends taunted my siblings, saying, "You ain't got no place to live."  That spurred my dad on to take on extra work to get his family back into their own home.

Wealth grows over generations, with each generation making it a little easier for the next generation -- if they are wise -- to get an education and a toehold in American society.  Wealth buys freedom. 

But you don't accumulate wealth by renting.   That is why I fear a growing black and brown renter class.

But my Latina realtor friend is undaunted. She said she continues to work to get her people into homes.  She said, "It's a lot of work, getting first-time buyers into a home.  It doesn't pay a lot.  But boy is it worth it to me."

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Monday, May 25, 2015

Doesn't Take Much to Make Me Happy

Doesn't take much to make me happy . . and make me smile with glee . . . .

~ "Best of My Love," The Emotions

Although I'm viewed by many friends and family members alike as a driven, high maintenance, Type-A perfectionist with high standards and equally high anxiety, the truth of the matter is this:

It doesn't take much to make me happy.

No, really.

This year, I told myself that I would use what I have and enjoy what I have.  Many of the things that make me happy are low cost or free (at least free to me), easy, and/or within my possession or reach.  In honor of the near-beginning of my favorite season of the year, summer (YAY!), here's a list of the little things that make me happy, in no particular order:

1.  My husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB).  No, this isn't to say that he's perfect or we're perfect, but we're good enough together.  We laugh ALOT.  We have some insider stupid jokes that have been running between us for years.  Never judge a marriage by what you see.  There are things that go on within a marriage between two people that outsiders will never know and, even if they did, they wouldn't understand.

2.  Iced Sweet Tea.  There is nothing like a glass of iced sweet tea with lemon on a hot summer day.

3.  Backyard barbecues.  Gotta love'em.  You set up the grill, and I'll make Memphis Minnie's Rib Rub and slather it on anything that was formerly a living animal and watch you grill it (I'm afraid of the fire, though.  I tried grilling once when BMNB wasn't home, and I almost burned down my backyard tree and fence.)

4.  Graduations.  I don't care if you're graduating from kindergarten or a doctoral program.  Graduations just warm my heart to bits.

5.  My home.  Not because it's big, because it isn't.  Not because it's posh, because it's far from that.  I enjoy my home simply because it's mine.  There are small touches everywhere -- my summer vegetable garden; the roses, dwarf orange tree and jasmine that I planted in the backyard that make the backyard so fragrant whenever I walk out; the artwork and family photos on display; the mostly used furniture that I've spruced up with pillows and whatnot; my piano; the struggling magnolias in my front yard that were a gift from my neighbor; the tons of books on my shelves and coffee table -- all of these things make my home a comfort to me as soon as I walk in the door.

6.  Finding NWT clothing items at the Goodwill.  Here's the context.  Yours truly has a weight problem.  That said, I don't think I should have to look like a schlumpadinka just because of it.  I also don't think I should pay a fortune for clothes for a size that I think is temporary.  For whatever reason, I've been able to find lots of NWT (New With Tags) items from the Goodwill in my size in the clothing brands I like -- Talbot's, Jones New York, Tahari, Liz Claiborne -- for no more than $10 each.  I've even found NWT shoes -- Joan and David, Etienne Aigner, Anne Klein -- for no more than $12.  I like looking nice for work, but I just don't believe in paying a lot of money for things that depreciate, which leads to my next favorite thing:

7.  Free coupons.  The Sacramento Bee newspaper calls me every once in a while to ask me to subscribe, and I always tell them "no."  Why? Because they leave the Sunday coupons in my driveway for free.  Why subscribe to the paper if you can get the coupons for free?  When I'm at the top of my couponing game, I can easily save $8 -20 bucks per grocery trip.  That easily pays for my Roku, Netflix and Hulu Plus accounts.  I know you're thinking that's not a lot of money, but it's free money to me.

9.  Fresh vegetables from my own garden.  Until you've had freshly picked tomatoes, zucchini, carrots and lettuce from your own yard, you really don't know what vegetables are supposed to taste like.  Top off the tomatoes, lettuce and carrots with homemade balsamic vinaigrette dressing ( balsamic vinegar, extra virgin olive oil, Italian seasoning and one or two crushed cloves of garlic), some fresh mozzarella, some fresh French bread and a glass of wine, and that's living, my friend.

10.  Reading the magazines to which I subscribe.  I subscribe to a lot of magazines -- O Magazine, Real Simple, Sunset, Essence, More, HGTV Magazine, and Everyday with Rachael Ray -- but I rarely have time to read them when they come in.  Curling up on my sofa with my old magazines and a glass of sweet tea or wine is a good time as far as I'm concerned.

11.  Day trips in California.  No shade on the rest of the 47 continental states, but IMHO California is the most beautiful of the lower 48.  The sad thing is that I don't make time to see much of its beauty despite the fact that I live here.  Daytrips are an inexpensive way to see all of California's beauty if you live here.  In what other state can you trek to mountains, beaches, forests, lakes, various wine countries (even Placer and Nevada counties have vineyards) or the desert and make it back home by dinner?  I've decided that seeing all of California's state parks is on my bucket list.  Need ideas?  Check out Sunset Magazine for some great tips for daytripping or camping in California.

12.  Having friends and family over for dinner.  Again, something that I don't do nearly as much as I would like to, partly because I do have high standards for what I serve to my guests and I end up intimidating myself into inaction.  I'm working on that, though.

13.  Morning coffee on the patio during summer.  I love to have my morning coffee on my patio during the summer and listen to the birds chirping.  The downside of this is that my backyard is so small and my house so close to my neighbors that sometimes I hear things I really don't want to or should not hear.  Sometimes I smell them, too.  Let's just say that some of my neighbors are extremely 420 friendly.

14.  Books.  I love to read, and I don't make enough time for it.  I rarely buy books new, though.  Again, the Goodwill and my local library have been my friends in this endeavor. I haven't bought an e-reader yet, but that's coming.

15.  Trying new recipes.  I have a cookbook collection that is to die for.  I also get lots of recipes from all of the magazines to which I subscribe.  I like trying new recipes and adding to my cooking repertoire, especially since I'm not a natural cook and am highly dependent on recipes.  The folks at O Magazine, Real Simple and Sunset provide killer recipes.

16.  Upcycling.  I like taking used stuff and making it new or interesting again.  I spray painted a used brass floor lamp I got for $10, and its new rubbed bronze color fits perfectly with the finishes in my home. I'm hoping to finish sanding and painting some headboards and tables I acquired used and cheaply.  Yes, I do watch Lara Spencer's "Flea Market Flip" religiously.  I get a thrill out of taking something that someone else has discarded and making it new and fashionable.  Don't judge me.

17.  Massages from Zen Spa in Roseville.  $60 bucks for a 60 minute massage.  No membership fee.  Sweet.

18.  Homemade Limeade.  It's not summer for me until I've had that first glass of homemade limeade.  Cook 2 cups sugar in 2 cups water over a low flame  and stir until the sugar dissolves, then let cool.  Add the mixture to a pitcher along with 2 cups fresh lime juice and 2 liters club soda.  Add sugar as needed to taste.  Enjoy.  Thanks, Martha Stewart!

19.  Hot baths after a hard workout.  Since we're in a drought and I don't work out much, this rarely happens.  However, the feeling of sitting in a hot bath with bath salts, bubble bath, and scented candles burning after a hard workout?  Sweet.  Even sweeter when BMNB is in the tub with me.

20. Writing this blog.  'Nuff said.

Happy Summer!

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