Monday, October 31, 2011

The Power of "No"

My husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB), and I opened a joint checking and savings account at a local credit union. Towards the end of the transaction, the credit union rep tells us he needs our signature on something. He slides across the desk a proxy agreement that would allow the credit union to vote our shares for three years. BMNB and I read the agreement at the same time, and, without looking up or looking at each other, we say in unison, "No."

"Are you going to commit to attending shareholder meetings, then?", the credit union rep inquires, semi-indignantly.

Again, we say in unison, "No." And we explain, "We don't have to."

I then explain, "I don't give a proxy to Warren Buffett to vote my shares of Berkshire-Hathaway, just in case Uncle Warren gets a wild hair and decides to lose his mind. I'm surely not going to give my proxy to you. " One tiny thing I forgot, though: I don't have voting shares in Berkshire-Hathaway. I own Berkshire-Hathaway B, not Berkshire-Hathaway A.

That said, the point remains the same. "No" is a powerful word, and we need to use it more often because it expresses so much.

I was amazed at how calmly the credit union rep slid that agreement across the desk and attempted to pass it off as something we had to sign as a condition of opening our account. I won't say that BMNB and I are the most business-savvy folks on the planet, but we knew enough to know that a proxy agreement is not mandatory. "No" for us expressed to the credit union rep that we were more knowledgeable about our options than was he and we refused to accept the only one provided to us.

It got me to thinking of more instances when the power of "no" expressed more than refusal. An elder relative of mine was approached by her sister to sign a quit-claim deed relinquishing her interest in two pieces of property arguably held in the name of her and all her siblings for a mere $10. All the other siblings had signed. After much consternation, she said "no." Then the madness ensued. Tears, disappointment, manipulation, and one high-powered attorney's efforts to get her to sign rained down around her, and despite it all, she stood her ground and remained resolute: No.

For her, "no," wasn't just an expression of a refusal to sign. It was an expression of hurt, hurt that a sibling would try to wrest from her property that their mother intended she have. "No" was a way to put the brakes on a questionable transaction, to "lawyer up" like her sister did, to come to a previously non-existent negotiating table with information, options, and to possibly obtain a different result. "No" is a powerful word, y'all.

Think of it: Netflix customers said "no" to splitting streaming and DVD rental services, resulting higher fees, and Qwikster. Now Netflix is rethinking its course of action and Qwikster is no more.

Bank of America customers said "no" to a $5 fee to use their debit cards to spend their own damn money. Bank of America is walking back its decision, saying the corporate analog of, "My bad."

Occupy Wall Street protesters said "no" to Wall Street corruption and greed and Washington's complicity with it all. This expression of "no" speaks not only as a refusal to continue to go along, but a consciousness-raising movement, giving a name to the rest of us who continue to be screwed by capitalism run amok: The 99%.

Even a rooster expressed his "no" and his disapproval of BMNB being on his property this weekend, attacking BMNB as he attempted to help me to pick up something on the rooster's property. With BMNB being the only other male on the property and arguably a threat to the rooster's good thing -- unlimited food and sex with the hens -- the rooster thumped BMNB on the back of the leg with a wing and crowed his "no."

"No" gives us the power to do alot, including:

* Refuse to accept the status quo
* Refuse to accept what's being offered
* Express anger
* Express outrage
* Express hurt
* Allow time to consider different options
* Express superior knowledge of available options and exercise those options
* Express suspicion or discomfort based on instinct and act on that instinct

"No" is indeed a powerful word that we need to use more often.

In this recession, many of us have had to sit on our "noes" in the workplace for lack of options, for fear of losing the jobs we have. What employers don't realize is that recessions don't last forever, and many employees are going to express their "noes" by retiring, finding better jobs, or just developing other streams of income and walking away.

"No" is a powerful thing. Use it.

Monday, October 24, 2011

Is Marriage For White People? Negro, Please.

Ralph Richards Banks' book, "Is Marriage for White People?: How The African American Marriage Decline Affects Everyone," challenges black women to stop marrying down -- settling for black men who aren't as educated or accomplished as we are -- if we marry at all, and instead start marrying out -- that is, outside the race. Banks says that black women are the least likely of women of any ethnic group to marry outside of our race. He posits that, although we've stood by black men despite the fact that the number and quality of black men available to us is nowhere near equal, the best thing we can do for ourselves and for our race is to marry outside of it.

Negro, please.

First, some disclaimers. I'm not opposed to interracial marriage. There are many, many interracial marriages within my family, and I've always believed that sometimes love chooses you, not the other way around. All my family are all my family, regardless of race.

Second, I'm an educated black woman happily married to an educated black man, both of us Stanford alums, as is Professor Banks. My husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB), tells me that at our last college reunion, somebody said that upwards of 70% of Stanford alums marry other Stanford alums. When we attended Stanford, I don't recall the number of black women outnumbering black men so much that black women felt they couldn't find a black man. Most of the black women I know who dated at Stanford dated black men, but that was during the '80s. In fact, interracial dating was so derided in the Stanford black community at the time that we had a term for it: Skiing.

Third, although I'm happily married to a black man, I married later in life -- five days before my 40th birthday -- so I've spent more of my life single than married. While I was single, I went on a date with someone outside of my race only once. It took only one date for me to decide this:

Interracial dating was not for me.

Mind you, it's not that I'm not physically attracted to men outside my race, at least younger ones. Were I single, I wouldn't kick Brad Pitt or George Clooney out of bed, so to speak, although when it comes to maintaining looks in old age, my money's on Denzel. Sorry, but black don't crack, and I like that.

The reason why interracial dating wasn't for me was because, in my brief and limited interracial dating experience, I discovered that what I prized, what I longed for in a marriage, was a cultural connection and a bond that comes from having grown up and lived black in America.

As I sat in some hoity-toidy bar in Palo Alto with my white date, an investment banker or stock broker, I don't recall which, his conversation was more about status -- and whether I, as a Stanford/Harvard/Princeton alum measured up to his -- than shared life experiences. It forced me to ask myself, "Was a shared cultural connection so important to me that I'd be willing to forgo marriage if I couldn't find that in a mate?"

The answer for me was an emphatic "Yes." So much so that, in 2000, I decided that I wasn't going to marry at all. I was going to move forward with my life by buying a house and adopting a child. I had been so disappointed by the black men I'd dated, BMNB included (we'd dated for seven years prior during the '80's and briefly again in the '90s), that I'd thrown up my hands and given up on the idea of marriage, period. If I couldn't have what I wanted -- a marriage to a black man -- I wasn't going to settle for what I could have. It was a year later that BMNB and I reconnected, hashed out our differences, and decided to move forward as a couple. I had even told him, though, that I had given up on marriage and I was done with men because I hadn't found a suitable black man. He basically talked me out of my position and later proposed for the second time in a decade. I'm glad he did.

What Professor Banks may not realize is that perhaps black women prize that cultural connection in a mate as much as I did, so much so that they're not willing to settle for anything different, even if it means not getting married. According to Banks, only 9% of black women marry outside of our race, while Asian and Latina women marry interracially at rates closer to 50%. Maybe black women value a shared culture more than Asian and Latina women. Maybe we don't want to get married that badly. I don't know.

What I do know is that when I describe something racist that happened to me during my day, I don't have to "prove" to BMNB that what happened was racist or that I'm not paranoid. When I use phrases and terms unique to black culture like, "If you don't know, you better ask somebody," or "I don't have to do anything but die and stay black," or "Aw, sookie, sookie," BMNB gets it without explanation. When I talk about the double standard of race -- that the rules for black people in a white America are different -- BMNB doesn't even question me about the truth of what I'm saying because he's lived it, too. I don't know if I could live the rest of my life with someone who wasn't similarly burdened, especially if he experienced white privilege and didn't realize or acknowledge it.

I also thought it would be unfair of me to marry someone outside of my race if I considered myself to be "settling." What person deserves to be a second choice? If culture is so important to me that marrying any man who doesn't share my culture would be a second-level choice to me, how would it make that man feel? What kind of marriage would it be if I married someone I would always consider to be lacking in something so important to me?

At the end of the day, black women need to be true to themselves and what they value, whether it's shared culture or whatever they value most in a mate, and choose accordingly, whether that leads to interracial marriage, intraracial marriage, or staying single. If they are open to marrying outside of the race, great, but I don't think they owe the black race anything by marrying outside the race for the purpose of preserving the race or black culture. As BMNB says, "Black women ARE black culture. The culture resides in them." Telling us that we need to marry outside of our race in order to preserve the race is a lot to ask of us if we're not inclined to do so. We owe it to ourselves to be happy, period.

And for me, that happiness was in marrying a man who understood the phrase, "Negro, please."

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

A Seat at the Table of My Family's Revolution

"If you aren't doing your life mission, you need to get in the face of God and figure out what it is."

~ My friend Sharon from Denver

A while back, I wrote a blog entry about starting a family revolution to make sure that the bad things that have happened to my family as a result of this recession -- foreclosures, unemployment, wage cuts, etc. -- won't happen again. This revolution is part of what I've come to know is my mission: To share what I know and uplift my family.

I didn't get a chance to report back on how the first meeting for my family's revolution, a series of talks titled "Something to Think About," went on October 8 (see blog entry about the revolution here). What I'd like to do is give all of you readers a seat at the table, so to speak. Whatever topics Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB) and I cover with our family in this series of talks, I'm going to cover with you.

At our first meeting, only one couple, my niece and nephew-in-law, attended. I'm not dismayed. More younger family members have committed to come to our next meeting in December, but in any event, BMNB and I will have discharged our duty to share, or at least attempt to share, what we know. We discussed writing a family mission statement and the ground rules for the family sou-sou we're going to form at the next meeting. Below is the agenda from the meeting. It lays out what we're going to be talking about. Maybe you and your family will want to follow along.

I do want to touch briefly on having a family mission statement. Whether you're single or part of a family, you should have a mission statement. Why? Because it helps you focus on what you're on this earth for, helps your prioritize how you spend your time, and makes it much more easier to say "no" to things that don't serve your mission. For example, I have been urged by a few folks to run for a seat on the board of my HOA or to run for city council. For most of my life, I've been one to chase a challenge without really weighing what I'd get out of the challenge other than a sense of accomplishment. I had an unsettled feeling in my soul that I didn't want to pursue these challenges. After I referred back to my own personal mission statement that I wrote long ago, it hit me: These challenges are not part of my mission. They're not what I'm put on this earth to do, even if I know I could do them well. Once I realized this, I felt grounded in my refusal.

BMNB and I have drafted a family mission statement. It's still in the works, but here it is:

The Black Man Not Blogging Family's Mission Is To:


  • Serve God and put Him first

  • Love, encourage and uplift our family and friends

  • Use all our gifts for God's purpose for us

  • Share our knowledge

  • Uplift and serve our race and community (I define "community" very narrowly)

  • Love, respect, and take care of each other and our children (no, we don't have kids yet. We're working on it.)

  • Raise our children to be good, educated, God-loving people who can stand on their own when we're dead

  • Enjoy our lives

  • Maintain good health

Again, it's a work in progress, but it definitely helps in shaping how we spend our time. We're using Steven Covey's "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families" to help us shape our family mission statement, and we highly recommend it.


We also talked about the benefit of holding regular family meetings. BMNB and I have family meetings to discuss our goals and accomplishments in five areas: our household, our health, our individual and marital goals, our family goals, and our community goals. It is through our family meetings that we started working on our family mission statement. We congratulate each other on accomplishing our goals (BMNB finally got some real glasses -- YAY!) and encourage each other to accomplish what remains to be done. Our family mission statement may reshape how we hold our family meetings, but the meetings are crucial. They force us to stop, get off the hamster wheel of life, and reflect on what we really are here to do and what we really want to do. A life without some introspection is an aimless life, IMHO.


As for the sou-sou, we decided to start small: $25 per family per month. Any family that fails to pay on time forfeits what they've contributed. We'll see how it goes.

Here's to my family's revolution, and perhaps your family's, too.

BWB


SOMETHING TO THINK ABOUT

A Series of Family Talks


AGENDA

October 8, 2011


I. Prayer and Call to Order

II. Purpose of "Something to Think About"



  • Knowledge: Share what we know (mistakes and all); learn what we don't


  • Encouragement: Helping each other reach our goals


  • Action: Holding each other accountable for taking positive steps toward our goals

III. Five Goals for The Family:




  • Financial Literacy


  • Home Ownership


  • Having a Career


  • Educating Our Kids to Prepare Them for College or A Vocation


  • Multiple Streams of Income

IV. Topics to Be Covered


Financial Literacy




  • Credit


  • Budgeting


  • Investing


  • Retirement Planning


  • Insurance

Career




  • Finding the Career You Want


  • Getting the Career You Want


  • Keeping the Career You Want

Education




  • Taking Stewardship of Your Child's Education


  • Education Financial Planning

Home Ownership




  • Mortgages


  • Finding Your Home


  • Home Buying Process


  • Home Maintenance

Multiple Streams of Income




  • Starting a Business


  • Capital and Small Business Finance


  • Business Plan Writing


  • Marketing

V. Today's Topics:




  • Writing a Family Mission Statement (Resources: Steven Covey, "Seven Habits of Highly Effective Families, pg. 77-95 on writing a family mission statement)


  • Starting a Family Sou-Sou (Resource -- My blog entry, "Got Sou-Sou?")

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Bloggin' At Ya From An Undisclosed Location On A Blessed Mission

Gentle Readers,

Yours truly has taken some time away, and I'm blogging from an undisclosed location on a blessed mission. My friend, whom I'll just call Sharon from Denver, is writing a book that I would consider a blessed mission. I'm finalizing "Dangerous Thoughts of An Uppity Negress," so we're helping each other.

You see, Sharon's book is about making Christianity accessible to real people and, more importantly, and I quote, "separating your relationship with Christ from the confines of conventional church culture." She's using her life as an example, telling stories about separating her walk with Christ from church culture and learning not to confuse the two. I'm blogging about it to prompt her to continue writing and to whet your appetite for the book once it's done.

If you'd like to encourage her, her email address is RealChristian4Christ@yahoo.com. Here's to all the Christians who struggle every day to walk with, but never walk away from, Christ. Sharon wants to help you walk toward Him, not away from Him, by helping you discern what is truly of Him and what is simply "church culture."

In the parlance of our young folks today, "Wait for it . . . . "

Thursday, October 6, 2011

Today My Heart Hurts, And I Just Don't Have The Words

Yours truly is at a loss for words. Too many deaths of too many greats in too little time.

First we lost Rev. Fred Shuttlesworth, civil rights leader and the plaintiff in the U.S. Supreme court case Shuttlesworth v. Birmingham, in which he challenged the city of Birmingham's absolute refusal to issue a parade permit for black protests. That he had the courage to fight "Bombingham" all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court in 1963 speaks volumes.

Then we lost Steve Jobs. His admonition to live your own life and follow your intuition resonates with me because I know I'm on the wrong path.

The third and hardest blow for me is the loss of my former professor Derrick Bell. He literally took me by the hand as a cynical and unhappy law student and walked me around the offices of his faculty colleagues to convince me that I needed to apply for a federal judicial clerkship because it would be invaluable to my career. Of all the professors we spoke to on that sojourn down that dark and moldy-smelling faculty hallway, Professor Elizabeth Warren took time out of her day to convince me that Professor Bell was right, probably because of her respect for Professor Bell. But Professor Bell was so much more than a career advisor that to all of us black law students at Harvard, especially those like me who were first generation college grads and clueless. That he stood up for black women law professors by protesting the utter failure of Harvard Law School to hire and tenure a black woman law professor, to the point of leaving his post at Harvard Law, was a testament to how much he was willing to sacrifice for the generations coming behind him, generations that included me.

I remember when he came to Marcus Books in Oakland for a book signing for "Faces at the Bottom of the Well: The Permanence of Racism." I was three years or so out of Harvard Law, and although I was never one of his star students, he was happy to see me and insisted that I call him "Derrick." "No, Professor Bell," I replied, "You will always be Professor Bell to me." In my mind and in my heart, he would always be the master, the teacher, and I would ever be the student, his student. I respected him and all he had done too much to even dare to place myself on the same plane as him.

What makes this worse is that I was just telling my husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB), that I needed to catch up with Professor Bell and just thank him for all he did for me, for all of us black law students. To tell him that although I really haven't found happiness in the law, that I was still searching, but elsewhere.

Now it's too late.

My heart hurts and I just don't have the words today.

Sunday, October 2, 2011

Smarter Than Wall Street: My Family's Revolution

"What we need is awareness, we can't get careless."

~ "Fight the Power," Public Enemy

There's so much that yours truly could write about -- the sit-ins on Wall Street (About time! When is Public Enemy going to show up and bust out with "Fight the Power"?), the racist bake sale held by the U.C. Berkeley College Republicans that no one in the Republican party has seen fit to disown, the execution of Troy Davis, the passing of Nobel Laureate Wangari Maathai, and the brother from Stanford Law School who is suggesting that single black professional women just give up the ghost and go get a white guy, or any guy for that matter, other than a black man.

The Wall Street sit-ins call to me because they dovetail with something my family is embarking on: Our own revolution. Starting next Saturday.

As I wrote in my previous post, the ill effects of this recession have touched my family like they have most families in America: unemployment, underemployment, wage cuts, foreclosures, underwater mortgages, you name it. What my husband, Black Man Not Blogging, and I realized is that if we as a family don't get smarter and share what we know, we're always going to be at the mercy of Wall Street -- unscrupulous corporations, greedy banks, and the politicians who enable them. Who knew that the person with the biggest cojones to take on Wall Street would be someone who doesn't even have cojones -- Elizabeth Warren?

But try as Elizabeth Warren might, Wall Street ain't gonna change for the better, so we have to. We as a family have to be smarter about money, investing, finances, and preparing our children for educations and careers so that we aren't ignorant to what Wall Street would have for us. If we as a family and as a nation had been smarter than Wall Street, we would not be in this mess.

So my husband, Black Man Not Blogging (BMNB), and I decided that we would hold a series of family meetings in which we as a family share what we know and increase awareness so that the next generation will indeed be smarter than Wall Street. The goals or hopes I have for myself and my family -- and by "my family" I mean the generations behind me -- are 1) Financial literacy; 2) Having a career, not just a job; 3) Preparing the children for either college or a vocation by age 18; 4) Home ownership; and 5) Multiple streams of income. I believe that if your finances and your career are in order, you have the peace to enjoy your family and other pursuits. When your money's funny, your landlord is in default on the home you're renting, and your job is, well, a job, those problems produce stress that affects your ability to enjoy the other parts of your life, IMHO.

So we decided to call our little series of meetings "Something to Think About," and they will be centered around those five goals/hopes. We'll be talking about credit, budgeting, investing, entrepreneurship, education stewardship, finding the career you want, and a whole host of things. The idea is not for BMNB and I to talk at our family, but for our family to come together and share what we know, especially our mistakes, and raise questions about what we don't and find the answers together. Much of what we will talk about are the basics that seemed to have gone out the window or were never discussed from generation to generation, like not buying more house than you can afford (and don't let the lender or the realtor tell you what you can afford), or that retirement is a three-legged stool that rests on pensions/401(k)'s, Social Security, and investments, and not on any one source of income. We're also going to talk about starting a sou-sou, since that topic remains the most highly viewed blog post on this blog. Who knew?

Most importantly, we're simply going to talk and become aware. I would expect, as with most revolutions, that not everyone in the family will be down with what we're doing. I expect that on some Saturdays it will be just me and BMNB. That's okay, though. BMNB and I will be able to go to our graves knowing that we tried to plant the seed in their minds, that we discharged our duty. I for one do not want to go to my grave having created generations of renters who increase the wealth of those who already have.

Like Public Enemy said, what we need is awareness; we can't get careless. Again.

Fight the power, y'all. And while you're at it, support Elizabeth Warren for U.S. Senate. She's the only one looking out for the rest of us.