Reclaiming my time; saying ‘yes’ to me

It ain’t easy being a Black woman. Never has been. But I guess I figured we wouldn’t have to still be working this hard just to stay behind, no matter how much education and how many skills we bring to so many tables.

For every dollar that a white man makes, a Black woman earns 63 cents (even lower than white women, who earn 80 cents to the manly dollar). A Black woman must work eight months longer to earn what a white man earns in a year. In other words, a Black woman, even coming to the work game with excellence, has to bust her ass to have what comes naturally and with much more modest effort to even the most mediocre of white men.

So after you bust your ass, what next? As a Black woman, you are at a higher risk for heart disease, stroke and diabetes. In fact, while the saying “Black don’t crack” is entrenched into our consciousness as a statement of fact, the reality for many of us is far more sobering. We might look good and we might look young, but the collective weight of navigating life as a Black woman creates an extreme stress that causes wear and tear on our internal organs which leads to higher rates of illness and earlier death.

As this 2010 National Institute of Health study pretty much lays it all out, there is a real cost to being a Black woman. Let’s be real: it’s stressful. From birth to death, we often beat the odds in so many ways.

But again: At what cost?

I have been asking myself these questions for the last several months. I started going to therapy and immediately it became clear that I am doing too much. There is my day job as the Executive Director of Community Change Inc. We are a small, scrappy anti-racism organization that receives little in the way of grant funding; we are 90% donor funded. I spend a lot of time convincing people to support our work. Since 2014, I have managed to financially stabilize the organization and grow our programming, this is no small feat considering the other things that have happened since 2014. My marriage ended and I moved out of the family home in fall of 2015. My son got married in 2016 and became a dad in 2017, thus making me a grandmother. I also worked to grow the readership of this blog.

Our readership now extends far beyond Maine and New England. Last month a patron made a gift from Australia. This year alone, I have had over a dozen speaking engagements across New England and my fall speaking calendar is 90% full. But I have had to hustle for all that harder and longer than have my professional peers who aren’t Black and female.

My youngest child just turned 13 and I spend 50% of my physical time with her, but in the last three years, I have spent no more than 12 consecutive days at my own home due to my travel schedule. And sometimes that means time spent with her is at the family home I left when the marriage ended, while I’m in-between travel and my real home. And as you can imagine, that can get awkward no matter how well my co-parent and I get along.

I am inundated with requests to speak/teach/show up and honestly it’s overwhelming. People are forever asking if I want to engage in social/racial justice work during my off time. I’m frequently asked to do work for free or for amounts so low they might as well be free when you factor in travel costs and time lost. Um, NO! Even when I state this clearly, people still think they are an exception and ask for XYZ. Clearly the idea that a Black woman might have boundaries is hard for people to grasp.

All this to say: I have been heading head-first into the wall of exhaustion. I spent months trying to decide if I should take the plunge and quit my day job and trust that it would work out. I started ramping up my No’s.  No is my new jam.

The thing is, my situation isn’t unique. It’s what many Black women face, we give so much of ourselves and rarely is anyone concerned with our personal well-being. Even in a Black Lives Matter climate, how often do we see the Black women in our lives and ask what can we do for them? Do we see them as individuals outside of their Blackness? Or do they remain a fixed modern day Mammy whose mission is serve us, teach us and guide us? I’ve seen so many pieces published on how Black women are saving the country in so many ways by making things happen and building awareness and getting out the vote, but why are they leaned on so heavily to do that? Where is most of everyone else?

After months of feeling stressed, I worked up the courage to ask my board of directors at the day job for a sabbatical. Long story short: I am off work until after Labor Day. No emails, texts, calls or meetings.  Last night I slept for eight hours. To wake up and not feel like I have to hit the ground running is a marvelous feeling, it’s damn near orgasmic to not have to do anything and to not have to worry if I can pay my rent since this is a paid sabbatical. The internal silence is a gift. (However, as you see right here, I still have to hustle to work on the website here and post blogs and monitor my social media and promote stuff, sabbatical or not.)

This post is a bit more personal than my usual these days but I wanted to be honest about where I am at this moment in my life. While I am not on a sabbatical from BGIM Media, I am taking it easy especially because I have enlisted the assistance of a podcast producer and we record our first episode next week. The podcast will launch right after Labor Day. Weekly postings will continue though we are looking at six posts this month rather than the usual eight.

For all of you who are there for Black women—I mean, really there—thank you. For those of you who haven’t been, please start stepping up because we can’t do so much alone and we damn sure can’t do it without some emotional, social and financial support for our efforts.


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If you see libraries as the enemy, then you’ve needed more libraries in your life

There are some things you just shouldn’t do because it’s just mean, or maybe stupid, or possibly something that would bring a smile to Dick Cheney’s or Sean Hannity’s face—which is only a short step from giving Satan a sensual foot rub. Basically, things YOU JUST DON’T DO. These include:

  • Going alone and unarmed into the scary basement of a freaky house (or, for that matter, your own basement or backyard at night when there is a suspicious or frightening sound emanating from it)
  • Punching babies in the face
  • Bringing any dish to the cookout that’s been updated with new and surprising ingredients by a newspaper or magazine recipe section
  • Pulling on Superman’s cape, spitting into the wind or pulling that mask off the ole Lone Ranger…or messing with Jim
  • Saying anything bad about Beyoncé on social media
  • Calling for the removal of public libraries from society

Well, maybe that last one got an exemption of some sort recently from the Oval Office. Oh, who am I kidding? Even before the current administration, I’ve seen people trying to destroy the whole concept and institution of public libraries for at least a decade. No doubt they are the people who also think teachers should pay for all the classroom supplies out of pocket and that poor people just need to yank harder on those bootstraps while working 20-hour days at three minimum-wage jobs to end up as famous business-people who can one day be elected to destroy civilization as we know it.

To be perfectly honest, I spent a whole lot of years (and still have partial ownership of a house) in a town where one of the most cherished annual activities of the city council was to cut the public library’s budget just a little bit (or a lot) more because apparently inflation doesn’t exist, and no one should have ready access to knowledge, entertainment and a safe public gathering space.

Yes, I lived somewhere where people were convinced that the only thing standing between them and a cushy retirement in the Cayman Islands was a librarian’s salary. I mean, that library is truly staffed by superheroes because they keep things going despite having a constant fiscal gun to their literary heads—but they shouldn’t have to be superheroes to keep the library open. No library should have to go through that, though many do.

I’m saying all this largely because of the story that was published recently by Forbes online titled “Amazon Should Replace Local Libraries to Save Taxpayers Money,” written by Panos Mourdoukoutas (the story has since been deleted; get the story about that here).

Naturally Forbes will publish some other gems along the lines of “Corporations should take over police functions” (Robocop) or “We should make intelligence and science things to be ridiculed to improve society” (Idiocracy…or the actions of almost every Republican politician and pundit for the past 20 years). Right? Right!? C’mon Forbes, you might let the librarians down but surely you don’t want to let the extreme libertarians down, do you?

Now, the article I linked to above breaks a lot of this down, already, and literate non-Trumpite denizens of social media’s saner neighborhoods had a field day dragging the author and Forbes on Twitter (here, and here…also here…and hey, here too..oh also this and that one…just to share a few), but here’s my own bullet list to consider for those who have a brain and don’t hate libraries because gun-loving anti-healthcare blue-eyed white Jesus told them so:

  • Not everybody has access to tablet readers or other mobile devices
  • Not everyone has easy access (or even access at all) to the Internet (so having those devices means nothing and besides, plenty of people rely on libraries to access the Internet…including to look for jobs even though some of y’all think they’re all just lazy porn surfers)
  • Amazon and other businesses don’t do wide-scale social charity like that. Privatization doesn’t mean better access; it means controlled access
  • Physical books can go places it isn’t wise to bring electronic devices, and physical books don’t need power
  • Many libraries now serve the function with movies that rental places (which no longer exist much) used to, and many people still want to watch movies on something other than Hulu or Netflix
  • Libraries provide meeting spaces and the ability to publicly gather
  • Many libraries provide spaces for free meals to kids and teens who otherwise don’t have access to three squares a day
  • Libraries provide ways for families of very small children to interact and to grow those little minds and develop their social skills
  • And a thousand other things I can’t think of right now (a few of which are mentioned in some of those tweets I linked to above)

Basically, libraries are spectacular. Stevie Wonder “Songs in the Key of Life” wonderful. Getting a fat refund from the IRS at tax-filing time kind of goodness.

If you don’t want part of your tax money going to fund public libraries, I don’t want my tax money funding emergency response people to pull you out of your mangled car after you have an accident because you’re laughing so hard at how FOX News just owned those liberal snowflakes again.


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You’re gonna have to pry the straws from my cold dead hands

Today’s post is a guest contribution from BGIM friend and fellow writer Liz Henry.
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First they came for my cigarettes and I said, alright, makes sense. Then, they came for my smoking outside and I said, you know, this seems like a little much but I rolled with the inconvenience of other people policing the freaking air. And then they came for my Diet Coke with a tax on sugary drinks in Philadelphia even though Diet Coke is full of not even sugar but aspartame so fine, whatever, the chilwran diabeetus. Then, they came for the straws and I knew all bets were off, the turtles were just gonna have to die.

I like beverages and I love them with straws and if that means turtles have to eat it, well then the turtles need to eat it. Even if those turtles are Michelangelo, Donatello, Raphael and Leonardo.

Look, maybe this is making you uncomfortable. There are many moments I’ve been uncomfortable in the past few weeks when straw-banning went from low-key, under-the-radar cause to full-blown self-righteous plague. Like, for instance, the moment I came across a growing list of companies in the process of banning straws and I saw McDonald’s on that list.

I THOUGHT I WAS GOING TO DIE—the turtles had come for me and won. My eyes couldn’t move fast enough through the sentence and by the time I got there and it said, “shareholders struck down a ban” I’ve never been more proud of capitalism in my life.

I raised my Diet Coke and I toasted the motherfucking shit outta those rich white men for holding it down for straws.

So, yeah, it’s been an uncomfortable few weeks for me, too.

I’ve had conversations where we whisper to each other “team straw” because we’re in a group and unsure of the company we keep and once the whispers go around and the eyes have darted and the nods have been reciprocated we let it out that paper straws ain’t shit.

I’ve had people tell me I’m “sad” like I need saving and I want to tell them they can come to my door with that kind of attitude and ring my doorbell so I can ignore them.

I’ve gone the Jurassic Park route and doubled down on evolution: “If turtles beat out dinosaurs, I’m pretty sure they can beat straws.” And, if they can’t, well who sold us “slow and steady.” Maybe turtles shouldn’t been liars.

I’ve also thought FINE, BAN THE STRAWS. I’ll create straw speakeasies and I’ll be rich and you’ll be stuck with adult sippy cups at Starbucks with no whip but Crush from Finding Nemo as your overlord just like you wanted. COOL DUDE.

I need you to know that I stared down the totalitarian talk points of crusading do-gooders, looked them in their profile photos and said, I LOVE STRAWS, and lived to see another day.

I want you to know that when I get a fountain beverage, and put that single-serving plastic straw into my cup, I look at the person next to me and say, “I’m making a political choice and the hate makes it taste better.”

Honestly, I’m having an Allen Iverson “TALKIN ‘BOUT PRACTICE, flashback but with straws, people. STRAWS.

The strawsistence will not be played by fake news. The 500 million plastic straws Americans allegedly consume per day? That number was arrived at by a then nine-year-old conducting phone surveys of straw manufacturers in 2011. How he arrived at that number? I dunno, go pound a calculator.

According to Bloomberg, if all the alleged 8.3 billion tons of plastic straws found on global coastlines washed into the sea, they’d “account for .03 percent of the 8 million metric tons of plastic estimated to enter the oceans in a given year.”

The greatest threat to marine life and our oceans isn’t plastic straws, Bloomberg reports, but fishing nets and other abandoned fishing gear.

Which leaves me so freaking pumped right now that we’re making the lives of people with disabilities that much harder because Johnny Jackoff filmed a video of one turtle with a straw booger and then everyone else was like BAN STRAWS!!!

So how many straw boogers would it take for women to get some rights up in this bitch? Just spitballing here.

And that’s why, you’re gonna have to pry the straws from my cold, dead hands. Which, if that even happens, I will haunt you with a glitter plague on your home and paper cuts on your person with Melania pumped through some Bose giving Michelle’s speech ad infinitum.

WE’RE TALKIN’ ‘BOUT STRAWS, MAYNE.

BIO:
Liz Henry writes good stories and makes bad choices. Her writing has appeared in The New York Times, Washington Post and the anthology, The Good Mother Myth. She lives in Philadelphia and marks her territory in Diet Coke.


If this piece or this blog resonates with you, please consider a one-time “tip” or become a monthly “patron”…this space runs on love and reader support. Want more BGIM? Consider booking me to speak with your group or organization.

Comments will close on this post in 60-90 days; earlier if there are spam attacks or other nonsense.

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