Monday, October 25, 2010

Getting An Education Without Breaking the Bank (or Your Mother's Heart)

Today, I read an article by Arielle Loren that challenges the notion that we should all go to graduate school. "Debt and Success: Why I Said NO to Graduate School" seems geared towards those who come from a middle to upper-middle class background, so someone outside of that economic bracket might not find it very useful.

If you don't have parents who were able to finish high school, they may not have the same expectations for you as those who were privileged enough to go beyond that. If your parents can't afford to help you finance college and/or you don't qualify for scholarships and grants (because Congress still hasn't passed the DREAM ACT), then this article might not be relevant in your life. There is a fair amount of privilege associated with being someone that this article is really geared to and I think that should be acknowledged up front. If anyone who reads this knows of any links that provide advice to those potential students who are less privileged, please share them with me and I will add them to this post.

Like Loren, I also come from a long line of college graduates and folks with advanced degrees. This idea that everyone in the family should take this route is definitely a reflection of the values of bourgeoisie black society. At this point in our family history, going to college just isn't all that extraordinary. Receiving a full scholarship or graduating in less than four years is still considered brag-worthy (even though you won't be the first one to do it), but my relatives unquestioningly assume that everyone will go to college.

Through a combination of scholarships and grants, my husband and I both left college with almost no debt. As a result, we were able to purchase a home without having to take out a mortgage (If you've been saving your money for a while, this can be an excellent time to buy a house). We now have a teenager and, as I've talked about before, VanGoghGirl goes to a really prestigious high school where the administration bragged during Orientation about how 99% of their students went on to a university after graduation. The school is set up so that everyone will have plenty of "extra-curricular" activities to put on their college applications. For example, all students are required to join at least three clubs.

Because it is almost a certainty that VanGoghGirl will go to college, we've been teaching her how to make smart educational decisions as she plans for her future. Next year, she may start taking classes at one of the local universities, so that when she graduates high school she will at least have some of her first semester classes already under her belt. If she decides to enroll in a state school after she graduates from high school, she won't have any problems with transferring the credits she'll have earned. All of the graduates from her high school qualify for a program that Louisiana has that pays for all of a student's tuition to a state school for four years. That has proven to be a powerful incentive for my daughter.

Personally, I think it's better to go to a cheap(er) university for your undergraduate program. Having studied at top tier and state schools, I can say for a certainty that there isn't much of a difference between what you will learn at the undergraduate level. Besides, many states now offer programs where tuition is much lower or even free for students from that area. Many students get caught up in the hype and become totally star-struck when an expensive school accepts them. They and their families go into debt needlessly, with very little added benefit.

The smarter thing to do is to save your finances for a better graduate school. When it comes to education, employers seem to care more about where you ended up than they do about where you started out. I know sooo many people who were able to pull together financing for a top tier school for a couple of years, but finally realized that it wasn't going to be possible or practical for them to continue to do so. Having to go home and attend a less prestigious school can often feel like defeat.

If you start out at a state school and then move on to a more prestigious graduate school, you can have the best of both worlds. By staying at home for a few more years, my daughter can do all of the traveling she wants over the summers, without worrying about how she's going to pay for housing and meal plans and tuition during the rest of the year. I think this is the best route for those who know they will need or want or be expected to go to graduate school at some point. If it turns out that you don't need to go to graduate school, you can start your career without the debt that forces many people to take jobs that will enable them to start paying off their loans, but won't further their career one bit.

Monday, October 11, 2010

What Will Follow the Dehumanization of Muslims Throughout Western Society

Thanks to my dear sister Aaminah, I read an article today about some alarming legal measures that are being taken in Canada right now.
Bad news comes in bunches. First there was Quebec's Bill 94, which would refuse government services, public employment, educational opportunities and even most medical care to Muslim women wearing the niqab. Then there was the Angus Reid poll showing that 80 per cent of all Canadians agree with this measure. Evidently Abe Lincoln was right. You can fool (almost) all the people some of the time. You can fool them into unreasonable persecution of their fellow citizens.
-No Room at the Inn for Veiled Women? Get Real, Canada!
I don't know how I hadn't heard about this before; maybe it's because I've been busy marveling over the islamophobic atrocities going on in France right now. To hear that these measures have crept this close to home, without me knowing about it, just makes me shiver. How did 80% of Canadians become this virulently xenophobic before my very eyes?

I feel like I/we are witnessing a very frightening movement gaining steam. The widespread isolation of Muslims from the very populations that they have been born and raised in has already occurred. The dehumanizing treatment towards them is, evidently, already acceptable to the majority of people within nearly all of Western society (and our little satellite, Israel). I honestly don't know what else could follow except what has always followed when this pattern takes place. Is there anyone reading this who isn't aware of what happens after a minority has been successfully dehumanized by the population they are in?

Saturday, October 09, 2010


Conversation between me and my daughter:

Her: Mom, why does everything always come down to "vagina" with you?

Me: Because vagina is where it's at.

Her: You're right. It always comes back to "vagina" with me, too.

Oh the joys of being a queer woman raising a queer kid! :)

Thursday, October 07, 2010

But was it "Racism"?

Okay, I know I'm not the first person of color who has said what I'm about to write. However, it seems as if some people think the jury is still out when it comes to how incidences like Lawrence O'Donnell's recent verbal gaffe should be viewed.

O'Donnell has apologized and explained why he shouldn't have said what he did. For the most part, he took responsibility for his words even though I would argue that the last part was an attempt to minimize his actions via a tu quoque argument about how the Republican party has also made similarly problematic statements without Steele making a public comment. Never mind the fact that Steele didn't make a public comment about O'Donnell's words either. Instead he chose to contact O'Donnell personally to address his thoughts. However, that's not the main thing I want to address.

I've noticed that there are still people who think that this is an issue of whether O'Donnell is a racist or was making a racist remark. What I think is that whether it should be considered racism is irrelevant. If it makes you more comfortable, we can call O'Donnell's words "problematic" , "thoughtless" or whatever else you'd prefer. This is about the effect of his words. Regardless of whether O'Donnell was trying to make a racist remark, describing the relationship of a person of color and a group of mostly rich white men in the way that he did, has a historic context that is still relevant today. This is certainly true in a political discussion and it would be hard to argue that it isn't especially the case with Steele's role as the Republican National Committee Chairman. Race was undeniably a factor in why he was appointed to that position just as the Democratic party was patting itself on the back after making Barack Obama their Presidential nominee.

Some people are saying that Steele ran with what O'Donnell said, but even if that's true, would it really be all that surprising? That's what political advocates do! O'Donnell does it, too. He did it during the interview with Steele when he asked if the Chairman's comments about the tea-baggers' relationship with the Republican party meant that the Republicans now considered the minimum wage unconstitutional (as some tea-baggers have claimed). It's an easy (or some might say cheap, depending on how you want to look at it) technique used to box your opponent into a corner. They can either agree with an odious position that has been asserted by someone else or risk alienating a demographic that they are trying to court.

I'm a (relatively) economically-privileged person. There are things that I could say about quality of life issues that might be interpreted as thoughtless or problematic or even classist. If I am told that I've said something classist, I should understand that those on the short end of the stick with regards to classism don't go around making these accusations for no reason. If I think that classism is wrong, then I should learn from what they have to say about how someone in my position can do better in the future. That's just one example.

Some people mistakenly believe that situations like O'Donnell's are best handled by listing the person's "street cred" as if it's proof that it's impossible for that person to ever do anything that might rightfully be construed as bigoted. However, none of a person's prior actions or beliefs preclude them from causing harm in a particular incident that might crop up. The best way to show that you aren't a particular kind of bigot is by listening when people who are on the receiving end of that kind of discrimination are telling you how you've messed up and then acting on what you've learned.

I think that is what we should really be focusing on: how to learn from what people in marginalized communities have to teach us about the effects of our words and behaviors.

Black Republican Philosophy

The other day, a fellow woman of color was talking to me and she remarked that she just can't understand how black Republicans can remain silent as their political party engages in so much racist speech. I started thinking about it and maybe as a former conservative person of color, I can add a helpful perspective to this topic.

The fact that someone is the same color/race/ethnicity as you doesn't mean that you'll necessarily see them as having anything significant in common with them. Some people don't willingly define themselves as a part of a community of people of color. They see themselves as ______ first, who just happen to also be black. You can fill that blank with "evangelical Christians", "Republicans", "capitalists", "Americans" or many other labels that folks like that prefer to identify as.

A lot of it has to do with how you are raised. My own family was completely uninterested in politics, because they sought to be seen as Christians above all else. If a politician said something that was in line with their interpretation of Christianity, then they had no problem praising them, but defending a politician who was the victim of racism just wasn't their focus. Part of it is black bourgeoisie values that teach we should fight racism, not by speaking out about it, but by being 10 times better at whatever we do. We were taught to be above complaining, no matter what obstacles put before us. There were no reasons for not becoming successful, only excuses.

With a values set like that, it's easy to see why the Republican party has a certain appeal for those black people who buy into the bourgeoisie philosophy. Many of them would take issue with the idea that they sit idly by as Republicans engage in racism. They are simply more interested in accomplishing certain goals, believing that their success will prove their superiority over racists in both parties.

But that's just my two cents.

O'Donnell Shows How It's Done, So Listen Up

Last Tuesday, Lawrence O'Donnell was on his new television show talking about the Republican Chairman Michael Steele when he said,
"As the first congressional election during his party chairmanship approaches, Michael Steele is dancing as fast as he can, trying to charm independent voters and tea partiers while never losing sight of his real master and paycheck provider: the Republican National Committee,"
After Steele called O'Donnell and expressed how this use of the term "master" in reference was quite offensive, O'Donnell went on his show the next night and apologized in a manner that I think all white Americans could stand to emulate.

Fortunately, O'Donnell recognizes that the effect of one's actions are always more important than the intent. Sure, he didn't have to apologize, but the fact that he did shows he has a lot better understanding of white privilege than many folks within liberal/progressive circles.

You see, his apology has little to do with Steele. It's about right and wrong. The appropriateness of an apology isn't dependent on whether or not Steele is a decent person, because O'Donnell's words reach far beyond just the individual he was referring to. It would have been much better if he hadn't made this remark in the first place. However, after saying it, he had to decide to how he was going to react to being told how offensive it was. He could either contribute to the way that white Americans try to decide for themselves what should and should not be offensive to people of color or he could make it clear that he understands the impact of his actions as a media figure. Thankfully, he chose the ethical response. My hope is that more white Americans will learn from this and follow his example.

The Difficulties of Being a Young Commercial Graphic Artist

Today, someone on Facebook posted a link to some YouTube videos created by a young cat who has made some pretty hilarious shorts. It turns out, he's from my hometown (New Orleans) and he's also a graphic artist. After watching some of his skits, I found an interview where he explains some of the difficulties of being an artist trying to make a living from his work and why he calls his business "R.I.P. Jerry Lavigne Jr.".

His rates are ridiculously cheap considering how much he includes. For an 11" x 14" picture, on professional grade paper, with matting and a frame using non-glare glass, he charges $150. Frankly, I don't know how he manages to turn a decent profit. I'm really glad to see this reality spelled out for all of the folks who don't understand the years of training/practice that goes into getting this good & how that deserves compensation, too.

My daughter is in high school but she's been a professional artist for years. We just bought a router and a couple of sawhorses, so that she can start making her own frames. You can charge more for framed photos than for unframed ones, but it's still hard to make a decent profit unless you can get the frames for a good price.

We first thought about getting a router after she started learning how to use power tools when her theatre teacher began teaching them about stagecraft. Since we did need to replace some baseboards and window sills in our new house and my mother-in-law was also doing some remodeling, we concluded that it would make sense to invest in one.

Now she'll be able to offer several different framing options to customers and she isn't limited to whatever the local businesses offer. She plans to eventually begin experimenting with different finishes and stains. We can get wood and glass from building supplies stores for cheap, so the router was the only significant investment.

I hope that my daughter will grow up to be a savvy artist like Jerry Lavigne. To be a successful commercial artist in today's world, you have to be able to think creatively in more ways than one. The more you can do yourself, the more money you make. That is, if you can get it through people's heads that "the worker is worthy of his wages" (1 Timothy 5:18).

Wednesday, October 06, 2010

Eva Cassidy Memories

I discovered Eva Cassidy's music when I was in treatment for my cancer. She became a sort of patron saint for me. Her music gave me strength to keep going, even when the doctors told me that my cancer was incurable. Seeing how Cassidy fought her cancer with grace and courage to her dying day inspired me to keep on fighting.

Friday, October 01, 2010

Mixed Girls Don't Need Collagen Injections

Okay, that's a big generalization. It's certainly not always the case, but I'm trying to make a point that's related to this. I check the Huffington Post almost every day, so a lot of what I see online comes from things I've read there. As usual, I found some an article that made me want to come over to my blog and rant. There's a picture of Matthew Modine and his daughter, Ruby, who accompanied him to a movie premiere. She's a lovely, lovely young lady.

When I looked at the picture, the first thing I thought was, "Hmm. I didn't know that Matthew Modine was in an inter-racial marriage. Cool!" Then when I started reading the comments and I felt like my head was going to explode. I kept seeing all these comments about how it was a shame how all these young girls were getting collagen injections in their lips. I thought to myself, "What the heck?" I mean, this is obviously a woman of color. At least, it's obvious to me.

I started wondering if it was just me imagining things, so I looked up the name of the woman Matthew Modine is married to. She's an Afro-Latina named Caridad Rivera. If you take a look at how beautiful she is, it's no wonder that a guy who looks like your average white guy--Well, I guess he's sort of handsome, in a Middle America kind of way--would hang on to a catch like her.

It's really aggravating to watch how white people assume that features associated with people of European descent are the norm and everything that falls outside of that range must be unnatural. I mean, really? Are there really that many white Americans who have never seen what a Euro/Afro/Latina looks like? Maybe I've just wanted to believe that my fellow Americans are a lot more sophisticated than they tend to be.

It's just that, being from New Orleans with its history of Creole/gens de coleur libres, we get to seeing the diversity of features that occur when you mix folks from indigenous America, the African diaspora, and European colonizers. It's not even anything special here, because there are so many folks like that down here. I just want to face-palm every time I see some white people still so clueless about racial/ethnic diversity.

If you look at a few pages of comments, it becomes clear what this is all about. The problem boils down to the fact that many white Americans still haven't come to grips with the fact that this country is becoming browner before their very eyes. Well, I should say, it's becoming brown again, because America is simply returning to how it looked before Europeans arrived and killed off the brown majority that originally inhabited these lands.

If you are used to living in a country where most people look like you and those in your family, and you occasionally see a few folks who look very different, it's easy to just gawk or giggle or ignore these outsiders. However, if you wake up one morning, go outside, and suddenly realize that more and more people are starting to look like the "outsiders" and a lot less like you, it's harder to ignore and a lot more difficult to avoid these differences. You go through your day and now people don't care as much about what you see as beautiful and, furthermore, you are no longer as likely to be included in what's considered the ideal beauty.

As a person of color, I've never been in that position, but I have to imagine that it might not be a pleasant experience. Some people are better than others with regards to dealing with changes. I figure they'll have the easiest time adjusting to the the changes in America's racial/ethnic demographics.

Unfortunately, a certain percentage of folks are going to fight the changes tooth and nail. It's sad, because they are fighting a losing battle. We are the future. They can either get with the program or they will just die out and become a part of history.