The less sugar-coated version of desert

No, we’re not talking about those sweet treats that evoke feelings of comfort, happiness, and mayhaps a slight tinge of guilt. Instead, we’re dropping one “s” and focusing on the bizarre cultural phenomena of ascribing certain people’s situations to their supposed ethics.

Case in point:

Whether outwardly acknowledged or not, Americans (generally) hold two distinct viewpoints about people:

Wealthy people deserve to be rich.

Poor people deserve to be poor.

You may read those two sentences above and exclaim (perhaps just in your head) that you would never subscribe to those sentiments. Those are ludicrous and unfair!

I’m in complete agreement with you. Yet, I see that even those of us who like to believe that we’re above such projections often help perpetuate them through unconscious actions.

Before we dive into what those might be, let’s push pause for a moment and ask: how did we get here? Why do Americans believe so strongly in the correlation of someone’s socioeconomic status and the values/skills/traits that contributed to their lot?

A 2017 Pew Research study examined the question of what makes someone rich or poor and found that partisan affiliation was one of the most significant influences on viewpoint.

By about three-to-one (66% to 21%), Republicans and Republican-leaning independents say hard work, rather than a person’s advantages, has more to do with why someone is rich. By nearly as wide a margin, Democrats and Democratic leaners say the opposite: 60% say a person is rich because they had more advantages than others, while just 29% say it is because they have worked harder.

We Americans heart (as the kids say) the idea of the self-made person. You know, the one where someone (typically a man) pulls himself up by bootstraps and changes the world. But, guess what folks? These types of stories don’t speak for the hundreds of thousands who have been disenfranchised to even begin accessing certain resources to move beyond their current socioeconomic status. No access to loans to start a business; social supports for guidance; or even safe spaces to allow an idea to bear fruit.

Check this reporting out from Sam Pizzigati at Inequality.org:

“Just over 3 percent of the Forbes 400, the United for a Fair Economy researchers found, have left no good paper trail on their actual economic backgrounds. Of the over 60 percent remaining, all grew up in substantial privilege.

Those “born on first base” — in upper-class families, with inheritances up to $1 million — make up 22 percent of the 400. On “second base,” households wealthy enough to run a business big enough to generate inheritances over $1 million, the new UFE study found another 11.5 percent.”

If working hard equals being born in the right family, then congratulations! You’re ability to control the environment where sperm and egg came together forming you is commendable and well-deserving of wealth. But, I am going to hazard a guess that no one would admit to being successful at such an endeavor. Generally speaking, members of the upper and owning classes don’t work harder than members of the poor, working, and middle classes. They just got lucky.

How us do-gooders help to stop reinforcing this notion of desert

If we truly believe that much of our life is determined by luck — where we’re born, who we are born to, the societal expectations for our identities — then we need to be active in dismantling this “norm.”

#1: Eliminate the knee jerk reaction to include language around “people abusing the system” when talking about social supports.

I hear this far too often. This qualifer — “I know some people abuse the system and all…” Why is this commentary necessary? There are a lot of systems — social, financial — that people “abuse” every day. Sometimes those individuals make a lot of money. No, that’s not people utilizing the Supplemental Nutritional Assistance Program (SNAP) (in 2017, 42 million Americans were enrolled).

 #2: Talk about other forms of government “handouts” that exclusively benefit wealthy, owning class individuals.

If you were completing your own tax paperwork this year, did you celebrate the credits you were able to claim? Mortgage? Educational payments? How about contributions to your retirement?

Oh, did you think you weren’t one of “those people” receiving government handouts? And those three examples are just the tip of the iceberg. Yacht taxes. Rental property write-offs. No more estate tax.

And think of all of the incentives local and state governments offer multi-million and multi-billion dollar companies.

#3: Reflect on how you evaluate philanthropy and charitable giving.

Making a donation to a 501(c)(3) nonprofit organization makes people feel good (and it used to make people feel even better because you could write it off on your taxes! Now, less incentive. But again, who does that credit really benefit?). But, what does a 501(c)(3) designation truly tell you about a nonprofit?

It tells you that someone(s) completed the appropriate paperwork and paid the fee to the Internal Revenue Service. Consider it akin to the SAT or ACT tests many high school students may choose to take to pursue higher education. Do those tests — or any standardized test — truly evaluate someone’s preparedness for learning or intelligent? No. The tests reveal how a student performed on that test on that date at a certain time. That’s it. Sure, if you have access to resources, you might have been able to receive more instruction on how to prepare; you may have developed better study habits because of the schools you’ve been able to attend. But, it doesn’t mean that you’re better than someone else who didn’t.

Community-based organizations are the same. Just because a group doesn’t have that shiny seal of approval from the IRS, or has less than 10% “overhead”, or whatever Guidestar review it should have, doesn’t mean that the organization and its people aren’t doing vital work.  Avoid fanning “the flames of injustice.”

We can get hung up on giving to nonprofits that have the best name recognition or the shiniest covers. But real work to eradicate hunger, upend poverty, and dismantle systemic racism doesn’t come in 120lb gloss paper. It comes with sweat and tears. It can’t be captured in an annual report and doesn’t make an appearance at the gala.

Desert. Do people deserve their lot? Do you work hard? Are you wealthy? Do you know individuals who have struggled financially? Are you aware of the wealth you may have, even if income seems a bit spotty?

 

 

 

 

How does #MeToo end?

I was out of the country and taking a digital break when the rise of the #MeToo movement made headlines in late 2017. Since then, the momentum around exposing stories of sexual violence, harassment, and assault feels like it is picking up steam, at least in some circles.

Countless numbers of friends, family members, and colleagues have offered their gut-wrenching experiences of sexual trauma. It cannot be said enough that telling one’s story is brave. And we feel like we must share our stories in order to tackle a problem that often feels so embedded in our culture that it’s difficult to even name at times. What are the boundaries between what’s appropriate and what’s not? Who gets to decide that? And when lines are crossed, what are the consequences?

In most situations, there are none. Yesterday, I became engrossed in ESPN’s Outside the Lines reporting on Michigan State University, the most-recent ground zero case of what institutional protectionism of the patriarchy looks like. It’s vile. It’s disgusting. And this is merely one needle in the haystack of schools, workplaces, and systems allowing perpetrators of sexual violence to remain unpunished.

I relayed to Aaron yesterday how I find it difficult to put into words what it feels like to be victimized. And it happens with such frequency that I often forget about those moments as soon as they happen.

Our experiences are not monolithic, even though those in power would like to treat them that way (if they choose to acknowledge and validate them at all). It’s so easy and comfortable for others to justify the actions of perpetrators as “misunderstandings” or distortions of reality. How does someone grow up and adopt this mindset?  Who taught them to distrust the word of a woman who speaks her truth?

Oh, right. Everything around us. From pop culture to religious texts to history, we’ve been left to wither on the social vine as hysterics, power-grabbers, and muted voices (and woe if you identify as a woman of color as the double whammy of racial and gender identity make it even easier to negate your life experiences).

And let’s not pretend, progressives, that we’ve got this figured out and it’s a problem on “the right.” IT IS A PROBLEM FOR EVERYONE. We’ve got to put in the work to bring solutions to the table. Shining a light on individual and collective experiences is how we start. Because if we don’t acknowledge and lift up these stories, then the oppressors win. We must create platforms and spaces for voices, especially those from marginalized and underrepresented groups, to be front and center in the discussion of how sexual violence remains a pervasive tool to maintain power.

Woman holding a megaphone with #MeToo coming out the end

Then, the conversation shifts to: what now? How do we re-imaging a society that values women and the minds and bodies that they inhabit? How can we shift the dominant narrative that takes men at their word while casting shame on women on who speak out? It’s frighteningly easy for people to turn on women and castigate them as liars and sluts; it’s part of our social conditioning to inherently believe those in power, and when that looks like a bunch of white dudes, well, we can’t expect better outcomes for anyone who doesn’t fall into that mold.

I know that I need to continue to hold people accountable when lines are crossed, when discomfort arises, when either myself or others around me feel threatened. Eradicating our culture of sexual violence and degradation requires all of us to play a part. For some, it starts with self-reflection: How do I reinforce stereotypes and gender hierarchy? How do I dis-empower women and those who identify as female with my words and actions? Do I qualify the actions of my female co-workers and staff? Have I stopped when a woman has said “no”?  Remember: everything that feeds back into the narrative — that woman are objects, are less-than — keeps the narrative intact.

Here are some of my suggestions and thoughts on what I/you/we can do to shift our culture so #MeToo doesn’t have to be the tagline for women everywhere:

  • Don’t assume that you can touch me or hug me. I do like to hug, but that’s an action that I want to have equal power in choosing when and with whom it happens.
  • Don’t tell me that any article of clothing I may choose to wear “looks good on my body.” I am more than a body.
  • Don’t make assumptions about what I might like, eat, drive, do because I’m a woman. Re-train your brain to be open and un-assuming.
  • Find opportunities to step back and be quiet. In meetings. In social settings. Your presence has great power. Be aware of the influence you have.
  • Listen to the stories women tell. Don’t immediately slip into “I need to fix this” mode. Listen wholly, without judgment. Ask clarifying, open-ended questions.
  • Read more works by female authors and journalists. Watch movies and television programs written by/produced/directed by women. Listen to women-led podcasts. Seek out female musical artists and producers.
  • Support female athletes: attend events. Learn their names. Celebrate their achievements as individuals and on teams.
  • End passive-aggressive suggestions in meetings, such as “Katie, you have such good handwriting. Can you take notes?” If needed, practice improving your own handwriting.
  • Nominate and support female leaders in elections, board rooms, and organizations.
  • Hold men accountable for their actions. Don’t be silent, whether in a locker room or in the office.
  • Don’t be scared of feminism or identify as a feminist. Understand what it means and what it doesn’t.
  • Woman are not breakable. Don’t treat us like that. Challenge policies and laws rooted in those same false “protectionism” values. Those policies and laws are about controlling women, plain and simple.
  • Eliminate harmful words from vocabularies: bitch, slut, whore. Other labels used to castigate women.
  • Be transparent about your workplace earnings. If inequities exist (and they likely do), take action to address them and/or to pressure those at the decision-making table.
  • Seek to understand, first and foremost. We’ll never know what it is like to walk in the shoes of others. But, if we move through this world with hearts of compassion and empathy, we can be allies for those wronged.

I know there are countless more suggestions to share, and I invite any and all to do just that. I don’t have all of the answers or solutions.  All I have is the determination and anger to be a part of finding tangible actions that can take place each and everyday so that the number of #MeToo stories whittle down to zero. Obviously, it’s not going to happen overnight. The time required for change to take place is on our collective shoulders, and, to be real, even more so on the shoulders of men.

Let’s imagine a world where the 12-year-old girl doesn’t get prodded in the breasts by her male classmates.

Let’s imagine a world where the 16-year-old doesn’t have to stand, frozen, at the sink while her assistant manager runs his fingers up her thigh as she tries to wash the dishes.

Let’s imagine a world where the 18-year-old doesn’t have to struggle against the weight of a youth pastor, pinning her down because he only “wants to feel her warmth.”

Let’s imagine a world where the 22-year-old first-year teacher is told by her assistant principal that when her 21-year-old student suggested that she give him oral sex in front of the class, it was a miscommunication.

Let’s imagine a world where the 29-year-old nonprofit professional doesn’t make $5,000 less than her counterpart for no apparent reason.

Let’s imagine a world where when a woman shares an idea, it remains her idea and doesn’t become co-opted by men in power.

Let’s imagine a world where women’s access to healthcare is unobstructed.

Let’s imagine a world where institutions refuse to protect predators for the sake of remaining competitive in the pursuit of funds from top donors.

Let’s imagine a world where those identify as female can walk down a street without a cat call, a comment, a stare.

Let’s imagine a world where the people drafting policy reflect their communities and constituents.

What will you do today to make our world more just and equitable? What will you do to support #MeToo and center the movement around women of color and working women?

More resources:

  1. “The #MeToo movement is not a witch hunt and it’s definitely not over.”
  2. The #MeToo movement looks different for women of color. Here are 10 stories.”
  3. When Black Women’s Stories Of Sexual Abuse Are Excluded From The National Narrative
  4. Women of color in low-wage jobs are being overlooked in the #MeToo moment

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

free flow Friday

Discourse morphed into diatribes.

Arguments rooted in articles.

Actually read? Argubale.

Easier to spot what’s trending then what’s happening outside the window.

Positions held firm with glue made from politics, power, and privilege.

Spin from machines muddle words and true meanings.

Can’t help but think of Aaron Burr:

What do you stand for?

Posturing is one thing but to truly stand up takes courage.

No longer a qualification for leadership but

Replaced by contempt, cowardice –

the creation of fear in the free world.

What is free about fear?

Why do so many people allow themselves to be shackled?

Look up. Listen. Love.

Alliteration breeds more than literary bliss. It builds actions that lead to real change that we all can take.

Vol II: Things that made me happy this week

I’m sticking with my series dedicated to little gems of what made me happy during the week. I found myself trying to stick mental post-it notes throughout the last few days in an effort to list them in this entry. We’ll see how I did…

Parks & Rec – Season 7 – now available on Netflix
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Doesn’t anything else need to be said? Frankly, no. What a freakin’ great show.

Homemade BBQ Sauce

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Look at that massive pile of sauce (there is tofu underneath there, I promise). Inspired to spend multiple hours in the kitchen last Sunday, I decided to make homemade BBQ sauce for the first time. Following the recipe below from Veganomicon, I whipped up this spicy, sweet, sultry mass of goodness. I was scraping down the pan so I could get all of it!

 

Backyard BBQ Sauce
Makes about 4 cups
Time: 40 minutes

Ingredients:

  • 1 tablespoon vegetable oil
  • 1 medium-size yellow onion, chopped as finely as you can
  • 4 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1/4 teaspoon salt
  • 1 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 1 (28-once) can crushed tomatoes
  • 1/3 cup molasses (I substituted maple syrup)
  • 1/3 cup white vinegar
  • 2 tablespoons sugar (I used agave nectar)
  • 1 tablespoon prepared yellow mustard (Dijon works too)
  • 2 teaspoons liquid smoke

Directions:
Preheat a saucepan over medium heat. lace the onions in the pan and saute in oil until browned (about 7 minutes). Add the garlic and saute for another minute. Add all the other ingredients except the mustard and liquid smoke, and cook for at least 30 minutes and up to 1 hour, uncovered, stirring occasionally. Lower the heat if the sauce begins to splatter everywhere. Add the mustard and liquid smoke, and taste for sweetness/sourness. Adjust the flavors if you think it’s necessary, and cook for 5 more minutes. If you like a smooth BBQ sauce, then puree it, but that’s not entirely necessary.

First race of the season

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Sponsored by the Trailheads, the Little River Trail Run on January 16 turned out to be one the most beautiful mornings imaginable. While I still have yet to purchase actual trail shoes, I have fallen in love with trail running over the last year. Thanks to friends who open up my eyes to new places in our region, I have found such joy in romping through the woods, having to flex mental strength to pay attention and not wipe out over a root/rock/you name it.

We took on the challenging 10 mile course (although, per all of our GPS devices, it was closer to 9.5 miles total). The two days of raining prior to race day made the section near the river a scene from a Tough Mudder – people sliding, slipping, and splattering as we scrambled up and down the hilly trail.

I ended up finishing 10th in my age division with a time of 1:41:46 (10:11/mile), which is beyond expectations. I had ZERO goals in terms of timing. My only self-directive was to NOT GET HURT. I did fall – once – in the most graceful fashion I could manage, popping back up immediately and continuing forward. One of the best surprises of the race was running into (no pun intended) another friend who I ended up pacing with the last four miles for the course. That’s why I love running so much – building connections with others in this shared desire of achievement, of fulfillment, of success.

Double-date nights

Despite a disappointment experience at the newish Vegan Flava Cafe (you can read my Yelp review here), it was such a blast to go out with our friends Jon and Michelle. Who goes on double dates anymore?! We had the pleasure of taking on the 2 x 2 challenge before the holidays with another set of awesome friends Chelsea & Nic, more by accident than by intent.

The double-date needs to be a come back in 2016. While I love large gatherings, I find such fulfillment from these more intimate encounters. Despite the dining adventure not working out well, we all gave thumbs up to Bottle 501, another bottle shop/bar. Good vibe AND good prices – not always an easily-found combo.

#SOTU

Love it or hate it, Twitter has changed the game when it comes to national events including the State of the Union. I was glued more to my phone than to the actual television. The commentary, especially that made via the gif, was too good to not watch. The actual State of the Union speech was pretty good too. You can read the full transcript here. Here are a few of the highlights for me:

A better politics doesn’t mean we have to agree on everything. This is a big country, different regions, different attitudes, different interests. That’s one of our strengths, too. Our Founders distributed power between states and branches of government, and expected us to argue, just as they did, fiercely, over the size and shape of government, over commerce and foreign relations, over the meaning of liberty and the imperatives of security.

But democracy does require basic bonds of trust between its citizens. It doesn’t — it doesn’t work if we think the people who disagree with us are all motivated by malice, it doesn’t work if we think that our political opponents are unpatriotic or trying to weaken America.

Democracy grinds to a halt without a willingness to compromise or when even basic facts are contested or when we listen only to those who agree with us. Our public life withers when only the most extreme voices get all the attention. And most of all, democracy breaks down when the average person feels their voice doesn’t matter; that the system is rigged in favor of the rich or the powerful or some special interest

and, of course, #ActOnClimate talk:

Look, if anybody still wants to dispute the science around climate change, have at it. You will be pretty lonely because you’ll be debating our military, most of America’s business leaders, the majority of the American people, almost the entire scientific community, and 200 nations around the world who agree it’s a problem and intend to solve it.

Vol I: 5 things that made me happy this week

As an homage to my “friends” at Pop Culture Happy Hour (oh, how I wish we were friends in real life!), I’m going to try and do a series of blog posts reflecting on aspects of my previous week that made me happy.

My friend Liza mentioned that one of her goals for 2016 was to “celebrate accomplishments in a more meaningful way.” What a brilliant idea! Most of us focus solely on our failures and mistakes and brush off accomplishments nonchalantly.

While “what is making me happy” may not fall under the definition of accomplishments, I hope it will serve as a positive reminder for me – and maybe you – that so much in our lives can and does bring us joy. Sometimes, we just forget about it.

  1. Old School Hip Hop jams

This actually started the night of New Year’s Day. In previous posts, I had noted that Aaron and I used to have some epic dance parties. Unfortunately, those had fallen by the wayside over the last couple of years. Then, 2016 happened. And, after some wine and a game of Scrabble, we threw down thanks to the power of YouTube bringing us some classic videos like these:

and:

The beats of ole kept on rolling this week thanks to a Spotify playlist (and the fact that my co-worker was 100% on board) on our trip back from the coast.

2. The return to public transit

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Driving was once one of my favorite activities. In the last few years, it has become a dreaded routine, and, some days feeling like survival of the fittest. With free WiFi and relative peace of mind, I was able to hop on one of GoTriangle’s regional transit buses both Thursday and Friday this week, giving me an extra hour where I could choose what to do: work, read, not have to worry that the driver next to me glued to their iPhone won’t nudge me into the guardrail.

3. Curling, eh?

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Yes, the Triangle has its own curling club (appropriately named the Triangle Curling Club). On Friday night, the group held an open house, offering some hands-on introduction to the sport of curling.

Note: it is MUCH harder than it looks. The power comes from that back leg pushing off a starting block. But, then you have to transfer all of your weight into your other leg, kept in a perfect 90 degree angle. Oh, and then you have to get this 44lb stone closest to the “shot rock” at the other end.

From the initial taste, we are hooked. We will be back, especially since it is just a hop, skip, and jump away from our home.

4.Reminder that some politicians are human

Not that I have doubted President Obama’s sense of compassion, but his speech this past week on taking executive action on curbing gun violence in our nation moved me immensely.

All of us should be able to work together to find a balance that declares the rest of our rights are also important — Second Amendment rights are important, but there are other rights that we care about as well. And we have to be able to balance them. Because our right to worship freely and safely –- that right was denied to Christians in Charleston, South Carolina.  And that was denied Jews in Kansas City. And that was denied Muslims in Chapel Hill, and Sikhs in Oak Creek.  They had rights, too.

Our right to peaceful assembly -– that right was robbed from moviegoers in Aurora and Lafayette. Our unalienable right to life, and liberty, and the pursuit of happiness -– those rights were stripped from college students in Blacksburg and Santa Barbara, and from high schoolers at Columbine, and from first-graders in Newtown. First-graders. And from every family who never imagined that their loved one would be taken from our lives by a bullet from a gun.

And, the response to critics of President Obama’s emotional response during his speech from the Daily Show’s Trevor Noah was spot on:

5. To Read: Little Bee

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I finished Chris Cleave’s 2008 novel to start off the new year, and it was achingly beautiful and painful. It tells the story of two people, brought together by tragic circumstances, and how they unpack the history that led to their connection, and also how they move forward together…or not. Could I be more generic in the description? Probably. I don’t want to give anything away about Little Bee and her struggles and triumphs in this incredibly well-written story.

So, what’s making you happy this week?