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Tuesday, December 22, 2009

The Nuclear N Word

I was one of those people who believed that racism was dead. I attended school in Iowa, with a largely Caucasian population, and was pushed by my teachers to attain academic excellence, with never a thought that my color might be a setback. I have worked in corporate America for the past 14 years, and have been promoted, paid, and generally treated well by my co-workers. Then, in the culmination of all that I believed, in 2008 we elected our first black president. While many of my friends and family would tell me that racism was still alive and that there were people that actually hated blacks. And then the nuclear N-bomb was dropped.
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To explain the situation properly, I feel I must go back to the beginning of the story. After I shut down my own company, I started a new business with Am____ I_____. I have done well there, been paid more than I could.have ever hoped, doing a job that is almost as easy as breathing for me. All of my training at fortune 500 companies, my previous self employment experience, all culminated in my astounding success with A_________I________. The only fly in the jelly was Jimmy.

Jimmy was a troubled individual. As he strolled through the office, he trailed a grim and suffocating cloud of drama with him. We constantly would butt heads. Jimmy wanted to be an agent, but due to his felony status could not be licensed with the state, and so hated on all the other agents. When I decided to take my career to the next level and start building my own team, J___ insisted that I work with Jimmy to do my interviews. Not wanting to rock the boat, I complied. However, after 3 months of calling people in for interviews, none of my people were ever hired. Odd, huh?

I decided to hire on my own, then Jimmy began to abuse me in the office. Jimmy would constantly question my qualifications, and once, shouted at me in front of my team members. In particular, I remember one instance where I had set up to do a job fair. I notified my manager, J___ of what I was doing, and then the day before I was to go, Jimmy found out. He accosted me in the front desk area, shouting that I didn’t even know what I was doing; on whose authority I thought I could do a job fair. While I was seething with anger, I very civilly told him that I am a Senior Professional in Human Resources, that I ran my own staffing company, and that I was exceedingly well qualified to attend a job fair to find new talent. And furthermore, I was confused as to why he would feel that I needed permission from anyone, much less him, to do so. After that, he left me alone, but I knew I had created an enemy.....
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The Nuclear N Word, Continued

My co-worker, J____ was having her 23rd birthday at Jimmy’s house, and everyone from work was invited. I came and had a great time. We ate grilled salmon, had a few beers. After things got boring, we then went to the club and generally had a ball. We then returned to his house, and were sitting around the table in Jimmy’s kitchen. All of a sudden, Jimmy’s roommate did something that annoyed him, and there in his kitchen, surrounded by his co-workers, he turns to his roommate and says” Why did you do that? You are such a fucking Nigger!” Immediately, uproar ensued. Everyone began shouting at the same time. In one fell swoop, Jimmy had ruined the night.

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One of my co-workers, D____, actually said that he wanted to punch Jimmy in the face. He has a brother and sister that are half black. J_____ was shouting, and on the verge of tears.

I very calmly told Jimmy that I objected to his use of the N word. The simple fact that he would use that word, even if not directed at me, or an African American (his room mate was white) was unacceptable. So many people have died and been hurt through the use of that word, that I believe we should stop using it out of respect for all of those people who have been hurt by that culture of hate. He replied that he was raised in a racist household, where that word was used all the time. I refused to accept that excuse, and told him that people who think that way and use that type of speech are actually viewed as the lowest of the low. He apologized, and, in order to move on, I told him that I accepted his apology.
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If only it had ended there. After that situation calmed down, we all went into the garage, and continued to hang out. Out of nowhere, Jimmy and one of my other co-workers, B___, began to fight. Yes, actually brawl, there in front of everyone. In an effort to separate myself from the drama, I went in side, but the sounds of a struggle continued. At that point, I decided to go home, so I go through the garage to get to my car, and see my J__ punching Jimmy in the face repeatedly. I simply waved good bye to everyone and me and B____ left. As I was driving, however, I realized that I would not be able to make it home in my alcohol sodden condition, so I pulled over and B___ gave me a ride home.

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Yet the drama continued. Although I had left, Jimmy continued. After scattering the final ashes of everyone’s enjoyment, Jimmy proceeded to kick everyone out of his house. He then called all of the C level executives in A___I______, and cursed them out via phone! at 3 am!! He also contacted all of the new hires and told them that our company was a scam! Needless to say, he is no longer with the company, but he went out in a blaze of glory.

It was shocking to me that at one point in time, one such as myself (attractive, well spoken, educated) might have been owned by one such as Jimmy (uneducated, slovenly, criminal). 50 years ago, I would have had to duck my head and ignore his behavior, and possibly even been forced to laugh along. In 2009, I didn’t need to respond. The negative response of my co-workers was even more intense than my reply.
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I write this blog in the hope that those of us, African Americans included, who still use this type of language, will realize the way that they look to the majority of the world. We are all family now. Most black people I know have white relatives, and most white people I know have black relative too. When you hold those types of beliefs, and use those types of languages, you are viewed by the world as a N_______ yourself: ignorant, uneducated, and lazy. If you want to keep the same company as felons like Jimmy, continue on

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Heartbreak Catalyst

On my way back from Galesburg, I stopped by my Auntie’s house and spent the night with her. While I was there, I looked up my old friend for lunch, and ended up spending the night there. I hadn’t really seen my friends in 10 years, and I was shocked at how much I had genuinely forgotten. The summer of 1999 was my summer of freedom. That time was when love was the purest, and the day never seemed to end.

Part of the tragedy of my life was the death of trust, the murder of the belief that the world was a safe place and people were fundamentally good. Now I remember why I felt that the world was good and that people naturally loved others. I wasn’t just a naive child, delusional and unfocused. I was lucky enough to be surrounded by love, filled with it, and not even see its radiance. I had so much love around me that I took it as a matter of course that love was easy. Back then it was. Relationships were based on that natural attraction two humans have, un-influenced by politics or necessity.

Remembering how easy and free it used to be was too painful to remember. While I was in Des Moines, I finally got a hold of the person I love best in the world. These past 10 years have been painful for more than just me. My joy at seeing him combined with my grief and guilt in losing him somehow broke through. The sudden burst of sorrow cracked my heart open like an eggshell.

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I remember how I used to hang out at Greenwood Park and the weekend long parties and when I stayed with my friend’s family. I remember him knocking on my apartment door and telling me that if I wanted, I could stop by anytime. I remember braiding his hair, and us falling asleep watching TV. I remember telling him not to worry, that I would be right back. Only I didn’t come back for 10 years.
I have always been a traveler, moving easily from place to place. It didn’t matter much because I formed friendships easily. But I lost those friendships even easier. How could I not even think about the people who set the stage for who I am now? The person I stayed with that night in Des Moines was my best friend during my summer of freedom, that bridge between teenager and adult. Yet somehow, I never made the effort t to keep in touch. How fragile relationships are, how breakable. It was frightening to realize that I still love all the people I have ever loved.

Is it arrogant to believe that one person can change a life? Perhaps.  I still wonder what the quilt of our lives would look like if my thread had been included. Would the picture be different? Of course. Better? I suppose that’s subjective. Richer? Without a doubt. I have to move, grow, and still hold on to the people I have in my life. People haven’t changed. I have. I stopped making the effort.

The change starts today. I’ve been hurt in the past, and I’ve made mistakes. I didn’t need to be alone in these experiences, and I won’t be again. The only thing that matters is the people in your life. Hold on to them, and don’t let go, no matter how far life takes you. They are precious.

Friday, December 11, 2009

How to use Welfare for Job Creation Part II

In this economy, people are not unemployed because they don't have job skills. They are unemployed because there are no jobs they can work that pay a livable wage. Yet the County of Anoka is willing to pay upwards of $2,500 to train them on how to become a professional customer service representative. These hard working, fully trained individuals will receive beautiful certificates to hang at home. But they will not receive a job. There’s this thing called a recession going on, and they will wait for months to even get a call on their meticulously written resumes.
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You see, having a job to work in is the key to employment. This may come as a surprise to the state of Minnesota, but all the training in the world does not one bit of good unless there’s a job opening. So why not use our welfare dollars to create job openings?

The infrastructure is already in place. Make the small business option an approved work plan through the Diversionary Work Program, or MFIP. If some resources are redirected in this way, possibly supplemented with TARP money, Anoka County could be the test market for a revolution in economic recovery, as well as providing residents with a vehicle out of poverty. The current welfare programs already offer job training, as well as cash support and assistance with utility payments. However, they actually discourage people from working because as soon as people start making enough to be marginally above the poverty line, benefits get cut.
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Take the top 10% of people in that class with good work history out of that DWP/MFIP training class. Teach them how to put together a business plan. Provide training in those areas of future economic growth. Prepare them to apply for TARP or economic recovery finance dollars. Support them with professional mentors through WomenVenture, or SCORE, as well as help them pay their bills during start up. Stop wasting money on companies that truly don’t contribute to the health of our economy, and use our social programs to train the next generation of business owners.
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That money would come back to the state in the form of increased tax collection, as well as increased consumer spending. With a strong, small business based economy, Minnesota will be more resilient in the next down turn.


Thursday, December 10, 2009

How to Apply for Welfare

The process to get approved for assistance is humiliating. They poke and prod you, asking for detailed financial information, your paystubs, bank accounts, and more. Be prepared to provide copies of all of your financial information for the past 3 months. Then, after providing the information, they call you a liar and investigate. While they investigate, they will try at every opportunity to disqualify you for assistance.

You do have to literally be destitute to qualify. I qualified after living with no heat for 2 months. I only had $20 in change to my name. I had to spend that last $20 on gas to repeatedly go to the office and make sure my benefits were approved. The clerk at the gas station was strangely unenthusiastic about counting my change when I filled up. I would go to the office twice per day: at 8 am when the office opened, and 12:30 when my worker came back from work. The key is to be constantly lurking when they least expect it. I was too desperate to play the welfare office shuffle. I don’t blame my worker for the situation. The social workers are typical government employees: under-paid, overworked, and with a tendency to shift responsibility to others.

After a month long process, they will deign to release benefits to you. By the time my benefits were released, I hadn’t eaten in 2 days. I know there are food banks, and soup kitchens, but I didn’t want to risk using my meager tank of gas on extra trips. I am lucky enough to have extra weight to spare. That said, I wouldn’t advise the So Poor I Can’t Afford Food Diet” to anyone.