Archive for the ‘black women and money’ Category

Mighty Poor Mouse that Aint’ Got But One Hole To Run To

Wednesday, September 9th, 2009

I know, I know: here it is three days later and I’m just now coming on to the blog to say something about the national holiday we just celebrated known as Labor Day. Hey, what can I say? I was working.

As someone who for all practical purposes is self-employed, let me pause here and thank God for keeping work pouring in to my office. Thank you God for every invitation to speak, write, lecture, conduct workshops, consult that lands on my desk (even those I have to turn down). Have ministers, writers, and public speakers like myself been affected by the downturn in the economy? You betcha. But when you’ve been doing what you’ve been doing for as long as I have (seniority has it benefits), and learned long time ago the wisdom of knowing how to do lots of different things (so as to generate multiple streams of income), you manage to eke by in times like these.

To quote my great aunt Dora, “It’s a mighty poor mouse that ain’t got but one hole to run to.”

In fact, here’s to the many jobs I’ve had in my lifetime. Cleaning houses (yep, worked alongside my stepmother when I was a teen); Dairy Queen (in high school); factory assembly line (summer college job that paid me a whopping $400 a week); college work study in the library and the astronomy lab; housesitting and hospital admissions clerk (in graduate school); my first job after college as an accountant/auditor; stockbroker (my second job); seminary job (my longest gig); minister and public speaker (my sacred gigs); writer (my dream gig);  academic and writing consultant (my recent gig); mother and wife (my most infuriating, and yet most satisfying gigs).

black rosie the riveterAs you can see, not all the jobs I’ve held down were glamorous. Actually, most of them weren’t. But each did its “job” in shaping me and in instilling in me a sense of competence, self-confidence, and  self-reliance.  I’ve worked since I was a teenager, something completely foreign to the teenager-who-lives-in-my-house who thinks  a job is something you go out and get so you can buy extra pairs of earrings and those shoes your Mom won’t buy for you. She knows nothing as a teen about work, like I do, as something you have to do to feed and clothe yourself because your parents simply can’t afford to because of all the other mouths in the house to feed.

I know some of you have wondered on occasion why a feminist/womanist writer, minister, scholar like myself keep bringing up quilting, cooking, and other domestic talents once thought beneath thinking, professional women. It’s because I’m worried. I’m worried because no body seems to know how to DO anything anymore. I meet women in crazy abusive relationships who can’t break away because their  work as receptionists or schoolteachers don’t bring in enough income to build the stash they need to finance their escape. And they don’t know how to do anything else to supplement their income. I know women who brag that they can’t cook or sew, and then wonder why they can’t  save any money. I repeat: I’m worried. I worry about the boys in my neighborhood who dream of earning a scholarship to a Division I football college next year even though they can barely read and have no trade to fall back on.

I broke off a relationship with a guy who was in law school many years ago precisely because he couldn’t Do anything.  Except read law books. He couldn’t change a tire, change the oil in the car, or change a light bulb.  He was as scared of roaches as I was. Okay, so there were other things about him I didn’t like. But my point remains: I don’t bond well with folks who can’t be counted to be able to Do anything in times of disaster.

Labor Day week offers us all a chance to meditate on the changing nature of work in America. Back when factories dominated, Labor day posters were filled with beefy forearms. That’s because work on assembly lines relied on brawn. Labor Day boasted of men and women who didn’t mind flexing their muscles to earn a living for their families. Remember Rosie the rosie the riveterRiveter, that famous depiction of the archetypal American woman who took up working in war factories during World War II to help their country, to feed their families, and to fill assembly line positions once held by men who were off at war? Rosie the Riveter became a feminist icon in the US, and a herald of women’s economic power. You don’t need muscle to work on most jobs in America these days, but you do increasingly need a high IQ and white collar know-how to make a comfortable living in this country.

Make no mistake about it, work is changing in America.  The labor market has suffered its most wrenching changes in a generation over the last year, shedding millions of jobs and permanently changing the employment landscape in this country. But the downturn in the economy is only partially to blame for what many see as a seismic shift taking place in employment and the economy in this era.   Work is changing, and who works and who doesn’t is changing. In the not so distant future, experts say, good jobs will only be available to individuals with complex skills in fast-growing sectors like information technology or medical technology. The most drastic changes will be the irreversible disappearance of jobs that tended in the past to provide rewarding employment for average human beings, with average intelligence, and average schooling.  Like everybody you and I know. Assembly line work, for example. Equally worse will be the irreversible loss of jobs on the lower rungs of skill and wages, jobs that used to offer marginal groups in society — the minimally educated and immigrants–a chance to support their families through wage employment.

I drive up to the airport and look for my favorite baggage attendant, the one who usually sprints out to my car when he sees me and helps me with my bag because he knows who the weekly travelers are that tip well for prioritizing getting them checked in and moving quickly to their gate. But he’s not there this time. Economic and technological forces have stripped him of his job. I drag my luggage inside the terminal and check myself in with the swipe of my credit card there at the kiosk and wonder how he’s making it these days.

One call to my cable provider and the problem with my HD channels was fixed by the technician by a flick of the button there in her carrel. No cable guy had to be dispatched to my house.

I worry about the teenager who can’t snag a job this school year bagging groceries down at the local supermarket because of people like me who prefer fast and easy self scanning machines to waiting in languid and long lines for a clerk to scan my groceries and a teen to bag them.

Did I mention that the only reason I’m pretty good at googling and finding the answers to software and hardware problems I encounter is because I don’t like haggling with computer customer service representatives in India who pretend to know and speak English and obviously don’t when you have a dilemma requiring more than “please reboot your computer” as the answer?

I tell that teenager-who-lives-in-my-house that one of the benefits of learning to clean her room, along with the rest of the house, is that she may find such a skill handy one day when she needs a side hustle like a cleaning business to supplement the income she hopes to make from that high powered office job she thinks she’s going to land as a result of all the degrees she’s banking on her parents paying for. “You better come in here and learn how to prepare these dishes I’m making and pay attention to these stitches I’m sewing because the world is changing” I yell across the house. “Get an education, but you better be in a position to generate multiple streams of income. You pretty now, but you won’t be pretty forever. Shaking your booty for a living don’t pay but so much. When one gig falls through (whether that be lover or employer), you better know how to create your own wealth so you can feed your self girl.”

To quote my Aunt Dora, “It’s a might poor mouse that ain’t got but one hole to run to.”

A Simpler Life

Monday, December 29th, 2008

How many times have you said to yourself, “I want a simpler life”?

Simplicity gains importance in your life when you realize that you have everything you need. And when you consider the possibility that what’s making you sad or sick is the stuff you’re holding to.  Stuff you don’t need but you can’t bring yourself to let go of.

I wanted a new digital camera for Christmas after dropping and busting the lens of my old one back in October.  But I didn’t get one. I could have sprung for it, but I decided against it. A year ago I would have replaced the broken one with a new one the moment I discovered the former couldn’t be repaired. But a year of a faltering economy  makes a difference. I decided against purchasing a new camera. Besides, when I need to take pictures I’ll ignore her protests and borrow the one I bought last year for the teenager in my house. Why do we need two digital cameras in one house?

It’s a recession when your neighbor loses his job,” Harry Truman once observed, “and it’s a depression when you lose your own.” The downturns in the economy should have us all questioning the financial yardstick by which we have been measuring our net worth and happiness. Sobered by the economy and overwhelmed by stories of greed and avarice in our society, I find myself looking around my space, looking at the purchases I’ve made in recent years  wondering how much of my own financial worries can be traced to extravagant, excessive purchases I’ve made. Gulp.

Living a simpler life doesn’t just mean learning to do without. Even though it’s true that we could all live with a lot less stuff. But true simplicity starts from within. It begins with taking an inventory of your interior life.  What do you need to be happy? If you were stripped of everything you possess, who would you be then? Who are you?  True simplicity requires having a yardstick that’s capable of weighing and measuring the possessions you carry around in your heart: gratitude, joy, purpose, faith, wisdom, and love.  When you can’t access these things inside you, or doubt they exist at all, you begin to attach your happiness to exterior things and to extraneous people.

There’s an Amish couple I buy baked goods from down at the Farmer’s Market. The wife makes the simplest, but most delicious apple pies I’ve ever tasted. Every time I see her I can’t help marvel at her plain face, her dated farm clothes, and the simple baked goods wrapped in saran wrap she bring to market every Saturday to sell to city women like myself. I don’t envy her her life. The simple, pre-modern Amish way of life she represents comes with a price. To women especially. In my world, the dishwasher in my kitchen is my friend. But seeing the Amish woman with a bonnet around her plain face reminds me that it is possible to get by with a whole lot less.

Everyday between now and New Year’s day I’m going to spend a couple of hours cleaning away some of the clutter I’ve let accumulate over the year. Books I’ll never read again that can be donated to the library of the small Bible college on the other side of town. Clothes that need to be washed, folded, and donated to Goodwill. Old cell phones, adapter cords, cds, and kitchen appliances sitting on shelves gathering dust that I’ll have to search around to figure out how best to dispose of.

Think about it: everything you bring into your house becomes a responsibility. You have to care for it, worry about it, clean it, and eventually figure out how to dispose of it.

I have a good life, thank God, but I am always looking for ways to create a simpler life. It’s not easy. It takes time. It’s an ongoing battle. But today is a good day to start looking around and deciding what needs to be gotten rid of. It simply makes no sense carrying the stuff into the New Year. Making some gesture to rid myself of excess stuff around the house is a good way to end the old year and begin the new.

Take a leap of faith with me. Look around your house at the things that have outlived their usefulness, things you thought you needed but you now know you don’t, stuff that’s taking up physical and emotional space, some thing you could do with ridding yourself of before New Year’s Day. What is cluttering your life? What do you have too many of? What’s gathering dust and causing all that wheezing that you’re doing?

Give it away. Let it go. Simplify your life.

Tough Times Don’t Last, But A Woman With A Plan Does

Wednesday, October 1st, 2008

After reading  “Money, Honey” here on the blog,  a reader wrote urging me to dust off my Economics degree and write a bit more here on the blog about women and money.

I don’t mind admitting that all this news about bankruptcy vs. bailout has me thinking today about women in the Bible who were financially independent.  Lydia, seller of purple. The Queen of Sheba. Ruth. The wealthy women who had the financial means to help bankroll Jesus’ ministry (Luke 8:1-5) and support the newly founded  house-churches that cropped up throughout the Graeco-Roman world as a result of the spreading of the Gospel. These women, like the wealthy philanthropists they were, figured out how to flex their economic muscle and use their money to shape their society according to the values they believed in.

A financially independent woman. Now there’s a thought to ponder in economic panicky times like the ones we live in.  Becoming financially independent is not easy for a woman. There’s something about the thought of dependence that seduces us all. ” If only I had…”  The vision of the working father and the stay-at-home- wife, and two children, in the doll size house. The story of the kept queen of the manor, with her king off somewhere running the kingdom.

But few of us have the luxury of being taken care of. We either make it on our own or we don’t. We either can support ourselves or we can’t. We either figure out how to take the skills and talents we have to make a living, even thrive, in a period of economic downturn or we have a meltdown of our own.

But here’s what I know for sure: a woman doesn’t become a full self until she figures out a way how to take care of herself financially– even, or especially, in financially difficult times. As long as a woman has yet to know that she’s capable of sustaining herself, as long as she’s economically dependent on others, as long as she is psychologically dependent on someone else for her thinking, her income, and her survival, she does not yet belong to herself. on her head

Out of a healthy sense of independence comes self-esteem, self-discipline, self-worth and self-awareness. And a recognition of the God-self in the self.

Take Ruth in the Bible. Ruth, the alien, the minority, the woman of color, the “other” in a Jewish world. Widow, foreigner, destitute, and with a clincally depressed mother-in-law dependent on her,  Ruth comes up with a plan on how to take care of Naomi and herself. She studies an economic system designed to drive women out of the work force and into the arms of patriarchal men,  and figures out a way to create work for herself. She decides on a plan on how to make a living off the system. Ruth the entrepreneur. Ruth the business woman. Ruth the corporate woman. Ruth the woman thinking of ways to have multiple streams of income. She is a good worker. She tries harder. She works longer. She is a fast understudy.  She’s swifter worker than the regular field hands.  She asks for no special favors and she looks for no benefactors. Ruth makes it on her own.

Like Ruth, the women of the world over find an near-empty field nearby, tie their babies to their backs,  roll up their sleeves, and bend down and pick up the scraps left behind in the field so that at the end of the day they can walk through the door and say to everyone waiting, not only “We’ll eat tonight” but “I can do this. We will survive, come what may.”

Money, Honey

Tuesday, September 16th, 2008

Okay everybody, listen up. We are in trouble. The Empire is crashing. Investment company Lehman Brothers was forced to file for Chapter 11 bankruptcy protection on Monday, making it the biggest company in U.S. history to go belly up. Bank of America is buying Merrill Lynch, and the Dow Jones Industrial Average closed below 11,000 yesterday. And, oh yeah, let’s not forget Fannie Mae and Freddie Mac getting bailed out by the government last week.

Now I know they say that women don’t like thinking or talking about money. And I know that this blog post will probably not be a popular one and that very few women will bother to leave comments. After all, we’re all Christians. Right? Women of some faith. Right? Bible believers? “Our Father is Rich in Houses and Land.” “The Lord Will Make A Way Somehow.” “Seek first the kingdom of heaven and all of its righteousness…” Yes, I too believe.

While we’re on the subject of binding devils and believing God, I too saw the CNN story of the group of church people down in Houston who met in an open field next door to their church and prayed prayers rebuking and binding Hurricane Ike from coming onshore. “The Bible says that we have power over even the winds and the rain,” said one of them to the reporter. And so they prayed. They rebuked Ike. They bound Ike. And the rest is history.

Yes, I believe. Lord, help my unbelief.

What does the Lehman bankruptcy mean to you and me? More banks will be going out of business. (Probably the one where you keep your money.) Those banks that do remain in business will not be giving out many loans to any of us regular citizens (e.g, mortgage loans, car loans, home improvement loans, loans for college). Credit card rates will go up. Food prices will keep climbing (farmers are facing a credit crunch). Gas prices will go up more. More people will lose their jobs.

Okay, so now do you get the picture?

Women have a lot of fears and deep rooted physiological issues around money that stem from our relationships with it since we were children and how our parents addressed the issue. I admit that I do. Growing up poor has left me with a lot of scars when it comes to money. I know I’m a minister and am supposed to be a woman of faith. I’m supposed to trust God, and that settles it. Right? I do trust God. But I’m not stupid. And God knows I don’t want to retreat into denial. Looking back, it’s clear that Reaganomics was nothing more than an excuse to cut taxes for the rich, a policy that continued with his successors. Just as free trade was an argument for exporting manufacturing jobs to foreign nations where our corporations can pay much lower wages. And now there is something called “corporate responsibility” where the whole community (or a whole nation or whole generation) is made to bear the consequences for the sins of a few.

Did I mention that I was a stockbroker for Merrill Lynch in my other life and that I have an undergraduate degree in Economics? (That’s Economics, not Home Economics; although the latter would sure come in handy right about now as I try to figure out how to make things stretch around the house.)

mattress money

I don’t have any answers today about the economic crisis we face. Few people have answers right about now. Not even the presidential candidates, despite all their jostling. I just thought I’d put the topic of money and women’s fears around money on the table today. I’m just convinced that the more we talk about money openly the more we diffuse the complicated emotions that surrounds it. Fear, shame, embarrassment, envy, greed, or anger about money and what it represents tend to dissolve when we can share our stories and when we learn that other women, even other Christian women, also struggle with this issue. Lord have mercy on us all.

If there is an upside to this economic mess, perhaps we’re all evaluate our priorities and our spending, and really, really appreciate the people and the things in life that really matter most of us.