Sunday, October 24, 2010

What I Should Have Said

I often find myself having imaginary conversations with people days (OK sometimes months) after an encounter that upset me. I never seem to be able to compose myself enough in the moment to say what I really want to say when someone says something ignorant. I think I'm just so shocked at the things that people do and say that I'm at a loss for words.

Q: Are you the first person in your family to go to college?
A: No.

I used to get this question a lot more in my 20's. I am happy to say that I only get asked every once in a while these days but it still aggravates me. It is either a demonstration of how ignorant people are about the history of black people in this country or that they are racist and assume that black people aren't educated.

What I Should Have Said: How old do you think I am? Do you know that some northern colleges were admitting black people in the 1700's and shortly after that historically black colleges were established all over the US? By the time slavery was abolished in the late 1800's black people had been going to college for more than 100 years. The Civil War ended in 1865. It's almost 2011.

Yes, black people's rights and opportunities were still very limited in some geographic regions until the 1960's and 1970's when the Civil Rights Movement worked to change that but that doesn't mean they lacked the desire to become educated and strive for a better life. A person's
ability to go to college is generally driven by their socioeconomic status more than anything else. Yes, by percentages, there are more poor black people than any other race but that doesn't mean that all poor people are black or that all black people are poor.

Depending on what study you believe 50-60% of Americans have attended college but only 27% leave college with a degree. According to the federal government, 57% of white students who enter college earn their degrees compared to 44% and 39% of Hispanic and black students, respectively. Not great odds when you compare us to other countries.

So 1/4-1/3 of all people that you meet don't have a college degree, regardless of race. Are you asking everyone you meet if they are the first one in their family to attend college? If you are, I'm sorry I was offended by your comment. I thought you were asking me because you're one of those people who watched shows like The Cosby Show and thought they were the exception and that few, if any, successful black people exist in the world.

You're the guy who asks me for more towels when you see me walking down the hall in a nice hotel or the lady who asks me to find a shoe in her size while I'm shopping at a fancy department store because you can't fathom me being able to afford these things. You're the mother of several of my friends growing up who were surprised that I was black the first time they met me in person because "I sounded white on the phone". You're tiny, ignorant little brain can't imagine that a black person could have the same, or gasp, a higher level of success and income that you.

I wish that I could say that all the people who ask me these questions are very old but they are usually late 30's to early 50's. I struggle to tell someone that they've got snot hanging out of their nose. I can't imagine walking up to a complete stranger and asking them anything like that. As I've gotten older, I've tried to let these comments go but I am rarely successful. I'd be lying if I didn't say that every moment of ignorance against me is burned into my memory with no hope of being erased.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Me and the PE Exam

Next Friday I will take the PE Exam for the third time. The PE Exam is the professional engineering licensing exam. This is the third time I am taking it because I am not a studier. My success at school was related to my ability to absorb what the professors said in class and take good notes that I could reference during exams. The problem is that this exam covers a broad range of topics, most of which engineers do not use in practice.

About 75% of the material on the test is related to topics that I have not studied since college or have never studied at all. So I have to remind myself of things that I once new and teach myself the things I never knew about. This is an open book test where you can bring in as many reference materials that you like. But that isn't helpful if you don't have your reference materials marked and don't understand the concepts required to solve the problems.

I was never one of those kids who spent hours at the library. Every time I tried I ended up getting bored and putting my head down for a nap. But that is exactly who I need to be for the next 9 days. I need to come home from work and put in a solid 4 hours of studying every day. I need to do in 9 days what many people do for the three months leading up to the test. I know that if I do this, I will retain the material well enough to pass.

The PE exam is an optional exam. It doesn't make you more of an engineer than other people. It just means you were willing to torture yourself and sit through two 8-hour exams and spend a lot of money to get licensed. But it does mean that you get to review plans and reports and stamp them as a professional engineer. It means that you can review reports for other companies that don't have a PE on staff and charge them $120+ an hour for the service. In a lot of companies it means you get paid more than someone who's doing the exact same job.

For me it means that I'm as much an engineer as the person who I hope to one day replace at my company. I feel like it will give me more validity and confidence when I go into meetings and people assume I'm the secretary because I'm young, female and black. It makes me more marketable in my career and gives me the opportunity to make a little extra money on the side or as a part-time job in retirement.

In my business, a lot of people who didn't get engineering degrees in school call themselves engineers. So even though I did earn my bachelor's degree in engineering and have been working in the industry for almost 10 years, there is nothing that separates me from them in a lot of people's minds. Maybe that's shallow but it's my motivation. If I don't pass this test it will be because I didn't try hard enough and failed myself yet again.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Lucy, I'm Home

I remember thinking how strange it was that Lucy and Ricky slept in separate beds as a kid. It seems like a lot of old sitcoms had married couples sleeping in the same room but in different beds. This seemed completely insane to me....until I met my husband.

My husband occasionally has to work an early/late shift. Sometimes he has to be at work by 4 am. Other days he might not leave for work until 5 pm and will return in the wee hours of the morning. My husband is a very heavy sleeper and a big snorer. He could fall asleep during an earthquake. Noise, light, television, etc. Nothing bothers him.

I am a very light sleeper. I set my own work schedule but I try to get up at the same time every day so that the pets and I are on a routine. I have been an insomniac for as long as I can remember. While some white noise seems to help me sleep, too much keeps me awake. The dogs and cat and my husband frequently wake me up during the night with very insignificant noises and movements that most people can sleep through. I have tried sleeping pills, teas, warm milk, etc and nothing has worked for me.

Initially, my husband and I only slept apart when he had to work an odd schedule. Then when our old shepherd starting having mobility problems and couldn't walk upstairs I started sleeping downstairs with him regularly. Sometimes when I was sleeping with my husband I would have problems falling asleep that were remedied by me moving into the guest room. Over the past few months, this sleeping arrangement has become our permanent routine.

At first I was embarrassed that we didn't sleep together and then I found out that a lot of people our age were doing the same thing. We never go to bed or wake up at the same time so it's not like we miss anything from not being in the same bed other than lying next to each other. When we do sleep together my husband is completely unaware of when I get in/out of bed because he sleeps through the whole thing. We do have plenty of cuddle time where we talk, relax, etc. but this time has never been part of our bedtime routine.

We have friends that have completely separate bedrooms in their house. They have been together for several years but never even entertained the thought of sharing space. They have a child and seem to be pretty happy together despite, or maybe because of, the sleeping situation. I even heard on Oprah the other day that home builders are putting two master bedrooms in new houses because so many couples are sleeping separately. I don't think I would ever go this far because I enjoy sharing space when my husband when I'm awake but if it works for other people, good for them.

We are currently saving up to buy a king-sized sleep number bed so that we can see if that will allow us to sleep together without disturbing each other. I am also going to go to a sleep center to try to work on my insomnia. But if it doesn't work out I'm pretty comfortable with the arrangement that we have now because our sleeping arrangement is not due to friction in our marriage. And really, we seem to enjoy our awake time a lot more when we've both had a good night of sleep.

Monday, October 4, 2010

Ouidad, I love you

For those of you with naturally curly thick hair, maybe you've already heard of Ouidad. I didn't hear about it until recently and then spent the better part of a year debating on whether or not I was going to go through with it. Last week I finally gave in and I'm so glad I finally did. For the first time that I can remember I am in love with my hair.

Ouidad is basically a way of cutting thick, curly hair that thins out the volume of it. So your curls hang loser and your hair is much more manageable. You're going to have to go to a pretty nice salon and pay a pretty penny for the initial cut but it's totally worth it. My hair moves when I turn my head but doesn't get dented when I lean on it. While it has been thinned out it is still very thick and has plenty of volume and shape.

It was nice to go to a stylist who knew how to do my hair and was able to show me how to do it at home. Yes, they try to get you to buy all the products, no you don't have to buy them all to have totally awesome hair (I bought about half of what they recommended I buy). I have friends who use the products and didn't get the cut. Either way, these Ouidad folks definitely know curly hair.

I would like to respond to some of the negative press on the Internet about Ouidad:

1. The style gives you "the wet look".

This is totally untrue unless the stylist weighed you down with too much product for the thickness of your hair. I sat under a dryer for 20 minutes to make sure I liked the way my hair looked when it was dry. They used a lot of product but once it was dry it didn't look wet at all and my style lasted for 3 days.

2. You're hair will be butchered with some sections cut down to the scalp and some very long. You will not have any variation in your style because of how it is cut. The hair cut is high maintenance.

The stylist didn't cut any sections of my hair down to the root. She would pull out a section of hair and then cut some bulk out of the middle of it. I have not had any problems when I changed the style of my hair with any thin patches. My stylist said that she has heard of other stylists using the wrong type of scissors or doing the cut on people who's hair wasn't thick enough. I think the key is researching the stylist before you go in for an appointment.

There were great reviews on the salon on "curly" web sites and blogs. Once I picked the salon, I sat down and talked to the stylist who was going to do my hair before I made the appointment. She showed me before an after pictures of her other clients and reassured me that she knew exactly what she was doing. You do have to go back for maintenance cuts every 4 months or so but I don't think that's excessive. Yes, you will use a lot of product in your hair but if you have naturally curly hair, you're used to this. Every curly girl I know has a ton of hair care products in her bathroom. Pick and choose which, if any, of their products you like and stick with any others that you've had success with. This is not an all or nothing thing.

3. The Ouidad cut is for white people and will not look good in your hair. You will probably have to see a white stylist who doesn't know how to do black hair.

The Ouidad cut is for people with thick hair. People of all races can get this cut. Depending on where you live, your stylist might be white (mine was) but that doesn't mean she doesn't know how to handle black hair. Don't be afraid to ask a salon if they have a stylist who can do black hair. You don't have to go to a black hair salon to find someone to do your hair.

Personally, there are no black hair salons in the Syracuse area that specialize in natural hair. Every time I have gone they have encouraged me to go back to relaxing my hair or blow drying it straight. I generally see a stylist that knows how to do black hair at a salon that is not a "black" salon. I always call ahead to see if they have someone who can do my hair before I make an appointment. It seems like this is less of a problem in major metropolitan areas but, in my experience, relaxers and blow-outs are still the standard in black salons and I never leave them happy.

I read this girl's blog a couple weeks ago about what a great hair cut she got from her new white stylist and I was disgusted with how many people gave her crap for going to a white stylist. The comments ranged from "you are taking business away from black people" to "I would never let a white person touch my hair". It is disappointing that people were more focused on their own bigotry and not on how great this girl's hair looked.

I have had my hair messed up by black stylists in the past and had great hair styles from white stylists. I do not discriminate against either because I have had good and bad from both. Half of the celebrity stylists I see doing black hair are white. I know that it is the training and experience of a stylist, and not his/her race, that determines their ability. I'm just happy that I know this and that I know have an awesome hair cut that I can finally maintain. Let it go people! You want your hair to look as good as people on TV? Find yourself a stylist who knows how to do your hair and go with it. It might be the best decision you ever make (for your hair).

Sunday, October 3, 2010

Stop Lying to Me Internet

You search the Internet for a dog trainer, you fill out a job application online, you send an e-mail to someone looking for people interested in a running partner in your area but no one responds. That little "Contact Us" link in the corner has sucked you in. It has lead you to believe that these are Internet savvy people who regularly check their inbox or at least who have an auto-reply system that will send you some depressing form letter. I am so sick of these sites but I continue to hit the link or send and e-mail to the person I'm supposed to e-mail to get information.

Here' s a tip: If you have not intention of ever responding to anyone who e-mails you, don't set up a website. It pisses people off. What horrible, false advertising for your business. Hundreds, if not thousands, of dollars have stayed in my pocket for services that I was ready to pay for from companies that never responded. I hope that they all are bankrupt now.

I am happy that I am married and that I have a job. I have heard some horror stories from my friends about the hundreds of job applications they have submitted without a response or the 6 months on E-Harmony without a single glimmer of a date. Those E-Harmony and commercials make me so angry because those people are totally the exception and not the rule. It's like advertising that you have a great chance of winning the lottery and should totally buy a ticket! Grr....