I don’t have a problem with money. I wish I had more but, as long as I have enough, I’m okay. I used to be obsessed with wealth. I wanted to be rich, and live in a loft in NYC, and have an entourage. I was going to write screenplays (sounds like Carrie Bradshaw, right, but it was years before Sex and the City). Then, I had a child and realized that I had to work and get paid. Magic thinking and desire was not going to put food on the table. So, I went from one job to another, trying to make ends meet, until Chuckles was out on her own. At that point, I decided a career with a future was the answer to my financial security issues. I went to work with a company as a trainee with the idea that I would work for thirty years and retire just in time to collect social security. Things didn’t end up the way I planned. I still work in the same field, at another company, but I don’t strive to get ahead anymore because it sucked. Buying things I didn’t need or really want, and being in debt sucked. Making my career and the accumulation of wealth the center of my attention sucked. I feel a lot better now that I live within my means. I really don’t understand all those people that have children they can’t support without government assistance. I really don’t understand greedy people. As long as you can pay your bills every month and have a little left over for perks, like vacations and outings with your friends and family, that should be enough. What are you going to do with piles of money? You can’t take it with you when you die. You can’t eat it if you get hungry. What I think is evil about money is the fact that we are taxed excessively. If I took home every penny that I was paid to work, I would have 33% more than what I have now. Between taxes, insurance and retirement investment, I lose one-third of every dollar. That’s evil.
I was inspired to tackle this topic after a series of events I witnessed over a 36-hour period last week. I brainstormed a little bit and my thoughts went in so many different directions that I wasn’t sure if I was going to be able to pull together a coherent blog post.
My main point can be summed up as: Your income is a direct reflection of what you feel you are worth.
Last week, I witnessed some situations where the aforementioned point (a belief that began for me in 2006) was perfectly illustrated. Usually, I would be happy to see examples of when I was correct about something. That whole See-This-Is-Exactly-What-I-Was-Talking-About thing. Instead of triumph this time, I felt sad. So many people don’t realize that they get what they believe they are worth, and their lives play out without knowing the truth – the solution to all of their problems.
I don’t know who puts out this campaign of misinformation. I am not convinced that it’s even deliberate. Maybe, a long time ago in a land far, far away, the truth was common knowledge. Over time, people lost their way. Perhaps, they were bombarded with messages that they were just lowly peasants, and began to believe it was their destiny to live in poverty forever. Or it became easier to depend on other people (whether it the government, or family, or someone else) to provide money. I don’t know what happened.
Money is most certainly NOT the root of all evil. To say that financially successful people are just greedy, or even evil, is plain incorrect. Now, I know what you’re thinking – “Chuckles must have grown up with a silver spoon in her mouth and has never faced any sort of financial hardship in her life and that’s why she thinks anyone can be rich because she already is.” That’s not my situation at all. Ask Mo.
I grew up being told all the usual lines: “money doesn’t grow on trees”, “money is the root of all evil”, and (my personal favorite) “shit in one hand, wish in the other, and see which one fills up first”. Money was relatively scarce in my household, but I had everything I needed (medical care, food, clothing, etc). I grew up believing that people who had money were lucky and that God must have smiled on them for whatever unfair reason. My feelings about money began to change in 2006 after events in my life forced a change in my perspective. I had a family member lose everything, I was humbled by legal troubles, I was ripped off and lost my life savings. I met some people that year that had overcome hardships and succeeded. I met some rich people that were selfless enough to help me in my time of struggle. I realized that wanting to be rich was not selfish. Money solves problems, and I pride myself on being a problem solver.
The world runs on money – it’s a fact that will never change. To solve life’s problems, you need money.
Last week, a friend of mine who had never been to the dentist (except for one or two exams as a child), found out that their teeth were in such a state that it would cost over $7000 to fix. Six tooth extractions were recommended as absolutely necessary before a routine cleaning could even be considered. How did this happen? Routine dental care was not deemed important by his parents who (on a struggling budget) could not afford the “extras” of dental insurance or routine cleanings. After growing up in a household like that, of course it wasn’t important to my friend working in the generally low-paying restaurant industry to pay for the “extras” of not only dental, but medical insurance as well. After he told me his situation, I found myself thinking about it again while I stood in the checkout line at my local discount grocery store. I was buying dog shampoo and an energy drink. All the lines were long. I waited behind a woman with three small children. I smiled at her son while she put her grocery items on the belt and tried to control her other two children. I noticed that her items were of low nutritional value, but were on sale. I heard her tell her children “no” when they asked for a toy from the checkout shelves. The woman looked stressed and I gauged that she was maybe 23 or 24 years old. Wow, I thought. I can’t imagine having three children at 23. My thoughts immediately ran to: See, that’s why I chose not to have children, she shouldn’t have either if she can’t provide for them (by providing more expensive, nutrient-rich foods). BUT, THAT DOESN’T SOLVE THE CURRENT PROBLEM. The current problem isn’t that she had kids – that problem can’t be solved now. The problem of her low wages can be solved. She could attempt to find a job with higher wages, so she can support her children on more than a welfare/poverty-level income.
There are situations when the problem of low income can be difficult to solve. One must find the solution. In 2003, I was living in a 3 bedroom shack in the middle of rural Florida, with no job and no plan. In fact, I lived right here (yes, those are dirt roads):
I didn’t see a quick way out. Trust me, I needed to leave quickly. I wanted to leave so badly, but I had no idea what I was going to do. So, I joined the Army. They clothed me, fed me, trained me in a lucrative skill, and paid for my bachelor’s degree. It seems extreme to some people, but it worked for me. I did what I needed to do to get money, so I could solve the problem of taking care of myself.
When a person begins to believe that they are valuable, they will begin to take better care of themselves. They’ll eat better foods, they’ll exercise, and they’ll want things that are of more value (a better place to live, a dependable car). When that person starts to project the belief that they are valuable outwards, and other people will start to see that person as a step above average, that person won’t have as much trouble finding work. They’ll choose to take more challenging work/ training and the monetary rewards always follow.
I can’t imagine living in the status quo. I can’t imagine living with just enough to get by, barely making ends meet. Sometimes, I think that because I can’t imagine it, it doesn’t happen. If I lived life as if I was worthless, and I projected worthlessness, and I didn’t aim towards my goals (sometimes taking two steps forward and one step back), my life would be no different from my friend with bad teeth, and the woman with three kids in the discount grocer.
We tell ourselves that money is the root of all evil, because it’s the easy way out. If we think that money’s evil, then we don’t have to challenge ourselves to get it. It’s too hard, so we scrape by. But isn’t scraping by just as bad? Getting six teeth extracted sounds painful. Telling your children you can’t provide the basics sounds painful. Pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and blazing a trail to financial freedom doesn’t sound so bad, when compared to the alternative.
Have you ever thought you understood an issue, but then suddenly realized how completely ignorant you may be? I hate when that happens. You know your stance, and then something significant happens…and it’s turtles all the way down…
I paid quite a bit of attention to the Trayvon Martin case. The incident happened in central Florida, where I grew up and still have family. As I’m scrolling through headlines, events in that area always catch my eye. I remember reading and watching the news as the story broke and thinking, “Why is this such a big deal?” Does the president really need to say things like, “If I had a son, he’d look like Trayvon?” Can’t the president let the case be tried by local government like every other case instead of playing on the public’s emotions and injecting race into the situation where it might not be relevant? I remember seeing pictures of George Zimmerman’s injuries and wondering why the media was ignoring them. Obviously, Martin must have hit Zimmerman before the shooting. But wait, why was Zimmerman carrying a gun again? The case was a media circus. Bias against Zimmerman ran rampant. At the end of it all, although I did feel that Zimmerman was at least partially responsible for the death of Martin (he did pull the trigger), I felt somewhat relieved that he didn’t get convicted. I wasn’t sure why I felt that way. Maybe it was because I was happy that despite the media’s attempts to swing the case one way or another, the jury was able to hear the truth and determine a verdict. I felt proud that the American justice system was able to run its course despite attempts to hijack it.
Then came the other cases. Michael Brown. Eric Garner. Walter Scott. I read an article or two when I could, noting the value of smart phone cameras, especially in the Garner and Scott cases. I never expected that the next big case would be in my own backyard – Baltimore.
I moved to Baltimore City in late November 2014. I wasn’t sure what to expect because this was my first big city experience. I had always lived in smaller towns until now. Let me just say – Baltimore definitely has some issues, but those issues have not stopped me from falling head over heels in love with this city. I’m not even sure why I like it here so much. I met a guy (a former Floridian like myself) in a bar one night who said it’s Baltimore’s “soul” that we’re so drawn to. I can’t explain exactly what that means, but I do feel it.
I was disappointed, but not surprised when I heard of the death of Freddie Gray. I knew about it, but hadn’t given it much of my attention until the protests ramped up. My boyfriend and I were out of town over the weekend of 25-26 April 2015, but returned home to chaos on Monday night (27 April). I had read in the news on my way home that Governor Hogan had declared a state of emergency and activated the National Guard. “Wow”, I thought, “this situation must be really bad!” As we drove home up I-95 and caught a glimpse of the city, we could see smoke hanging in the air. A sense of fear crept in. Pulling into our lesser known neighborhood of Brewer’s Hill, we could hear almost constant sirens. After we hurried into the house and settled in for the night, I couldn’t sleep. My mind kept racing – “What’s going to happen next?” “How long is this going to last?” “Will the unrest make it to Brewer’s Hill? “What was that noise?!” Needless to say, I didn’t get much sleep.
The next day, as I was loading up my car to go to work, I noticed how strange the neighborhood felt. Nothing was damaged that I could see, but the air felt different. I saw the usual neighbors walking their dogs, but noticed that they glanced around more than usual. They were scared too. When I got to work, I was on a mission. I wanted to read every piece of information I could find about Freddie Gray. I started with the Baltimore Sun, Justin Fenton’s Twitter feed, press releases from Mayor Stephanie Rawlings-Blake – I couldn’t get enough. How does someone break their spine in the back of a prisoner transport van (I refuse to call it a paddy wagon)? What really happened to Freddie Gray? Will anyone ever know the truth?
When I watched the news videos from the Monday night riots, it broke my heart. As if all the vacants on North Avenue weren’t enough, now people have to burn down what’s left. I felt sad, angry, and confused. I absolutely could not watch the national news media’s coverage of the “Baltimore Uprising.” It was so annoying. They have no idea what Baltimore is like and I could hear the bias, fear-mongering, and sensationalizing in everything they said.
And then there was Facebook. I was surprised to see what some people were posting about the situation in Baltimore. One of my friends, who I always thought was very professional and usually reserved comments on controversial issues, posted Freddie Gray’s alleged “rap sheet” – his previous arrest history. It was quite long. But…..it made me pause. Why does that even matter in this case? If Freddie Gray had been arrested over 20 times before, does that mean he deserves to die? Is his life less valuable than mine or my Facebook friend’s? I could sense subtle tinges of racism that I had never previously noticed – or maybe I never really cared to notice.
Some media outlets began peddling a story that Freddie Gray had spinal surgery 10 days before his arrest to correct injuries from a car accident. Those stories were debunked so solidly that I began to wonder why they were published in the first place. Would news outlets publish stories that they hadn’t bothered to fact check? Why were they so quick to push those stories out when they knew they might not be true? I began to completely lose faith in all news media – conservative and liberal both. I would not be able to rely on them to tell me what I should think about the case. I must begin to see things for myself. And I did just that…
Later that week, my boyfriend needed to go downtown to see about his voter registration. It hadn’t been processed in months and he needed it for proof of residency for summer term at school. We drove downtown around 4:30pm and I commented on how light the traffic was as we made our way there. When we got there, I realized why. Over a hundred people were gathered in front of City Hall. News trucks with satellite dishes were jam-packed around the block. A line of Baltimore City Police and National Guard stood between City Hall and the gathered group. The crowd was not screaming protests, only listening to various people speak through megaphones airing grievances. I didn’t hear anything that was being said. I was in awe of it all. I had never seen a spectacle like this before. We strolled around the block looking at each news truck and the setup they had. Honestly, I was looking for some famous newscaster. Anderson Cooper, or maybe Geraldo. We didn’t see them. As we walked around, I did notice something I thought was unusual. A few young people walked by me wearing black t-shirts with white lettering that said, “Students for Justice in Palestine.” Really? Is that cause even relevant in this instance? Freddie Gray was possibly killed by police brutality, or at the very least neglect. How does justice in Palestine fit here?
A few days later, my boyfriend and I were driving back from a run we participated in at Frederick, MD. Instead of taking the beltway around the city, I asked my boyfriend if we could cut through the city. He was driving and agreed, but wanted me to navigate. Naturally, I said, “I think we’ll take this shortcut. I’ll show you the way.” I had no intention of taking the shortest route. I wanted to go straight to ground zero – North, Fulton, and Pennsylvania Avenues. It was around 9:30pm and dark. The citywide curfew was due to start at 10pm. As we drove along North Avenue and neared Fulton, John said, “Where the fuck are we going?!” I replied, “Well, I just thought since we were over here already, we should ride by and see what was going on.” He was pissed. “We’re gonna get fucked up or something. Don’t you know how dangerous this is?!” he snapped. I thought about it for a moment as we neared the intersection of North Avenue and Pennsylvania. Would someone really hurt us in front of all these people and news cameras? I wasn’t sure. My boyfriend was visibly scared. I felt bad. Maybe I shouldn’t have led us through the heart of West Baltimore in the middle of such tension right before curfew started. I had to know, though. I had to know what it was like. And…it was a circus. We passed a young, black male wearing a shirt that said, “I am Freddie Gray.” He wore a white mask, like the kind in the movie “The Purge” which reminds me of the masks worn at carnival. It was frightening. So many people walked the streets. I felt energy in the air – the kind that makes your hairs stand up. It seemed like everyone there was waiting to see would happen, but nothing was happening. We made it out of West Baltimore. Again, I couldn’t sleep.
That week, one of my coworkers and I started a discussion about race. I know that was probably inappropriate for the workplace, but we kept it confined to an empty break room or our own cubicles. He is a 25 year old black male from the Bronx. I am a 30 year old white female from rural Florida. I think the conversations were respectful. I told him about a post I saw on a Facebook page created for people who wanted to help clean up West Baltimore post-riot. The post basically said, “Stay out of West Baltimore, white people. We don’t want your help. Don’t come into our neighborhoods with your ‘white savior imperialism.’” My coworker shook his head when I told him about it. “What is that all about?” I asked. “Well…it’s a bit true isn’t it? Shouldn’t we police ourselves?” he asked. “I don’t know what you mean,” I said. He asked me why I was so interested in West Baltimore and why I wanted to help. I hesitated. How should I respond? Whoa. This was deep. Why did I really care so much? I’m still asking myself those questions. In the end, he gave me a book. It was paperback, worn with roughed edges; he said he had it for about 10 years. “Race Matters” by Cornell West. He wanted me to read it, I promised I would. I’ve found it difficult to get through, but I’m managing slowly.
Yesterday, my boyfriend and I were driving back from Druid Hill Park through North Baltimore on our way home to Brewer’s Hill. As we drove along Biddell Street, I cried out, “Holy shit! Look at all these vacants! Does anyone even live here?!” We had passed about 10 blocks of vacant rowhouses before I finally had to say something. All of them were boarded up, some had no roof. We saw a few people on street corners, and a few small kids playing with plastic trucks in front of the vacants. I felt like crying. This is Baltimore. This is the real Baltimore no one sees. There are no news trucks with cameras; no eyewitness reporters. Is there hope for children that grow up in this? Do we (as a society) owe them something?
In the end, the “Baltimore Uprising” has made me re-evaluate some parts of myself and how I feel about the world. For most of my adult life, I grew up thinking that it is poor people’s fault that they are poor. I’ve held on to the core belief that anyone (white, black, Latino, Asian, or other) may come from various socio-economic backgrounds, but all have an equal opportunity to get ahead and become successful – some may just have to work harder in the beginning than others. The situation in Baltimore has made me see: maybe there are some situations that are too difficult for the average person to overcome. Maybe the majority are doomed to continue the cycle of poverty they grew up in. Is that fair? Does everyone in every part of blighted Baltimore have a chance at success? No. The really important question now though is what to do about it. How does this get fixed? Ultimately, Freddie Gray was a victim. He was possibly the victim of police brutality. But he was a victim before that. He was the victim of Baltimore’s poverty. But who is the culprit?