Who is Independence Day For?

As white, middle-class folk usually do, we think that everything is about us. We also forget that everyone else may not live as we do, with all of the rights and priveledges we are accustomed to. It’s so easy to go about our daily lives, gliding from one hour to the next on a cushion of assumed understandings about what life should be like.

We live in a different society now. We cannot go back to the way things were, nor should we want to. We are called to re-examine our normal behaviors, our assumptions, our thoughts, and what lies beneath them. So, in honor of today, July 4th, 2020, our country’s 244th birthday, I ask, who is Independence Day for?

Instead of proffering my opinion on this question, may I offer an excerpt from one of Frederick Douglass’ most famous speeches, “What to the Slave is the Fourth of July.” Mr. Douglass gave this speech on July 5, 1852, to an abolitionist group in Rochester, NY. I found the excerpt at tolerance.org, a website for educators. The entire speech can be read here.

Below the text is a link to a short video in which Mr. Douglass’ descendants recite selected passages from the speech and offer their thoughts on our current situation. I also include several links to my past blog posts on related social issues.

“…Fellow-citizens, pardon me, allow me to ask, why am I called upon to speak here to-day? What have I, or those I represent, to do with your national independence? Are the great principles of political freedom and of natural justice, embodied in that Declaration of Independence, extended to us? and am I, therefore, called upon to bring our humble offering to the national altar, and to confess the benefits and express devout gratitude for the blessings resulting from your independence to us?

Would to God, both for your sakes and ours, that an affirmative answer could be truthfully returned to these questions! …

But such is not the state of the case. I say it with a sad sense of the disparity between us. I am not included within the pale of this glorious anniversary! Your high independence only reveals the immeasurable distance between us. The blessings in which you, this day, rejoice, are not enjoyed in common. The rich inheritance of justice, liberty, prosperity and independence, bequeathed by your fathers, is shared by you, not by me. The sunlight that brought light and healing to you, has brought stripes and death to me. This Fourth [of] July is yours, not mine.

Continue reading “Who is Independence Day For?”

Take Action. Speak Up.

Sculpture by Tara Springer, Graduate sculpture student at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University, Image curtesy of
Sculpture by Tara Springer, Graduate sculpture student at the Tyler School of Art, Temple University. Image courtesy of Streets Dept

 

Writer’s Note: Before we can go about the business of social change in our country, we need to know and accept fully that our American society is based on racism.  Racist attitudes and actions by white people against Black, Brown, Asian and Indigenous people continue to be systemic in every social structure, and every organization, governmental or private. Racism is present in the full light of day in the actions of many white citizens of our country. And, as much as we hate to admit it, racist thoughts lurk in the minds of the majority of every other white person in America, including myself. Although we know how difficult it will be to actively combat this racism, especially in our own minds, we must be diligent and vigilant. Our efforts will not be perfect. I/we will make mistakes. But, we must learn from those mistakes and then move forward again in faith that our efforts are just.

Race Relations and the Color Divide

About a decade ago, I began thinking of race from the point of view of an artist. Here’s why. Artists often compose with color in their work. They understand that white is a color just like every other color including every version of black, red, brown and yellow. As artists apply it, white isn’t invisible, it’s not a lack of color, it’s not a section in a composition that is unnoticed or forgotten. If we extend this thought, we also notice that, although white is not the same as the other colors, it is not any more or less valued in a composition. It shares in the development of the artwork, sometimes moving to the fore, sometimes into the background, sometimes absent altogether. “White” is not one color, it has many shades: ecru, off white, eggshell, bright white, etc.

Let’s agree that using white is a choice that an artist makes when, in their mind, the composition requires it. White, like any other color, can be symbolic in the hands of an artist. Like any other color, it can be used to convey meaning. But, using white in a composition can also be devoid of symbolism; political or religious opinions, or emotion. Because I’m an artist, I know that sometimes, the choice of using a color in a composition is completely devoid of any extraneous thought altogether. It may simply be a reaction to what I see in front of me or in my mind as being appropriate.

From those thoughts, I arrived at the phrase to describe a human as being, “a color other than white” instead of a “person of color.”

Thoughts of “the Other”

The reason that I have an issue with the phrase, “a person of color,” is that the phrase still reeks of division and the comparisons that have led us to the untenable situation we find ourselves in now. The phrase still perpetuates the concept of the “other.” Looking at and thinking of someone as the “other” is the slippery slope that allows us to add additional attributes to that “other.” Attributes such as, “they aren’t as smart as me, they aren’t as honest as me, they aren’t as successful as me, they don’t deserve to have what I have, I don’t need to respect them as much (or at all!) as people who look like me, they don’t share my values”, and on and on…. All of these false attributes that we stick on the “other” inevitably lead to, “I’m afraid of them.” Thinking of someone as the “other” also allows us to think of our fellow humans as beneath us. It allows us to devalue them. It allows us to not bother learning about them. Worst of all, it gives us an excuse to disrespect them.

A Chance for Change

The point of this phrase, “a color other than white” is to understand that although we may seem different in many ways from someone else, deep down we are all the same. I don’t mean just in our bodily structure and functions. I mean that we all need and want the same things. We want ourselves and our families to be safe which includes living in a safe place and the freedom to move about without fear. We want to feel happy most of the time. This includes being well-fed and in good health. We want the best for those around us including the best education possible and engaging, well-paid work that leaves us feeling good about our contributions.

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The Wisdom of Seasoned Entrepreneurs

Jeff Haden’s recent article for Inc. magazine made me feel really happy for two reasons.

Meeting to scale up a business

1. He reassured me that I am in the right place at the right time.

2. He justified my opinion about what’s wrong with Facebook.

The article, “A Study of 2.7 Million Startups Found the Ideal Age to Start a Business (and It’s Much Older Than You Think),” expands on the conclusions of the study conducted by the Census Bureau and some folks at MIT. Here’s a demonstrative stat:

“A 60-year-old startup founder is 3 times as likely to found a successful startup as a 30-year-old startup founder–and is 1.7 times as likely to found a startup that winds up in the top 0.1 percent of all companies.”

Does this mean that 30 year olds shouldn’t bother starting companies? Of course not. I started my first successful business when I was in my 30’s while raising two kids. It does mean that as you age, if you pay attention, you pick up massive amounts of experience that can then lead to habits, thought processes, and abilities that will give you the wisdom to have a better chance at success. Older people have usually been through tough times, setbacks and situations where they had to ask for help. Having those experiences will support that great idea that you have. I’m scaling up my third successful business now in my 50’s, secure in my direction and my ability to execute because of what I’ve endured in the past and the knowledge that I have gathered.

Which leads me to the second, related reason why Haden’s article made me happy. The study he highlights has reassured me that my opinion about Facebook is justified. (We can view Facebook’s ongoing difficulties as a case study about the importance of developing wisdom as an entrepreneur.) The issues that Mr. Zuckerberg and his associates have created for themselves (and the rest of the world’s population that is, or will be, connected to the internet) are mostly due to lack of humility, the inability to foresee outcomes and the lack of understanding of human needs and nature. I am absolutely sure that, early in the formation of the company, they could have found numerous folks over 50 with enough experience to help them create a platform that is not so misguided, blatantly manipulative, and a haven for the worst behaviors of human kind. Just had to put that out there.

Please take a few minutes to read Jeff Haden’s article no matter what age you are. It’s short, and contains a lot of useful info. If you’re over 50, it will make you feel really good about starting your business!

The Minimum Wage of $15: A Case Study

 

Industrial sewing machine used in manufacturingThe Minimum Wage Debate

The CT State Legislature finally passed a $15/hour wage after a contentious debate as reported in this article by and of the CT Mirror. The debate was contentious, of course, because of the sharp divide between Republicans who put the concerns of business owners at the top of their agendas and majority Democrats who favor the cause of workers. This debate is essentially about what constitutes a “fair Wage” in CT.

A Case Study

I have closely followed this process because of my commitment to basing the pay of the contractors who work with me at a minimum of $15/hr. I have made this commitment because my business, United Sewing and Design, is a social enterprise which focuses on workers first in addition to customers. However, like any business owner, I have to balance the needs of my workers against the opportunities to earn income. l won’t do anyone any good if I don’t stay in business. For example: as a manufacturer, the work we do is often for resale. Therefore, simply put, there is a limit to what our customers can afford to pay us. Often, our customers allow the retail market in which they compete to determine their price and thus, the amount they can afford to pay for manufacturing. This is not anything new.

So far, in order to reach and sustain my pledge to pay a $15 an hour wage, I have had to turn down work from several customers because the retail price of the item being discussed was not high enough. This hasn’t negatively affected our bottom line up to this point. Additionally, I have begun to actively seek out work that sells at a higher retail price and am investigating manufacturing fields where retail price is not a factor. These haven’t been difficult decisions, but I’m making them during the formative stages of business development while I am still scaling up.

Many business leaders are not happy about the gradual increase to a $15 wage. They have legitimate concerns, which I share. But, I feel that the $15/hr wage which approaches a fair wage, is a necessary start to strengthening our entire state economy.

To frame this debate and the action by our legislature, pick up this book by Zeynep Ton, read this about what counts as the “middle class” in CT according to the Census Bureau, and this about what supposedly is a “living wage” in Hartford County. Hint: it will take until fall of 2021 to reach a so called “living wage.” Also, $15 an hour will in no way approach a middle class income in CT.

 

 

 

White Colonialism to the Rescue?

As a representative of white, middle class Liberalism in the United States, I have to come to terms with the fact that I have been raised in a certain way which affects my behavior. More specifically, I am a WASP, White, Anglo-Saxon, Protestant. I am not from Connecticut. I was born and raised in Virginia up to age 21 and then chose to live in the northern reaches of our country; for the last 20 years in Connecticut. Having lived on both sides of the Mason Dixon Line, I feel that I am constantly balancing the viewpoints of a southerner and a New Englander on a false assumption.

The assumption is that white, middle class, well educated folks know what’s best for our fellow citizens who happen to be brown or black. I maintain that the attitudes and thoughts which engendered the white colonialism that founded our country, that subjugated and enslaved humans from indigenous societies here and on the African continent, still exist, 200 years later, in the heads of well meaning, white, liberal, middle class business owners in our country today.

Coming to terms with my heritage and upbringing has caused me to examine my thought processes, conclusions and behaviors, as well as those of the people around me, in great detail, especially since President Obama was elected in 2008. (I hope that many of you are also engaging in the same examinations.) Since his election, many facets of race relations in our Country have become the point of much thought and action by white folks who want to make a difference. To take the best course of action to grow my social enterprise, I am thinking about the following questions during the process of scaling up.

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Why Successful Apparel Manufacturers Should Create “Good Jobs”

The Good Jobs Strategy by Zeynep TonA few years ago, I wrote a blog post on the concepts in Zeynep Ton’s insightful book, “The Good Jobs Strategy: How the Smartest Companies Invest in Employees to Lower Costs and Boost Profits.” Here’s an updated version with links to more meaty info.

Frequently, the expenses associated with hiring in the United States (a fair wage, predictable hours, a respectful workplace) are given as reasons not to attempt apparel manufacturing in the U.S. How can we change this mentality?

Read, internalize, then apply “The Good Jobs Strategy.” Ton’s research and conclusions are sound.

In “The Good Jobs Strategy”, Ton details methods for becoming a company that uses a “virtuous” cycle instead of a “vicious” cycle as the heart of a business. As a graduate of the Sloan School of Management, and an adjunct associate professor in the Operations Management group at MIT Sloan School of Management, Ton researched companies with successful methods honed to perfection such as Trader Joe’s, and Costco.

She breaks down the virtuous strategy into four “operational choices,” proving that these “allow (industries) to deliver value to employees, customers and investors all at the same time.” Although her book primarily uses retail businesses as examples, these methods could easily be adapted to manufacturing. They are:

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Proof that Artists Can be Savvy Business People

As fashion designers, fabric is one of the mediums that Allie and I use to express our artistic vision.

Allie McConnell, the designer behind Manuma, and I got together earlier this week to view the “Abductions and Reconstructions” exhibit at Real Art Ways in Hartford. Curated by David Borawski, this show includes works by Meg Hitchcock, Ryan Sarah Murphy, and Liz Sweibel. All three of these artists work with re-purposed materials as do Allie and I. After the show, Allie and I sat down to trade insights on Facebook Live about the social impact of using re-purposed materials, the differences between art and craft, good workmanship vs intentionally being messy, and other topics between the worlds of art and commerce. Be sure to visit the artist’s websites while we discuss their boundary bending art work. Here’s the link to our discussion. I write frequently on the power and utility available in the intersection between art and business. For more, check out this blog post.

 

Why Entrepreneurs Should Unleash Their Inner Artist

Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash
Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash

Before we even start this bog post, let’s banish that voice in your head that tells you you’re no good at art.  I will remind you that you were good at making art when you were little therefore, you still are. Your artistic abilities are still there. Let’s quickly get past this negative assumption by considering what some may deem one of the least “artistic” lines of work–an accountant. As business owners, we rely on accountants to use a rigid set of rules and expectations to monitor, enumerate, and quantify. Creativity with the numbers is discouraged as is experimenting. But, all accountants will eventually run across an anomaly that must be explained then rectified. How could they deal with that? They might apply the same thinking processes that artists, including me, use to create a drawing, a piece of pottery, a weaving or sculpture, the thinking processes that you can easily apply to building then growing your business and effectively solving snags along the way that prevent success. Let’s discover how!

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An Entrepreneur’s Advice for Solving Work/Life Imbalance

Work Life Balance for Entrepreneurs
Photo by Robert Lukeman on Unsplash

What if you, an entrepreneur, experience a profound change, such as a death, in your personal world that drives your life off the road into a ditch? You know you need to move your business forward but it’s difficult to get out of bed in the morning and impossible to string a few meaningful sentences together. You feel exhausted from grief or worry. You’re afraid to admit that you can’t “perform” when your business needs you. You feel ineffectual, weak and even ashamed.

How do you get back on track while giving yourself essential space to process your feelings?

Having experienced this situation myself during the last three months due to the death of my beloved life partner, I’ve decided to share the results of my search for a path back to productivity in the belief that you will undoubtedly need this advice in the future. While I am obviously not a therapist, I’ve included some observations of my own experience that have led me back to the right path to begin moving forward.

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Have You Thought About Racism and Your Business?

bridges are built with respect
bridges are built with respect Photo by Tim Swaan on Unsplash

I was planning to write a post about the fast vs slow fashion this week, but decided instead to write on what has been on my mind for months now. I’m in a “put up or shut up” mind set after re-reading my LinkedIn profile the first sentence of which reads

“Business is about putting our beliefs to work. It’s not enough to talk about what you think is wrong; you must apply what you know best to create change.”

Also, I ran across Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail,” in which he chastises white moderates:

“I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in the stride toward freedom is … the white moderate who is more devoted to order than to justice…..Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.”

I’ve been delaying writing about the place of racism in business for two reasons, neither of which I could be faulted for. First, obviously, racism is a controversial topic. As a small business owner, honestly expressing my opinion about it could potentially damage my business in multiple ways not the least of which is alienating potential customers. As you undoubtedly realize, small business owners have a very close relationship with the brand image of their businesses.  It is therefore, fair to assume that the business would suffer if the views of the owner are seen as misguided.

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