Seat at the Table: When A Workplace Conference Room Symbolizes Workplace Hierarchy

This article is about the observed workplace and communication dynamics at an American pharmaceutical research company. To protect the identity of the employees, the company is not named and only first names are used, in some instances pseudonyms.



It’s 1998, two years before the start of a new century. William Jefferson Clinton is mid-way through his second term as the President of the United States while in the midst of a scandal involving his sexual relationship with White House intern, Monica Lewinsky. Famine is decimating hundreds and thousands of people in South Sudan. Legendary singer Frank Sinatra, feminist activist Bella Abzug, American conservative and politician Barry Goldwater, famed film director Akira Kurosawa, American assassin James Earl Ray and Olympic track and field athlete Florence Griffith Joyner have died. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved Viagra, the first oral medication for the treatment of male impotence. Celine Dion,  Green Day, Lauryn Hill, Law & Order, Teletubbies, ‘Saving Private Ryan’ and the ‘Titanic’ were dominating the American entertainment and pop culture scene. James Byrd, Jr. an African-American, was killed in Jasper, Texas by white supremacists who dragged him to death behind a pick-up truck. Matthew Shepard, a gay college student, was beaten, tortured and left to die on a fence in Laramie, Wyoming. The Euro (single monetary unit/currency for most of Europe) made its entrance. France won the World Cup. The Winter Olympics were held in Nagano, Japan. The search engine, Google was founded.

Also in 1998 and of little seismic note, was a mid-size research company located in the Mid-Atlantic region of the United States, attempting to find its business-footing again.



The cultural scene (workplace observation) is a pharmaceutical  research company whose purpose is to help clients conduct pharmaceutical research studies on new and generic versions of drugs through the recruitment of study participants.  Through this research, the company analyzes and reports on the effectiveness, or lack thereof, of the client’s “new” drug(s). The company has been in business since 1972 and has gone through major staffing changes since the mid-1990s. This company was a major player in the national pharmaceutical research industry until 1995, when the FDA fined the company for minor paperwork violations (e.g., sloppy filing and inconsistent “paperwork” procedures).  This violation, nevertheless, tagged the company with the reputation of data falsification regarding pharmaceutical research,  resulting in the company’s economic free-fall. Within three months of the FDA fine, the company laid off hundreds of employees and reduced many others from full-time to part-time staff. Entire divisions such as the laboratories and marketing departments were either diluted or decimated in order to cut costs. By 1998 (the time period of this workplace observation), the company’s core staff consisted of 13 middle to upper management positions with a general staff of 65 part-time employees, ranging in positions from janitorial to clinical operations. The long-term psychological noise of financial problems and downsizing, along with the current problems of insecurity and fear, have combined to produce a potentially serious problem among the staff.



The setting for this workplace observation is the twice-a-week staff meeting between the major employees at a pharmaceutical research company. This scene was selected for the following reasons: 1) the ability to observe constant interaction between the staff members in the same or similar setting on a regular basis; 2) the ability to observe how the participants have made adjustments  to their communication habits and the constant hierarchical changes due to the company’s upheaval; 3) many of the staff members have been employed by the company at least six years and 4) the new recruiting and screening manager, who is one of the core staff members, though only has been working with the company for less than a year. Accordingly, the new employee is able to provide a different observational aspect, given she is still as an “outsider” because of her relative “newness” to the company.


The following is a flowchart of each participant’s position in the company’s hierarchical chain of command along with their work ‘characteristics.’

Company organizational chart (Design/Image: Angelia Levy, October 2018)

Employee’s ‘Work’ Characteristics:

• Mike He’s from the United Kingdom and is primarily based in the Maryland area; Has a medical background that is more scientific than pharmaceutical in nature (e.g., experimenting with lab animals regarding medical research); Joined the company in summer of 1996; Is very interested in turning the company around and at times sees himself as the only person who can accomplish this feat because he wasn’t associated with the company during the FDA incident; Is very concerned about making money and is willing to spend for the best, to a certain extent; Can be easy-going, but has volatile temper that has upset several staff members; Generally is open to new ideas; Travels a lot to market the company to new clients.

• Barbara is a physician who reviews all the study-related paperwork to ensure that the medical records are organized; Rarely shows up for staff meetings; Barely interacts nor speaks with the rest of the staff except for Rachel and Susan;  Usually stops by after business hours to do her work.

• Bruce has also been with the company for a number of years (has the second-longest tenure); Not the stereotypical numbers man; He keeps to himself, mainly because, like Marie, he doesn’t interact with the rest of the staff on a regular basis; Usually remains in his office from 9-5 and leaves at the end of the day, having spoken with few people; Would give you the impression that he is very impersonal; however, he is a friendly and helpful individual.

• Chris joined the company three months ago; Seems interested in implementing new financial and management policy changes, but doesn’t like to rock the boat; Very agreeable, doesn’t like conflict; Always upbeat, at times viewed as being overly upbeat;  Some staff members see him as a ‘don’t bring him no bad news’ type.

• Dawn has been with the company for over eight years; Her position is administrative in that she is responsible for handling all research study reports; Is considered by most staff members to be pretty relaxed and easy­-going; Generally, doesn’t have a bad word to say about anyone; Tendency to get behind in her work because she doesn’t inform others that she needs help; Not very good at handling management concerns; Other staff members are bothered that she doesn’t follow up on problems that her part-time underlings cause other staff members.

• Howard is very dedicated to his job and wants to make sure that he is doing everything right, which has led to his tendency to seek reassurance about what he is supposed to do; Isn’t viewed highly by the staff because of his tendency to loudly clear his throat of excessive saliva and his seeming inability to do his job without triple-checking with others.

• Jaimie works under Chris and handles all the processing and mailing out of payments; Doesn’t feel comfortable attending the staff meetings because of her non-pharmaceutical background; Normally she is very outgoing and opinionated.

• Joyce is responsible for copying and distributing all research documents. Seems very concerned about maintaining her position within the company; Doesn’t voice her opinion much; Doesn’t like to call attention to herself.

• Kathy is still trying to feel out her place in the company. She doesn’t have an immediate supervisor and isn’t sure who she is supposed to report to; Complains that she is left out of the loop and that no one informs her about what is going on with current studies.

• Marie is the longest-tenured employee and the sole survivor of the pre-FDA era at the company; Has a medical degree (M.D.) and a Ph.D., credentials which some staff find to be intimidating; She is self-assured, yet is a relaxed individual (once you get to know her) who cares that the company’s pharmaceutical research studies run smoothly.

• Nicole is the newest member of the company. Her background is in retail and market research; concerned about how receptive the staff (especially her director, Rachel) will be to changes she wants to make in how the company recruits and screens its study participants.

• Rachel is viewed as a very aggressive individual who gets things done and isn’t afraid of confrontation; Doesn’t like being inconvenienced by others and becomes irritated when she perceives others not working as hard as she does; Responsible for the clinic staff- the largest department in the company; Appears to be very aware of what is going on in her department and knows what she has to do to alleviate problems.

• Susan is the company’s spokesperson and point-of-contact when Mike isn’t available;. Is responsible for notifying the rest of the staff members regarding the status of potential, current, and future research studies; Tries to keep the staff in a good mood; Acts kind of flighty, as if she’s disorganized, but is practically always aware of what is going on throughout the company; She is the one who normally leads the staff meetings when Mike isn’t available.


The main employees of this cultural scene are Marie (Director of Quality Assurance, who has been employed by the company for over 15 years) and Nicole (Manager of Recruiting and Screening, employed by the same company for eight months). The following is a breakdown of each employee’s strengths, limitations, and credibility involving the cultural scene:

Chart: Interviewees’ Participation Value to the Work Observation (Design/Image: Angelia Levy)

Each of the employee’s play an important role in the twice-weekly staff meetings. Marie provides the other staff members with a “face of continuity”, reminding them of where the company has been. Nicole is a sign that the company is back on the right track because of its financial ability to hire new full-time staff members.

The differences that Marie and Nicole represent to the company can be seen in their communication styles and roles. An example of their differences is through their verbal behavior, which is connected to their position in the workplace/cultural scene. Marie’s technical background and experience with the company’s turmoil has affected her verbal behavior. Her verbal behavior is a sign of her role in the cultural scene as the company historian. Whenever she is asked her opinion by Mike, the company president, regarding the company’s ability to conduct certain pharmaceutical research studies, Marie normally answers using fillers such as “well” or a combination of fillers and qualifiers such as “Well, I think that ….” as if she doesn’t want to suggest anything that may place the company into a tailspin they’re still recovering from.

Furthermore, anytime Mike questions the company’s past history (e.g., its research performance, marketing history, profitability), Marie is expected to reply due to her lengthy tenure with the company – whether or not she has the knowledge and/or experience to reply. On the other hand, Nicole’s verbal language is similar to Marie’s by her use of disclaimers before being asked to comment, such as “Well, I haven’t been here long as the rest of you have so…..” or making use of a general qualifier with a disclaimer by leading off with “I don’t have you guys work background, but I think ….” as an example.  Nicole’s role as a new employee (participant), however, allows her to pick and choose when she feels the need to use disclaimers, which is normally when she is asked about “pharmaceutical things.” When she is asked a out subjects that are within her area of expertise (e.g., marketing materials that can be distributed to potential clients), she does not make use of qualifiers, possibly because she is discussing non­-pharmaceutical issues.



The staff meetings are held twice a week at 11 a.m. on Tuesdays and Fridays. The meetings last approximately one-hour and are held in a mid-size conference room that is normally used for client visits. The meetings are also held in this room because it is set up with an intercom/speaker phone (see example) in which Mike is able to “attend” the staff meetings when he’s out of town. Note: In the 1990s video conferencing technology via commercial use (let alone personal) was still fledgling, hence not widely available as it is today.

The room is set up like most conference rooms: cream-colored walls, light-beige wooden table forest-green cushioned roller chairs, dry-erase marker board, brown cabinet stacked with all the non-alcoholic liquid amenities for thirsty clients. Additionally, there is a black malleable sofa against the wall if you get tired of sitting at a conference table. Unfortunately, the conference table is oval-shaped and can not seat more than nine people comfortably, which results in some staff members sitting at the table and some sitting on the couch when a staff meeting is in session. This situation has affected the ability of some participants to be heard clearly by others because part of the staff is sitting two to five feet from the conference table.  Furthermore, it makes those participants who are forced to sit on the sofa to feel isolated from the staff members who are able to sit at the table (mainly because they arrived early for the meeting).

The conference table has inadvertently become a status symbol for the participants where certain staff members are expected to sit at the table (Susan, Rachel, Marie) because of the nature of their constant interaction with Mike. They are the dominant speakers at the staff meetings due to their positions in the company. The physical setting has also been an excuse for some staff members to withdraw from or remain uninvolved in the meetings. At times, staff members will purposely seat themselves on the sofa when there are seats available at the conference table. Simply put, the physical setting for these staff meetings is detrimental to the communication process because it creates a kind of psychological “noise” (Drs. Claude Shannon and Warren Weaver‘s Shannon-Weaver Model of Communication) that causes staff members to not be mentally in attendance at the staff meetings due to seating arrangements.


Intlculturalmindnbody Chart by Yoko Hisano

Each meeting starts out with Susan bringing the meeting to order either by announcing that Mike is available to commence via intercom or she just simply starts reading from the timeline agenda. The timeline is a listing of the status of past, current, and potential studies. The staff meeting procedure is that Susan reads off the names of the studies and study numbers then waits for the appropriate party to speak regarding the status of the study. For example, if the status of study is in the recruiting phase, Nicole reports on the process. If the study is in the statistical analysis phase, either Bruce or Marie comments on the status of their work. Once commentary by person X on study Y has tapered off, Susan then goes to the next study.  This procedure is repeated until each study listed on the timeline has been discussed . The communication process of the staff meetings are affected by the following circumstances:

  1. Seating arrangements
  2. Presence of the company president
  3. How ‘well’ work went the day before the meeting
  4. Staff seniority

1. Seating Arrangements

To reiterate, seating arrangements play an important role in the communication process between staff members. The ‘seating arrangements’ context makes it easier for some staff members to distance themselves, have limited or no involvement with the ‘cultural scene’ of the staff meeting. This results in staff members having to shift their body to make eye contact with someone who isn’t sitting at the table. When directing a question at a staff member not seated at the table, the staff member precedes the question by calling out the staff member’s name in the form of a question. If Rachel had a question for Joyce, she would say “Joyce?”, for example before asking the question- as if she wasn’t sure if Joyce had been paying attention. The impression is that those who sit at the table are more attentive and involved in the meeting procedures verses those on the peripheral (couch seats) who are seen as “just showing up because they’re expected to” (to quote a staff member).

2. Presence of the Company President

Mike is not normally in attendance because he is based in Baltimore. In order for him to remain involved in the staff meetings, the meetings are conducted with him via intercom in the conference room. Because Mike isn’t physically present, he’s not aware of who’s in attendance. Similar to the seating arrangements context, Mike precedes each question with a question of who is and isn’t in attendance. This occurs a few times throughout the meeting until he finds out if a particular person has finally arrived for the meeting and/or to see if they are still there. This is usually done in the following manner: “Is Marie there?,” “Has Rachel arrived yet?,” or “Did Bruce leave?”. Then the person whom Mike wants to speak with usually answers (in a loud and enunciated manner) by saying, “Yeah, I’m here Mike.” Another result of Mike ‘s ‘intercom presence’ is that the meetings are ten to fifteen minutes shorter. A possible reason for this occurrence is the staff’s seeming uncomfortability with this type of interaction (e.g., speaking to an intercom). Many of the staff members have expressed dissatisfaction with having to “yell” their comments to Mike and having to repeat their comments because of the “crappy” intercom set-up. In comparison to the more detailed staff meeting discussions (e.g., study status, client comments, company’s history with the drug, more potential business with current client, etc.) that occur when Mike is physically present, it appears that the staff lessens their comments to Mike when the meetings are conducted via intercom because he’s out of town. This results in the staff members exchanging varying degrees of information regarding the status of studies (e.g., limited to expansive) – depending on the nature of their involvement with a particular study, their perceived status with Mike and their interest-level in the staff meeting.

3. How “Well” Work Went the Day Before the Staff Meeting

This communication context has a similar result as the aforementioned ‘intercom context’. If a staff member or members’ work has fallen behind schedule or has not gone as well as scheduled, the staff experiences upward and horizontal communication to discuss what steps have been taken to alleviate the situation.

Upward communication has “multiple functions” which is exemplified by subordinates telling their supervisors about the highlights of their work and solving work problems (Cohn, Study Guide, 8.19). Several examples of this occur regularly in the staff meetings, such as 1) Rachel questioning Mike regarding the inclusion/exclusion criteria of a study; 2) Howard asking Mike about a drug shipping date; 3) Joyce speaking with Dawn about the due date a report needs to go out.

Horizontal communication is defined as “messages flow[ing] laterally between persons of the same rank or department [in order to] coordinate work tasks, solve problems, resolve conflict and build alliances.” (Cohn, Study Guide 8.19) Usually this type of communication doesn’t occur in staff meetings. It is a component of this company’s staff meetings, however, therefore it occurs on an occasional basis. At times, the exchange of messages between the department members is irrelevant to the rest of the staff members as a whole and takes up a portion of the staff meeting. An example of this is when Rachel and Howard have discussions concerning the appropriate freezer temperature to store drugs or the possible adverse reactions that the study participants may have to a drug. The staff members who do not have a pharmaceutical and/or medical background (Nicole, Kathy, Joyce, Chris and Jaimie) are inadvertently excluded from the conversation, which results in silence until the departmental discussion is interrupted by Mike or the problem is resolved.

4. Staff Seniority

This factor plays an important part in Mike’s interactions with the staff members, specifically with Marie and Bruce. They have been with the company for over ten years, which Mike seems to acknowledge through his solicitation of their opinions, especially after a less senior staff member has commented upon a study dealing with Marie or Bruce’s area – whether they were involved in the study/work or not. The following is a conversation of ‘staff seniority’ context in effect:

Staff Conversation about pharmaceutical study (Image/Source: Angelia Levy)

Another result of staff seniority context is that the senior staff members can question Mike regarding meetings he has had with potential clients. If a lesser senior member, such as Jaimie, ask about a client meeting, Mike usually responds by stating “I don’t think it will work out,” “It went well as could be expected” or simply “Fine” in a way that doesn’t allow nor welcome an opportunity for follow-up.  However, if Marie or Bruce ask about how a meeting went, Mike will provide them with a detailed description, such as potential profit, client characteristics, and the possible studies the company would do on the client’s behalf. What makes this communication process so unusual is that it occurs consecutively, as if Bruce or Marie are asking a follow-up question. This type of interaction has made the younger and less senior employees more hesitant in attempting to find out about the company’s progress.


The jargon used by the employees at this company is heavily medical or job-specific in nature. It is full of terminology that many laymen would have a hard time understanding, unless they are a part of the cultural scene. There are times, however, that participants who haven’t been involved in a scene or have left a scene may not be familiar with the terminology, even though they are a participant. Nicole has been working for the company for almost six months, for example, and yet she still continues to come across terminology with which  she is not familiar with. Marie has informed Nicole that most of the word usage in the company is a carryover from its “old days”, but with the influx of new staff, some new definitions cropped up in certain departments, especially among the clinical staff. Most of the jargon consists of shortened names or acronyms exclusively used by this company. The following is a glossary of the terminology used by this company:

Chart: Company Jargon (Design/Image: Angelia Levy, October 2018)


According to Dr. Wendy Leeds-Hurwitz, “every culture or social group has patterns of communication unique to that group that a new member of the group must learn to display appropriate knowledge of communicative behavior at some point in his or her life to be accepted,” or in Nicole’s case to be able to conduct herself appropriately in the twice-weekly staff meetings. Marie informed Nicole regarding the terminology used by many of the staff members, but she did not inform Nicole of all the staff meeting “rules”. This may have been due to the fact that explicit (stated) rules are more recognizable than implicit (unstated) rules or agreements concerning communication. The following is a list of the explicit and implicit rules that are followed in the staff meetings:

A. Explicit Rules

  1. Each participant (meeting attendee) can only take x-number of timeline copies based on their department. For example, since Marie works alone, she could not take three copies of the timeline agenda.
  2. When Mike is attending the meeting via conference call, the participants (meeting attendees) are expected to announce to him that they are present by saying something to effect of “Yeah! We’re here.”
  3. The meetings start at 11 a.m. If a participant can’t be there or will be late, then he/she are expected to inform Susan before the start of the meeting.
  4. Once a participant enters the conference room, he/she is expected to remain until the meeting is over.
  5. When Mike is attending the meeting via intercom, sotto voce communication (talk among participants) is prohibited.
  6. If a participant is dissatisfied with another’s performance regarding an issue – it is to be handled outside the meeting. Staff members/participants are expected to work it out among themselves, in order to combat dissension. If the members are unable to handle it, then Mike steps in to help resolve the matter.
  7. Questions are to remain strictly study-related and based on the studies listed on the meeting timeline/agenda. If a participant wants to address the staff at the meeting regarding unrelated issues (e.g., building security), he/she must inform Susan a day before the meeting – so that she can place it on the meeting agenda.

B. Implicit Rules

  1. Susan always brings the “meeting to an order.” This is done when she distributes the handouts (the timeline agenda) and starts reading off the study number and then waits for the appropriate person(s) to comment and/or question the status of the study.
  2. Susan sits the closest to the intercom/speakerphone (the head of the conference table) so that Mike can readily hear her managing the meeting.
  3. When Mike is physically present at the staff meetings, he sits at the head of the table and leads the staff meetings by reading off the study names/numbers (taking Susan’s place as the meeting lead).
  4. If there is confusion and/or need for more discussion regarding a study between a departmental head and his/her staff – it is to be done after the staff meeting, not in front of other staff. For example, if Rachel was concerned about a comment Nicole said regarding a study, she would not question her about it until after the meeting.
  5. No eating allowed! This implicit rule is enforced in a subtle manner. When Chris joined the company, he brought some donuts with him to his first few meetings. The staff immediately made comments such as “You forgot to eat breakfast today?” or “Make sure not to get any sticky-stuff on your notes!” For the next couple of meetings, Chris dealt with these comments in an amicable manner. After his third meeting, Chris no longer brought food with him. The staff then commented that he had finally found the time to eat breakfast before he came to work.
  6. Attendees are not to make negative comments regarding the clients (especially when it concerns their lack of payment) at the meetings when Mike is in attendance (in person or via intercom).
  7. When Mike complains about the company’s database problems or any problems that the company is having, attendees/participants should not make unsolicited suggestions for improvement during the staff meetings.


Normally, we follow rules, whether we are aware of them or not, because we never think that we have an option not to follow them. The old saying that “rules are meant to be broken” never mentions that there are consequences for breaking some of those rules. Generally, we follow rules, whether there are minor or severe consequences for breaking them. Psychologist Frederick R. Ford has five ‘Family of Rules‘ that can also be applied in the workplace: 1) the rule; 2) the counter rule; 3) the rule of qualifications and exceptions; 4) the consequences of breaking the rule and 5) the rule that tells how the rule should be implemented.

In this cultural scene/physical setting (e.g. the staff meeting), there may not be severe consequences for breaking explicit and implicit rules, but you may receive a dirty look or two. The rule of the staff meeting is that Susan always signals when the meetings are about to commence.  The counter rule is that if Susan is not available to conduct  the meeting and Mike is not available, then Rachel takes over the role. The rule of qualifications and exceptions is that when Mike is physically present, he will initiate the staff meetings. The consequence(s) of breaking the rule of ‘Susan starts the meetings’ is that the person who attempts to start the meeting may be viewed as rude and/or will receive a look that will dissuade them from continuing. The rule that tells how the rule should be implemented is when Susan distributes the timeline agenda to the rest of the staff members and says something like “okay, let’s get started.” (Leeds-Hurwitz, 31-33).


Communication Model Pie Chart (Communication Model by Albert Mehrabian; Image by Toolshero)

“Nonverbal communication refers to those aspects of communication other than the use of words.” (Cohn, 9.5) As the old axiom goes, one cannot not communicate. Nonverbal communication is a perfect example of a just because you’re not using your voice does not mean you’re not communicating. While Mike was discussing a study, for instance,  Nicole had both of her hands pressed into her eye sockets.  Mike then asked her if the study was going well recruiting-wise (the study was not). Mike made the correct assumption with Nicole’s nonverbal movements that she was concerned about the recruiting process of the study. Another example of nonverbal communication being very communicative is when nonverbal communication contradicts verbal communication. In one of the staff meetings, Rachel wanted to know if Bruce would have the statistics she needed so that she could ship the report to the client Federal Express. Bruce assured her that she would have the statistics in a couple of hours. Meanwhile, he was tapping his pen incessantly against his notebook, which would signify that he was not as sure as he professed.

Nonverbal communication can also be used to demonstrate status and power within a given context or setting. In the company’s staff meeting, all the participants normally sit in their chairs in a similar manner. Everyone usually sits straight, look straight ahead and keep their swiveling to a minimum. Mike doesn’t seem to affect this type of behavior at the staff meetings. He swings and rocks his chair back and forth, places his arms behind his neck and stretches his leg out. At times, he puts his feet on the conference table when he is in the midst of an explanation.  As he moves, the staff members follow his movements with their eyes. If you walked into the room without any knowledge of the company hierarchy, you would know that Mike is the person in charge.

Nonverbal communication consists of certain categories that we use in our daily lives to aid in our “unseen” human interaction. This can especially be the case when you are in attendance at a staff meeting, as in this particular instance. At times, the employees/participants are being frugal with their verbal communication, but their nonverbal communication provides important  information that cannot possibly be heard.  Chronemics  as one form of nonverbal communication deals with the usage of time to communicate. If some of the staff meeting participants are constantly late, it is assumed that they consider the meetings unimportant.  As a result, when one of the latecomers ask about something that was discussed in their absence, they are told to “get here on time” if they want to know. Costuming, cosmetics and organismics are a form of communication that is applicable when the company has potential clients coming to visit the facility. Mike warns the staff to “dress up” in order to make the impression that they are a professional organization. The use of haptics, communication via touch, comes into play only when Mike grabs a participant’s shoulder to express his feelings that the individual did a good job.  Haptics is usually not incorporated into staff meetings. Objectics (use of objects) to aid in communication (or in the case of the conference table, to hinder communication) during the staff meetings are minimal at best. The best example of an object being used as a tool of communication is the timeline agenda, which helps the participants follow the meeting.  Oculesics (use of eyes) and kinesics (body movements and gestures) to communicate nonverbally in the staff meetings is mainly done to show approval, disapproval, concern, irritation, anger, or agreement with what is being discussed at the meeting.  An example of kinesics was when Nicole was rubbing her eye sockets while Mike was discussing a particular study which was causing her some distress. Olfactics (sense of smell) is rarely a part of the staff meeting at least based on the definition, which is “targeted to evoke a particular memory perception or motion.” The only time it becomes an issue is if a staff member comments on  a smell outside the staff meeting area. Proxemics (personal space; space between others) is communicated in this setting through the unofficial seating arrangements of the staff members. As discussed previously, those who have a lot of interaction with Mike are usually the ones who sit at the conference table. Vocalics (voice expression) plays an important role in symbolizing the status of each of the staff members through their vocal behavior, whether someone speaks loudly and concisely to make sure that they are heard or someone who speaks in a hesitant tone.  All these styles are signs of non-verbal communicative behavior. (Cohn, 9.5-9.7).



In a perfect world, everyone would  know how to communicate  in a format that is always  acceptable, comprehensible, non-contradictory, and error-proof. Is this possible? In order for communication perfection to be possible, we would have to have a stream-lined communication process, one without deviation. Leeds­-Hurwitz would find this to be impossible because of her view that “communication [that is] bound to context is multichannel.” One of these channels is communication as behavior in context. “No behavior has meaning in and of itself, outside the situation in which it occurs (Leeds-Hurwitz, 153). For example, outside the staff meeting context, Mike’s solicitation of Marie and Bruce’s opinions regarding Rachel’s statistical tables may just be viewed as a sign of respect for their experience. Within the meeting context, however, it has a host of other connotations, one of which can be his apparent lack of respect or faith in Rachel’s ability to do the job.

It would seem that the main communication problem that is occurring in this staff meeting context is that Mike is not physically in attendance on a regular basis. When he attends the meeting via intercom/conference call, several behavioral problems occur such as 1) lessened information discussed between him and a staff member about his/her assignment and even less among the staff as a whole; 2) Mike’s questioning of who is and is not in attendance gives staff members the impression that certain individuals have a higher status and are deemed ‘more important’ than others; 3) the fact that the staff cannot see how Mike is reacting to the discussed information causes members to tailor their response(s) based on their interpretation of what Mike’s tone, pauses or silence denotes. As a result, staff person(s) might understate a work problem or to get into a lengthy discussion about project X or task Y if they think he is or is not concerned about the situation.

A solution to this situation may be something simple as having a video conference call (instead of using a speaker phone) when Mike cannot be physically present, where the members are able to see and hear him. On the other hand, since communication is multi-channel, this format can bring about a host of other behavioral situations due to this particular context.  In other words, communication, context and behavior can never be perfect.

The largest communication problem that occurs in the staff meetings has little to do with technology, but has more to do with psychological noise. As defined by Shannon and Weaver, psychological noise can include feelings of anxiety, depression, boredom, and anger (Cohn, 1.4).  It can also include feelings of insecurity and fear, which are the two bits of psychological noise present at the staff meetings.  Mike’s constant need of feedback from the two employees who have the most experience with the pharmaceutical company (Marie and Bruce) while limiting and/or excluding feedback from the other staff members creates an atmosphere of insecurity for the staff as a whole.  A staff member’s insecurity could be about their ability to perform their duties, their level of intelligence, their qualifications, their place in the company, or even the possibility of termination.  Mike shows signs of his own insecurities and fears by not soliciting comments, concerns or questions from staff members who happen to have less than ten years’ worth of company experience.  Mike is insecure about his position as president of the company, and needs to affirm his standing by garnering opinions from his most experienced staff members.  In short, the pharmaceutical company’s recent history of problems and downsizing — a form of long-term psychological noise — combined with Mike’s lack of experience with the company (has been president for roughly 20 months) has caused a fear of failure to creep in Mike’s communications with the staff. This fear results in Mike taking a hard-line approach during staff meeting in limiting discussion to the company ‘s pharmaceutical studies rather than discussing any problems or issues regarding the company’s operations.  Staff members explicitly or implicitly pick up on Mike’s psychological noise and, in turn, have become insecure and fearful regarding the company’s future status.

Whether the pharmaceutical research services company obtains new equipment for video/internet conferencing or not, the problem of long-term (e.g., downsizing, financial shortfall) and short-term (e.g., insecurities and fears) psychological noise must be solved to achieve a better flow of communication. Mike must become more secure in soliciting opinions and questions from all of the key staff members, not just the most experienced ones. Issues that might be problematic and painful must be aired in a more open format for discussion, and staff members must be made to feel secure that they will be listened to if they disagree with Mike or with each other. Otherwise, the company’s psychological noise might turn into the physical noise of younger staff members clearing out their offices and leaving to take other jobs.

Update: Nicole was terminated in 1998 (nine-months after the start of her tenure) due to conflict in regards to her role/duties with the company. The rest of the staff had been terminated or resigned by 2006, including the president. As of 2018, only Rachel has continued to be employed by the company, in a higher-ranked position.



Cohn, Ellen, Communications 300: Introduction to Non-Verbal Communication Study Guide, University of Pittsburgh, Spring 1998

Leeds-Hurwitz, Wendy, Communication in Everyday Life: A Social Interpretation, Praeger Press, 1989

Shannon and Weaver Model of Communication. Communication Theory. Retrieved from (Last retrieved, October 31, 2018).

Take the ‘Knowledge Road’ Less Traveled For Black History Month 24/7/365

Black History is American History

Post updated February 1, 2019

Black History Month is a wonderful time in February (though it shouldn’t be the only time) for people to increase their knowledge and awareness of the significant and ongoing contributions African-Americans have made to American society and its culture.

Unfortunately, celebration of the month has become stuck in the mud topic-wise for quite some time. The same historical facts and biographies are trotted out time and again ad nauseam. Martin Luther King. Civil Rights Movement. Malcolm X. The Civil War. Thurgood Marshall. School Desegregation. Frederick Douglas. The Voting Rights Act. Rosa Parks. Slavery. I Have A Dream.

As a result and not surprisingly, important African-American figures, historical events, work and legislation that have had an impact on Black Americans and the United States have become muted or an afterthought.

Of course there will always be those, young or old, who learn something new during the month which will resonate with them. However, there are others who find Black History Month (BHM) no longer interesting because for them it has turned into a form of ’28 Days of Trivia’ instead of it being a deeper dive into the ‘Black History’ knowledge pool.

For those individuals who need a history recharge or just want to learn something new, YETBW is here for you. Below is a list of articles, audio/interviews, books, documentaries and movies that is off-the-Black-History-Month-beaten-path. Learn and enjoy – not just during the month of February.



William A. Scott, WWII servicemen interviewed by U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (Image taken from October 1981 interview)
William A. Scott, WWII serviceman interviewed by U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum (Image taken from October 1981 interview)

WWII Black Soldiers In Europe. The U.S. Holocaust Memorial Museum interviewed several U.S. black servicemen who served throughout Europe during World War II. The soldiers discuss their experiences dealing with racism from American white soldiers and those soldiers who served under Nazi Germany. As historian Stephen Ambrose has said “[Black] soldiers were fighting the world’s worst racist, Adolph Hitler, in the world’s most segregated army…[t]he irony did not go unnoticed.” Besides instances of racial conflict, you also hear about the soldiers’ combat experience, serving under General Patton, the impact of seeing German labor and concentration camps and even the mundane such as trying to line up a date. More than half a million Black Americans served overseas in various parts of Europe but their stories aren’t mentioned as much as they should be in WWII lore. Hearing these oral histories is more than worthwhile and keeps their history alive.

Dr. King gives his speech 'I've Been to the Mountaintop' in Memphis the day before he was assassinated. (Photo: Archie E. Allen, April 3, 1968)
Dr. King gives his speech ‘I’ve Been to the Mountaintop’ the day before he was assassinated. (Photo: Archie E. Allen, April 3, 1968)

I’ve Been To the Mountaintop.’  Yes, it’s a speech by Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. but it’s one that is shamefully overlooked. He made this speech on April 3, 1968 in Memphis, Tennessee in support of striking sanitation workers. It was also on the night before he was assassinated. It is such a personal and powerful speech; more like a sermon. It’s not uplifting and hopeful like his most famous speech ‘I Have A Dream’ which he gave in 1963. By 1968 he was on a different path and you can hear it in the words and tone of this speech. He is contemplative and tired; not sure how long he has to keep fighting, but he hasn’t laid down his gloves. The words in the last part of the speech are eery in hindsight, yet joyful given the fact that he was speaking on the eve of his death. When he loudly proclaims “I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” it will make your hair stand on end.

Isom Moseley, October, 1939 (Image: Library of Congress )
Isom Moseley, October, 1939 (Image: Library of Congress)

Voices From the Days of Slavery. During Black History Month you hear about the topic of slavery, but you don’t hear much from or about the people who actually lived it. The Library of Congress’ ‘Voices From the Days of Slavery has “almost seven hours of recorded interviews [that] took place between 1932 and 1975 in nine Southern states. Twenty-three interviewees, born between 1823 and the early 1860s, discuss how they felt about slavery, slaveholders, coercion of slaves, their families, and freedom.” Unfortunately, the quality isn’t top-notch, but it’s still worth a listen. Not everyday you get a chance to listen to people who lived through one of the harshest and inglorious periods of American history.


Bloods: An Oral History of Black Vietnam Veterans Bloods: Black Veterans of Vietnam War: An Oral History. Unfortunately, the history of Black Veterans is woefully minimal and marginalized, as if they weren’t part of America’s military or war efforts. The twenty veterans in this book (from private first class to colonels, poor to middle-class, all parts of the U.S.) tell their stories of what is was like fighting in Vietnam and the impact it has had on them. You also hear about how they dealt with being a Black American in the U.S. military while living in a country that was going through major racial and cultural upheaval. You can feel their pride, pain, confusion, cynicism and disillusionment concerning the war and themselves. Their stories and experiences are sad, dark, humorous, violent, insightful, and poignant. Terry did an amazing job of putting these stories together without getting in the way of the storytellers. This book is a classic and will stick with you long after you’ve finished it.

Vicki Thompson-Simmons and her sister, Lynda Thompson-Lindsay, manage the Lawrence H. Woodward Funeral Home (Photo: Dave Sanders/The New York Times)

Dignity in Death for Black Families at a Brooklyn Funeral Home. This article encompasses so much, so well. Readers will learn about the important role black funeral homes have played in the Black Community through the eyes and work of the two women who manage the Lawrence H. Woodward Funeral Home in the Bedford-Stuyvesant neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York. Vicki Thompson-Simmons and her sister, Lynda Thompson-Lindsay understand the seriousness of their work, its legacy and the emotions that come with it while doing their best to honor the dead and their loved ones. It is a wonderful, informative and heartfelt piece. Simply put, it is more than just about the management of a black funeral home.

The Bluest Eye book cover The Bluest Eye. Morrison has written other well-known books, but this Nobel Prize-winning title shows her at her writing best. It’s the story about an 11-year-old African-American girl named Pecola, growing up in 1940s Ohio who feels inferior because of her skin and eye color. She’s constantly being told she’s ‘ugly’ so she keeps wishing she had blue eyes so that she would be deemed worthy. Controversy has followed this book since its 1970 publication because it deals with racism, pedophilia and rape, all experienced by the main character. The story isn’t just about Pecola, but also her parents – their marital fights, their frustrations living in a mostly white community; her dad’s volatility, her mom working as a servant to a white family. Sometimes the various stories are told matter-of-factly, in a childish tone or in a harsh, painful or surreal manner. Morrison deals with the uncomfortable issues surrounding black vs. white beauty and the bitter reality of Black Americans in early/mid-twentieth century America. It’s a complex book that can be a challenge to read, but it’s worth the effort.

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography And the Walls Came Tumbling Down: An Autobiography. Ralph Abernathy played a significant role in the Civil Rights Movement in that he worked closely with Dr. King and was viewed as his successor after King’s death. Yet Abernathy, like many others involved with Dr. King saw their involvement in the Movement overlooked and sometimes forgotten. When this autobiography was originally published in 1989 many African-Americans, Black leaders and other activists were apoplectic about Abernathy airing Dr. King’s ‘dirty laundry’ (i.e., he regularly cheated on his wife, used expletives, wasn’t always a nice person, FBI was spying on him) instead of simply writing about King’s humanity and his tireless civil rights work. Many thought Abernathy had an ax to grind; that he was finally showing his jealousy about King and bitterness over his limited post-Movement success. Maybe some or all of the accusations are true, but this book is still a must-read in that you get an insider view, warts and all, about the people within King’s circle, the actions and decision-making process of other well-known black leaders, the roles played by politicians, governmental actions and the struggles and triumphs of the Movement. As a result of this book future publications on King and the Civil Rights Movement stepped back from the deification of both by providing more insight than reflexive accolades, which is a good thing.

Kindred is the kind of book that will resonate with you long after you’ve read it. Imagine being a black woman in 1976, living in California and about to celebrate your 26th birthday with your new husband when suddenly you’re away pulled away through time and end-up on a pre-Civil War southern plantation where slavery is alive and well? Though time travel is somewhat of a stereotypical science-fiction trope, Butler uses it as a tool, not as a story gimmick. As Dana tries to survive in the slave era you learn about what it meant to be a slave: the fear, the beatings, the rapes, the humiliations – of being seen and treated as being not human. Butler makes you feel everything that Dana is thinking as she tries to deal with the impact of moving between time-periods at a moment’s notice – wondering how long she will be there upon each ‘visit’ and if/when she will ever return home. Octavia E. Butler has written other books and has been called the ‘grand dame of science fiction,’ but the quiet intensity of Kindred is her crowning achievement and should be on everyone’s ‘must read’ list.

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‘The Case for Reparations’ (Photos/Carlos Javier Diaz, June 2014)

The Case for Reparations‘ by The Atlantic’s Ta-Nehisi Coates is a ten-part, heartbreaking magnum opus of an essay about why African-Americans should receive reparations from the United States. Coates argument is not based on slavery (which he doesn’t discuss as much given the article’s title) nor on how much money is ‘owed’ to Black Americans (which isn’t mentioned) but the long, cumulative effect of discrimination on generations of African-Americans. The article makes it case by interweaving the generational story of African-Americans and the obstacles they’ve faced (white supremacy, inequality, governmental discrimination) by way of Clyde Ross, a sharecropper’s son who escaped the Jim Crow South who ended up in Chicago fighting for black homeowners. Coates 15,000 word piece is dense in that you might find yourself having to revisit it after the first read, because there is so much interesting information, history and emotion in the piece. Whether you’re an opponent or proponent of reparations this article will give you a better and more complete understanding of the reparations argument.


Brother Outside: The Life of Bayard Rustin Brother Outsider: The Life of Bayard Rustin. The title of this documentary sadly sums up Bayard Rustin‘s life as a key member of the Civil Rights Movement. Besides being the chief organizer of the March on Washington and a major influence on CORE and SNCC activists he was also a leader in other movements such as socialism, non-violence and gay rights. It was that latter stance and the fact that he was gay that has kept Rustin out of most history books. Brother Outsider rectifies that mistake by giving viewers the opportunity to learn about a major civil rights player who was marginalized by most of the black civil rights community though they were more than willing to make use of his knowledge and planning skills. In 2013 President Barack Obama posthumously awarded Rustin the Presidential Medal of Freedom. The White House Press Release regarding Rustin’s award said he was “an unyielding activist for civil rights, dignity, and equality for all. An advisor to the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., he promoted nonviolent resistance, participated in one of the first Freedom Rides, organized the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, and fought tirelessly for marginalized communities at home and abroad. As an openly gay African American, Mr. Rustin stood at the intersection of several of the fights for equal rights.” Rustin should be more than just a historical footnote in the fight for civil rights and social justice.

EyesOnThePrize.PBS.CoverPosterEyes On the Prize. This multi-episode documentary, originally aired on PBS in 1987 is considered the seminal documentary on the Civil Rights Movement in America. It’s not exactly off-the-beaten-path as it pertains to this article. However, as time has passed, it has become somewhat overlooked because it wasn’t available for years (1993-2006) due to  copyright issues. Eyes On the Prize, as described by PBS, tells the story of The Movement [t]hrough contemporary interviews and historical footage [as] the series covers all of the major events of the civil rights movement from 1954-1985. Series topics range from the Montgomery bus boycott in 1954 to the Voting Rights Act in 1965; from community power in schools to ‘Black Power’ in the streets; from early acts of individual courage through to the flowering of a mass movement and its eventual split into factions.” Words do not do this series justice in regards to how pivotal, informative and heart-breaking this series is in describing and showing how Black Americans (and their allies) fought for their personhood and legal rights to be treated fairly and equally in a nation that was resistant to recognizing their humanity. Note: All 14 episodes are available here via YouTube. Watch them while you can before they’re taken down.

Unforgivable Blackness: Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson Unforgivable Blackness: The Rise and Fall of Jack Johnson. Johnson didn’t act the way black people were supposed to act in the early part of the twentieth century. He didn’t know his ‘place’ and he eventually paid the price for it. But at one point in time Johnson was the  most fierce and dominant boxer that America had ever seen. He was the first African-American heavyweight champion who annihilated black and white opponents, the latter of which caused major debates amongst whites regarding black superiority and led to race riots. Add to that his unrepentant flashing of his success and riches while cutting a sexual and marital swath through a string of white women, Johnson was too much for many whites and blacks to handle. This documentary (based on the same-titled book by Geoffrey C. Ward) really digs into Johnson’s personal and professional history via archival film, photographs and interview with boxing experts. You don’t have to be a boxing fan to appreciate this film. Note: I also recommend ‘The Great White Hope‘ (1970) starring James Earl Jones as Jack Jefferson (obviously based on Johnson). Jones is fierce as Jefferson and doesn’t pull any punches (pun intended) in showing us Johnson’s anger, brutishness, hurts of what it was like to be a feared and successful black man and athlete in early 20th Century America. You can watch it here on YouTube.

Boondocks Return of the King The Boondocks ‘Return of the King’ When ‘Boondocks,’ an animated show on the Cartoon Network, first broadcast ‘Return of the King’ the outrage came high and fast (though it did end-up winning the prestigious Peabody Award for ‘Best Storytelling‘). Mainly because Aaron McGruder, the show’s creator and writer had Dr. King dropping the n-word several times while raging against ‘shiftless Negroes.’ But the brouhaha obscured what the episode was really about – the reimagining of history. What if Dr. King wasn’t assassinated in 1968? What if he had just been shot; remained in a coma for 32 years and woke-up in 2000 America? The episode shows an aged King trying to adjust to the new media and culture that is just too loud and fast for him. Huey Freeman, Boondock’s 10-year old, socially-conscious main character sees King’s return as an opportunity for African-Americans to start a new revolution, but King and Huey soon realize that they have their work cut out for them. The episode is full of cynicism, along with anger, disgust and sadness, yet still hopeful. It is an enlightening, ballsy and fierce take on a historical icon and U.S. and African-American culture.

screen-shot-2017-02-01-at-6-06-02-pmThe Autobiography of Miss Jane Pittman. Pittman is not an actual person nor was she based on a historical figure. She is the 110-year old black woman and protagonist in Ernest J. Gaines 1971 novel which was the basis for the same-titled movie. This 1974 television movie (made before the miniseries ‘Roots’) was ground-breaking in that it showed many facets of the African-American experience that was rarely seen in movies or on television, such as slavery, plantation life, lynchings and poverty. The viewer sees and hears about Pittman’s life as a slave girl during the Civil War era and up to and beyond the Civil Rights Movement. We also see America grappling with its racial, cultural and military wars amongst its black and white citizens.  It’s all done through the eyes and narration of an elderly woman who lets us know that she has seen, battled and lived a lot over her many decades. Cicely Tyson as Jane Pittman is simply fantastic in the film. She brings Pittman to life, so it’s understandable that people over the years have taken the movie and book title seriously and thought Pittman was a real person. The movie isn’t an official autobiography, but it is a biography of America’s history that is definitely worth seeing. Note: The movie can be viewed in its entirety online here via YouTube.

Cooley High (1975) Cooley High. Teen movies have been around for decades, but most film buffs say the genre really started with American Graffiti (1973).  Since then Hollywood has been producing teen movies like they’re going out of style. Unfortunately movies about black teens are still MIA, which is what makes ‘Cooley High’ (1975) still so special forty years later. Plainly, it is just a movie about black high school students in Chicago during the 1960s or as its screenwriter Eric Monte described it “a movie without a plot.” It may not have a storyline but a lot happens in the film such as dating woes, failing grades, carjacking, drugs and the joys of cutting class along with a killer Motown soundtrack. The teens in the film were the usual suspects: jocks, jokesters, nerds, pretty girls and bullies but instead of it taking place in white suburbia the setting was south side Chicago in the rough Cabrini-Green public housing projects. It’s considered a black cinema classic, but it also ranks up there as one of the best high school movies.

 A Soldier’s Story. This 1984 movie is based on a Pulitzer Prize-winning, Off-Broadway play, a tone and feel which shows up in the film on occasion. There a lot of soon-to-be-well-known actors  (Howard Rollins, Jr., Denzel Washington, Robert Townsend, David Alan Grier) along with seasoned broadway veterans (Adolph Caesar, Art Evans, Scott Paulin). However, its the work of Rollins, Washington and Caesar (nominated for Best Supporting Oscar for his role) that creates the foundation for the film. The plot centers around a black officer (Rollins) who is sent to Louisiana to investigate the murder of a black sergeant who was killed during the end of World War II. The film chronicles the racism and Jim Crow South that the black military men have to deal with on and off the army base, but also the intra-racism that they have amongst themselves based on speech, education, class and geography. A provocative film set inside a whodunnit scenario with a strong cast.


Do you have any off-the-beaten-path suggestions (books, movies, programs, etc.) regarding Black History and/or African-American culture that are interesting, informative or note-worthy? If so, feel free to leave them in the comment section.

Initial Tips for Taking Care of An Aging or Elderly Parent

My mother and me (Photo/Ronald Foster)

I have become my mother’s keeper. I’m still surprised at how fast it happened. It was as if I had climbed up a steep hill and before I had a chance to catch my breath – the earth started crumbling underneath me; causing me to run like hell – scrambling to find safe ground.

Two years ago my then 83-year old mom was relatively self-sufficient and in good health mentally and physically. There were minor signs where she gave me moments of disquiet, but my mom and I handled them. Then in Spring 2016 she got dizzy and fell; resulting in facial and arm fractures. At the time I thought it could’ve been worse and that she would recover. She healed physically, but changed mentally and emotionally. She’s gone from being an independent person and I’ve become more than just her daughter who lives out-of-state. I’m now responsible for my mom’s custodial, medical and financial care.

For some adult children they may have more than two years before they find themselves taking care of an elderly parent or relative. Others wish they had two years instead of the months, weeks or even days before the caregiver role was thrust upon them. Most of us aren’t fully prepared for this role, even those who think they’re prepared discover that is far from the case.

Who are  Caregivers?

According to a 2013-2014 Bureau of Labor Statistics Survey there are “40.4 million unpaid eldercare providers (caregivers of adults ages 65 and older) in the United States.” Along with the ever-increasing number of caregivers has also been a change in the role and responsibilities of caregivers, which has gone from simply checking-in on an elder to more complex duties.

2013 Pew Research Center survey reported that the role of caregivers “encompasses everything from buying someone groceries and managing their finances to helping them with bathing, dressing and other tasks of daily life.” In a 2012 survey conducted by the American Associate of Retired Persons’ AARP Public Policy Institute and the United Hospital Fund stated that the  role of family caregivers “has dramatically expanded to include performing medical/nursing tasks of the kind and complexity once only provided in hospitals.”

Adjusting While Learning

It has been an unexpected transition for myself – since like most kids you expect your parent(s) to grow old, yet still be somewhat the same. That hasn’t been the case for my mother. I have watched my mom transition into various stages: from living on her own to post-surgery recovery then rehabilitation; acknowledging that she can no longer live on her own; not wanting to relocate out-of-state to live with her daughters to accepting that she will be in a senior care facility for the foreseeable future. In the interim, I have spent a lot of time with my mother while also interacting with her physicians, friends and business contacts on top of our family members. I have had to deal with a lot of information and make short and long-term decisions regarding my mom. Luckily family and most of my mom’s friends still live in the same city/state as my mom – so they’ve been my eyes and ears concerning my mother. At times it hasn’t been easy, but I’ve learned a lot on the way. Most importantly, I’m glad that I’ve been able to be there for my mom.

Below are some tips (NOT legal advice) for those who may find themselves having to take care of an aging or sick parent/relative. Keep in mind, there’s always going to be a new or unexpected situation that will arise when caring for your parent. However, these initial tips will save you some initial pain as you begin this journey.



ParentTalkingWithAdultChild.GettyImages.Edwards1. Talk and Listen to Your Parent– If you have a decent-to-great relationship with your parent, then that’s half the battle in being a good caregiver. However, when you do talk to your mother or father make sure to talk to him/her about what’s going on with them day-to-day. Not just in generalities, but the details (i.e. what’s bothering them physically, emotionally, financially, their doctor appointments, prescribed medications, friends, activities, errands they usually run, etc). Find out who they talk to and spend time with when you’re not around or available. Don’t turn it into an interrogation; which may inadvertently put them on the defensive. Just make sure to be fully-engaged in the conversation, which means having your listening ears on, asking questions and being patient. If/when you have to step-in for your parent due to an accident or an emergency you will have a better grasp of what’s going on with him/her, which will be important when speaking with medical professionals.

ManOnSmartphone.GettyImages.Woo2. Add Your Parent’s Phone Contacts To Your Phone – Your parent’s contacts are those individuals whom you have heard him/her mention more than a few times such as friends, doctors, acquaintances, former co-workers, physicians, organizations, and businesses. Your parent’s contacts may be listed in his/her personal phonebook or their cellphone/smartphone (if they’re a member of the digital age). Adding their contact information (name, phone numbers, home address, email) to your smartphone (or having them written down in a notebook) will make it easier to reach out to them, if necessary, concerning your parent.

WritingDownContactInfo.GettyImages.spxChrome3. Provide Your Parent’s Close Friends With Your Contact Information – Your parent’s friends will want to visit your parent, to check up on them and make sure they’re doing okay. It is important that they have your contact information (name, phone numbers, email address), especially if you live out-of-town. Your parent’s friends can let you know how your parent is doing or if something is amiss. They can be a valuable asset information-wise in helping you take care of your parent. Don’t wait for them to call you, make a point of calling them as well. They will appreciate that you care.

ExtendedFamily.GettyImages.DavidSacks4. Keep Family Members In the Loop Regarding Your Parent’s Care – If you happen to live some distance from your parent, you will need back-up to help you take care of your parent. Your ‘back-up’ could be a family member, friend of your parent or members of her community – anyone who have expressed interest in helping you take care of your parent. Use phone calls, texts or detailed FYI emails to keep everyone updated regarding your parent’s care. This type of information exchange will make sure that everyone’s on the same page information-wise concerning your parent’s care, especially when interacting with medical staff.


FamilyMeetWithDoctor.GettyImages.ThomasBarwick1. Go to Medical Appointments With Your Parent – Meeting your parent’s general/primary care physician and specialists in-person (even if it’s only once) are golden opportunities to get to know your parent’s doctors, ask questions about your parent’s health and remain in-the-loop in regards to your parent’s medical care. Plus, once you’ve met the physicians and staff it will be easier to get updates and information via phone calls because they have met you, which is especially beneficial if you don’t live in the same area as your parent.

NotepadAndPen.GettyImages.Westend612. Take Notes When Meeting With Medical and Administrative Staff – Unfortunately, the medical profession has a bad habit of dispensing information and medical terminology much too fast to its patients, especially its elderly ones, for them to readily grasp. If you happen to be hospitalized it’s even worse because physicians and nurses sometimes fail to identify themselves (i.e. name, title/medical specialty) and tell you succinctly when you’ve been prescribed X or need to do Y. As your parent’s advocate it is important that you stop physicians, nurses and other medical staff in their communicative tracks with questions (i.e., what is your name, what is your medical connection to my  parent, what medication did you provide my parent, etc.) and make sure you write it down and keep records (or get copies) of what you’ve been told.

MedicalRecords.GettyImages.RezaEstakhrian3. Get A Copy of Parent’s Most Recent Medical Records – This information is important to have in case of an emergency or when you’re dealing with new physicians. If you’re in contact with your parent’s primary care physician you should be able to obtain this information readily. Also, if your parent is hospitalized make sure to get a copy of the discharge papers for your records as well. The discharge papers will include important information such as the names and contact information for the physicians who treated your parent, medications prescribed and the procedures that were performed (i.e. surgeries). Note: Some physicians – possibly those you haven’t met – may request a copy of your Power of Attorney document before releasing your parent’s medical records and/or be willing to speak with you about your parent.

PrescriptionBottles.GettyImages.VstockLLC4. Keep A List of Their Medications – You should know what medication (prescriptions and over-the-counter) your parent is taking, its usage and the prescribed dosage. You should be able to get a copy of your parent’s current medication from his/her primary doctor. Another option is to check your parent’s medicine cabinet (or wherever he/she places her medicine) and write down the information. It’s also important to know the name and contact information of the pharmacy your parent uses. This information could come in handy in case of a parental emergency if medical staff are in need of an updated prescription list.


StackOfCheckbooks.GettyImages.StevenPuetzer 1. Have Your Name Added to Your Parent’s Bank Account – You and your parent must be in agreement with this decision, plus you will both have to go to your parent’s bank to make the change to his/her account. Once your name is on the account it will be easier to manage your parent’s finances if/when they’re unable to do so (i.e. make online payments/pay bills on their behalf, check for suspicious activity, etc.). This type of access is wonderful if an emergency arises and you happen to not live nearby or out-of-state from your parent. One of the things that will help your parent recover from an accident or hospital stay is knowing that their financial/business affairs are being taken care of while they’re temporarily incapacitated.

FinancialStatements.GettyImages.090420162. Get Copies of Your Parent’s Banking, Credit Card and Other Financial Statements – It is important that you know your parent’s monthly income (pension, social security, etc.), savings (bank account, CDs, investments) and expenses (i.e. credit cards, utility bills, mortgage/rent payments, life insurance, health insurance, burial plot, etc.). Knowing your parent’s income may be important in terms of how much your parent and/or yourself can afford when selecting a rehabilitation center, nursing facility, assisted living or in-home nursing care for the short or long-term. Also, some rehabilitation and nursing homes will have income-sensitive requirements in order for your parent to become a resident such as 1) financial limit to how much your parent can have available resource-wise (i.e. amount in checking and savings accounts, life insurance value, stocks and bonds, etc.) and/or 2) proof of your parent’s expenses in order to determine your parent’s monthly custodial costs (i.e. food, bed, medical care). Therefore, it’s important that you are aware and have an understanding of your parent’s financial status.

LastWillTestament.GettyImages.090420163. Know Where Your Parent Keeps Treasured Items and Important Papers – You need to know where your parent keeps her prized possessions or significant belongings such as their last will and testament, birth certificate, deeds, heirlooms, emergency funds or photos. Don’t assume that everything will be in one place or in an obvious location such as a safe deposit box, desk drawer or bedroom closet. Your parent may feel uncomfortable that you’re asking him/her about this because it reminds them that they’re getting older, but don’t let that deter you. You don’t want to be in the situation of trying to locate items on your own because your parent is no longer mentally able to provide you with any guidance.

HospitalRoom.GettyImages.090420164. Have Your Parent Complete A Living Will or Advance DirectiveA Living Will allows an individual to give explicit instructions about when/how medical treatment is to be administered when he/she  is injured, terminally ill or permanently unconscious. An Advance Directive pertains to decisions or instructions regarding a patient’s end-of-life care. It is important to have your parent complete a living will or advance directive while he/she still has the mental capacity to do so. Depending on the state, the process can be as simple as your parent filling out a form with a witness and then having both of them sign-it. Other states may require more of a legal step such as a notarized durable power of attorney for health care which names you as the person trusted to make health care decision on behalf of your parent. Check your parent’s state-of-residence statutes or guidelines for details and guidance.

PowerOfAttorney.GettyImages.090420165. Make Sure You Have Power of Attorney – A Power of Attorney (PoA) gives you the authority to operate on your parent’s behalf in regards to their medical, financial, business and legal affairs. These ‘affairs’ can range from selling your parent’s home, handling their medical care, canceling cable service, discontinuing utilities, or making monthly bill payments. Most companies will require a PoA from the caregiver in order to cancel any type of service, that is, if the parent is unable to do so himself.  Whether a PoA is needed to fully manage your parent’s affairs and what is required to process a PoA varies from state-to-state (i.e. simple letter authorizing PoA, notarized PoA forms, completed PoA forms submitted by a practicing attorney, etc.). It’s very important that you check the state’s statute of where your parent resides to find out what is legally required regarding PoA arrangements. If you are still flummoxed about the PoA process,  most cities and counties have a Department of Aging that could be helpful. Another option is your local American Bar Association’s (ABA) Pro Bono Section which can help help you through the process. Of course you can also seek out a private attorney- via personal contacts or the ABA- who specializes in elder law to help you with this procedure. Note: Some financial institutions have their own PoA form (separate from the general PoA) that you and your parent might have to complete and have notarized in order to legally access/manage your parent’s bank account(s). Check with your parent’s financial institution regarding their PoA requirements. Banks generally don’t post its PoA form online, so you will have to get copy of the form at your parent’s financial institution.

socialsecurity-image-yetbw-blogpost6. Get Legal Authorization to Manage Social Security Checks. More than likely as part of your parent’s income he/she receives a monthly payment (also known as a social security check, social security payment or retirement benefits) from the Social Security Administration, (SSA) a U.S. federal government agency. Since the SSA doesn’t accept the validity of Power of Attorney authorizations, you will have to become a Social Security Representative Payee in order to legally access and manage your parent’s social security checks/payments. Becoming a Payee will require a visit to your local SSA office – the process can’t be completed online. You can expedite matters by bringing your parent with you to the SSA office. However, if you and/or your parent are unable to visit the SSA office jointly (e.g., you happen to live out-of-town from your parent, your parent has limited mobility and/or health issues) an SSA customer service representative should provide you with a medical assessment form (determination of your parent’s ability to handle his/her social security checks) to be completed by your parent’s doctor and returned to the SSA. If you’re approved by the SSA to be your parent’s Representative Payee, you will receive paperwork from them detailing your custodial rights to manage your parent’s social security payments. Also note, if your name is on your parent’s banking account you will be required to set-up a non-joint account in your parent’s name specifically for SSA online check deposits. This process may seem annoying, time-consuming or unnecessary, but keep in mind that SSA wants to protect “beneficiaries who are incapable of managing their Social Security or SSI (supplemental security income) payments.” Plus this ‘step’ will also give you another layer of protection concerning your parent’s income and finances.

SetOfKeys.GettyImages.090420167. Make Copies of Key(s) To Your Parent’s Home – Having access to your parent’s home will make it easier to take care of your parent during an emergency. The last thing you want to be doing is scrambling around trying to find her landlord, a locksmith or a family member to help you gain entrance to your parent’s home. If your parent has his/her own home then duplicating the key is a simple task. However, if he/she lives in an apartment and has a master key (which prohibits duplication) you might have to pay for a duplicate key via the property manager. If you live out-of-town from your parent it is probably a good idea to provide a trusted family member or friend  with copies as well. Note: If your parent has other areas that require access (i.e. car, mailbox, home security) make sure you have the keys and codes to these as well.


RelaxingInPark.GettyImages.09042016Take Care of Yourself And Keep in Mind That This Is A Journey – When you find yourself on this road with your parent it will be hectic, tiring, aggravating and disheartening. Your parent will have good and bad days – and when the bad days come you might find yourself the recipient of their anger, depression or hurt. You will also feel like you’re not doing enough and too much  for your parent logistically, financially, emotionally or spiritually. As a result, there will be times you simply don’t want to spend time with and/or talk to your parent because they’ve worn you down, made you feel depressed or even angry. These feelings are normal and you shouldn’t run away from them, though occasionally it will be hard not to beat yourself up over having them. For some, these feelings are connected to the fact that they miss the way their parent used to be or some of the things they used to do, even if it was just the simple ‘how was your day’ chats. In order for you to manage this phase of your life you can’t let it consume your life. Worrying about your parent will always be in the back of your mind, but it’s important that you do things to alleviate the pressure such as allowing others to help you, talking to an understanding friend, going to the movies, reading a good book, joining a support group, hanging out with family and friends or simply taking a day to spend time with yourself. You should also make a point of seeing a physician and/or counselor if you’re noticing a change in your physical and/or mental health (i.e. loss of appetite, lack of energy, depression, anxiety, resentment, etc.). Remember – in order for you to be able to take care of your parent you have to take care of yourself.



AARP Resources for Family Caregiving – The American Association for Retired Persons’ (AARP) website has a lot of information for caregivers (e.g. guides, tips, resources, etc.) whether you’re new to the role or are a seasoned caregiver.

American Bar Association Commission On Law and Aging – Has toolkits and information on making legal and healthcare decisions on behalf of an aging parent or relative.

Caring for the Caregiver – PBS resource webpage specifically for caregivers. It includes links to finding support groups, getting started in the caregiver role, and a self-assessment test to help caregivers recognize symptoms of stress and how to take care of themselves.

Five Facts About Family Caregivers – Pew Research facts about “caregivers of older Americans.”

Family Caregiver Alliance Caregiving Across 50 States – Profiles contain each state’s background characteristics related to caregiving and aging as well as information on publicly-funded caregiver support programs.

Mayo Clinic: Living Wills and Advance Directives for Medical Decisions – Information and documents from Mayo Clinic Staff in regards to medical arrangements when “you’re not able to speak for yourself.

Power of Attorney Forms – This website provides ‘power of attorney’ (PoA) form templates for all 50 states. Note: You should only use these forms as a starting point, since the forms may not be current due to changing state PoA laws. Make sure to check 1) the statutes of your parent/relative’s residential state for the most recent PoA laws or 2) an elder law attorney to ensure that your form is accurate and up-to-date.

Propublica Nursing Home Data – Allows you review and compare nursing homes in a state based on the deficiencies cited by regulators and the penalties imposed in the past three years.

U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Administration on Aging – Links to information, resources and services regarding older individuals and their caregivers

Understanding the Rules: Medicaid Payment for Nursing Home Care – Booklet designed to provide family and caregivers with “information and answers to some of the [nursing home-related] questions [they] will encounter.”

Fighting Gender Inequality In the Tech Industry, Underwear-Style

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Updated March 18, 2018

Was it a good idea to have women technology CEOs and coders pose in their underwear as a form of empowerment? Dear Kate, a company that sells “performance underwear for high performing women” has been dealing with this question since pics of its latest advertising campaign (2014) showing women techies in their undergarments were first released.

Some are not pleased with the campaign such as Elissa Shevinsky, CEO of the startup Glimpse Labs and author of the Business Insider article “That’s It—I’m Finished Defending Sexism in Tech.” She stated in Time Magazine that “[women] posing in [their] underwear undermines the message that [women] aim to be taken seriously as a technologist.” She added “This ad is like a parody,” and concluded. “I’m struggling to believe it’s real.” Natalie Matthews of Elle Magazine seems to disagree stating that “[t]here’s certainly no reason we should freak out over tech professionals embracing their feminine, sexual side…”

2014 Employee Gender Diversity Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)
2014 Employee Gender Diversity Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)

Dear Kate Founder and CEO Julie Sygiel came up with the campaign idea to help launch its Ada Collection, named after Ada Lovelace, the world’s first computer programmer. Sygiel sees these ads as part of its continuing efforts to promote real women, in this instance women in the tech industry.

Sygiel told Time “I think a lot of traditional lingerie photo shoots depict women as simply standing there looking sexy. They’re not always in a position of power and control” hence the ads showing the women coding in a tech/work environment. “In our photo shoots it’s important to portray women who are active and ambitious. They’re not just standing around waiting for things to happen.”

That may be true, but it doesn’t negate the fact that women have had a tough time in the technology industry, let alone reaching managerial echelons in the field. In the past few months several tech giants such as Google, Apple and Facebook finally released their employee demographics in response to grumblings regarding the tech industry’s lack of gender and racial diversity. As was expected the majority of tech employees are white and male (see side charts; other charts available at Fortune Magazine).

Combine the gender disparity with the ongoing misogyny in the field, women techies rightfully feel as if they are overlooked, underestimated and sometimes mistreated by their male counterparts in the industry.

But are these ads the right way to raise the issue of the lack of women in the tech industry?

When I first saw the ads the words ’empowerment,’ ‘awesome,’ or ‘sexist’ didn’t come to mind. I was mildly flummoxed about why these women were posing in their underwear with laptops. I was immediately reminded of commercials where I’ve seen young women talking about how they’re taking college classes online while in their pajamas. However, my bewilderment regarding the campaign turned into incredulity once I saw the other ‘Dear Kate’ images (where the women techies were still in their undies) with block quotes in which the women pontificated on the tech industry. This is where the campaign went off the unintentional deep end.

2014 Employee Gender Diversity By Leadership Team Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)
2014 Employee Gender Diversity By Leadership Team Chart for 14 Tech Companies (Image: Fortune Magazine)

How can the quotes or thoughts of these women be taken seriously when juxtaposed with them in their undies? Sadly, it actually makes them seem vapid – like listening to a not-so-bright beauty queen discuss world hunger – which is exactly the opposite of the goal of the campaign. It’s as if the ads were trying to do a two-for-one-deal in showing that women should be proud of their bodies no matter what shape or size and that there are women breaking barriers in the tech industry.

But the problem regarding women techies hasn’t been about their actual bodies, in a general sense, but about the small number of women employed in the industry or in leadership positions. Also, why do women have to take off their clothes to show that they’re comfortable about their bodies as a form of empowerment? No one is expecting tech CEOs or leaders such as Apple’s Tim Wise, Facebook’s Mark Zuckerberg, Google’s Larry Page, Twitter’s Dick Costolo or Amazon’s Jeff Bezos to drop down to their skivvies to show the tech industry that they are a force to be acknowledged and reckoned with.

Nevertheless, Matthew has a problem with the need or requirement that women should remove their sexuality from their professional lives. She says that the “idea that if women want to eliminate gender biases in STEM fields, they must first separate their sexual selves from their “serious,” professional ones” is a “double standard” that she views as “backward.”

Adda Birner, Founder of Skillcrush, and one of the women featured in the Dear Kate campaign, said to Time “I speak to a lot of women who ask, ‘Is it possible to be a woman in technology and be happy and like your work and not be sexually harassed every day?’ And showing more images of the women who are working in tech and love it and are kicking ass and taking names is a really good thing.”

Maybe we’re over-thinking Dear Kate’s ‘Women In Tech’ Ada Collection campaign in that it’s not about empowerment, sexism or exploitation. Maybe it’s just about showing women who happen to work in technology, looking comfortable in their underwear while working.

Sygiel seems to think so, stating to Elle “I believe women should be taken seriously regardless of what we are wearing, and this should hold true for all professions.”

What Matthews, Birnir and Sygiel have said sounds nice, but the fact that we’re still primarily discussing seeing these women in their undergarments, and not their professional accomplishments in the tech industry is telling. It’s just another example that women still have a ways to go when it comes to optics not being the determining factor in how they are viewed by men and women, no matter Dear Kate’s female empowerment intentions. Then again, the company is in the business of selling underwear so they may have accomplished their goal, if not anyone else’s, involved in this campaign.


What do you think about the Dear Kate underwear campaign? Below is a one-question survey to voice your opinion.


Stereotypes and Learning About Black Women From Watching Television

Cast of 'Girlfriends' TV show, an American comedy-drama sitcom that lasted eight years. (Image: UPN Television Network)
Cast of ‘Girlfriends’ TV show, an American comedy-drama sitcom that lasted eight years. Left to Right: Jill Marie Jones, Tracee Ellis Ross, Golden Brooks and Persia White. (Image: UPN Television Network)

As an African-American woman and television viewer for over thirty years there haven’t been many opportunities to see positive, let alone well-rounded portrayals of Black women on network and/or cable television. As I got older when I would see a black female character on a television show I would keep my fingers crossed and hope that she wasn’t poor, pregnant, ignorant, stoic or in an abusive relationship. Most of the times my wishes went unanswered, but that was just the way it was in Hollywood and for American television.

However, the past ten years has been sort of a watershed moment for black actresses and television in that more black women haven been on television in leading or prominent roles including Nicole Beharie (Sleepy Hollow), Uzo Aduba, (Orange Is the New Black), Danai Gurira (The Walking Dead), Angela Bassett (American Horror Story), Gabrielle Union (Being Mary Jane), Chandra Wilson (Grey’s Anatomy), Raven-Symone (That’s So Raven), Jada Pinkett Smith (Hawthorne) and Regina King (Southland). No one has had a bigger role though than Kerry Washington as Olivia Pope in Scandal. Combine that with scripted or reality shows that have a significant or mostly black female cast such as Girlfriends, Soul FoodReal Housewives of Atlanta, Love and Hip Hop – black women are more visible than ever on our televisions and computer screens, but also in our movie theaters.

Yet, even with the variety of black female roles on television Hollywood still traffics in obvious stereotypes of black women when writing black characters.

Below are some those stereotypes and imagery that still rear their ugly head in portrayals of black women on the small screen – no matter our evolving educational, cultural and economic impact on American society:

1. They are noticeably loud. Everything they say is said in such a booming and emphatic manner in comparison to others around them. Are they suffering from a debilitating auditory condition? Is their loudness due to a fact they don’t care that their voice is dominating the conversation and causing heavy wincing? The American Medical Association has yet to commence research regarding this ‘Hollywood’ medical condition though the problem still exists.

Black woman standing in clean kitchen (Image: Feature Pics)
Black woman standing in clean kitchen (Image: Feature Pics)

2. They browbeat their loved-ones as a sign of affection. They will tell their husbands, siblings, sisters and friends how much they’ve screwed up their work life, relationships or financial situations in sometimes amusing but mostly painful and humiliating fashion – all because they care about them. They’ll eventually express how much they love the person, but not before making them feel really bad about themselves.

3. They are born with Southern accents no matter where they live. Whether they were born in New York, California or somewhere in-between, they will eventually sound like they were born and raised in the Deep South. Maybe it’s something they have picked up subliminally from their mythical great aunt or grandmother while hearing their mythical tales of the how glorious the mythical South was for blacks back-in-the-day as long as they worked hard and lived right.

4. They are addicted to cleaning. Nothing makes their day like having a clean home, especially a spotless kitchen since that’s where they love to spend most of their time (more on that later). Sniffing the air of a clean home and smiling happily when their family comes home and acknowledges their hard work is the highlight of their day. Because of course every black woman has had a grandmother, mom or aunt who used to clean white people’s homes for a living.

5. They are genetically pre-disposed to suffer hair loss. They appear to become follicly-challenged once they enter their early teens, hence the heavy usage of wigs, weaves, braids and extensions to supplement their thinning hair and/or to protect what little hair they have left. By the time they’ve entered their forties full-fledged wigs have become the norm for most of them.

Irma P. Hall as 'Grandma Joe' the matriarch in the movie 'Soul Food.' (Image:  IMDB)
Irma P. Hall as ‘Grandma Joe’ the matriarch in the movie ‘Soul Food.’ (Image: IMDB)

6. They are biblical scholars. They can pull a quote from the bible as fast as Dirty Harry can draw a gun. Old Testament. New Testament. Revised Standard. King James Version. They keep one around at all times on the rare occasion that they have to reference it as a refresher or to fend off evil spirits.

7. They have unstable necks, resulting in excessive circular head movements. On occasion their heads become unusually heavy when they experience a bout of emphaticism (aka making a strong verbal point to their conversation partner). When this situation occurs their neck can no longer support the size of their head, hence the head-nod-to-headroll-in-a-counter-clockwise physiological anomaly.

8. Enjoy being sidekicks or third-wheels to white women. This is mainly due to their innate shyness that they cover-up by being extremely bossy towards their white BFFs. However in the rare instance that their white BFF decides to give them a wee bit of limelight the black woman will scurry back to the sidelines because that’s where she is obviously most comfortable.

9. They are always financially-challenged. They are constantly worrying about how to pay their bills because they never have enough money to pay their bills. It’s not because they blow money fruitlessly, but that they never seem to have enough money to do anything due to working one or more crappy jobs because they’re a single parent or have to support a sick mom, a deadbeat husband or a lazy boyfriend.

10. Love to cook jumbo-sized, down-home meals no matter the occasion or time of day. Black women are true believers of their own axiom that ‘All problems can be solved over a home-cooked meal.’ Accordingly they will break out their pots and pans for Thanksgiving-styled meals throughout the year, whether the problem is big or small, or even if a grilled cheese sandwich and a bowl of soup would suffice.

Kerry Washington as 'Olivia Pope' in the television show 'Scandal.' Pope is the rare character that doesn't fit the usual black women television role. (Image: ABC Television)
Kerry Washington as ‘Olivia Pope’ in the television show ‘Scandal.’ Pope is the rare character that doesn’t fit the usual black women television role. (Image: ABC Television)

11. Their life goals are very exacting. It seems that their dream jobs are  to own a hair salon, be a nanny to a precocious white child, a talk show host, music video vixen or to get married. Nothing else is remotely acceptable to them.

12. There is a correlation between their weight and their behavior. If they’re skinny they are mean and vain. If they’re plump they are warm and sassy. Average-sized black women seem to have low survival rates, hence they’re rarely spotted beyond their teen years.

13. They have infinite amounts of wisdom no matter the topic. Whatever the situation they will find a cliche, parable or homily for the moment in an attempt to make you feel better or to sum up the situation in case you have no clue what’s going on. Like your own personal ‘Gone With the Wind‘ Mammy.

Black women are not asking for Hollywood to portray them as flawless human beings or, as some sort of uber black female that is attractive, strong and respected. Cinematically, that has always been the demand from African-Americans and civil rights organizations because of the decades-long onslaught of negative imagery of black people, especially black men.

However, having black female characters who have ‘made it’ professionally, academically or financially but still act stereotypically ‘ghetto’ is incongruous and frankly asinine, yet it still happens (see ‘Angela’ in Why Did I Get Married movies).

Black female characters should run the gamut just like their white female counterparts. Hollywood producers should portray us as rich, poor, upper class, lower class, smart, clueless, serious, sassy, tough, scared, healthy, sick, overweight, sexy, nerdy, beautiful, ugly, friendly, deadly and any other social, emotional and economic variations. Why? Because black women are not a monolith or part of some collective Borg where we have the same thoughts, ideas or experiences. We are individuals with similarities and differences – imagine that.

Maybe one day Hollywood will put this particular conversation to rest, but I’m not going to hold my breath. Because for every Olivia Pope Tinseltown will always have black maids waiting in the wings.

As they say, the more things change the more they stay the same.


Related YETBW Blog Post: Learning About White Women From Watching Television.

For more information: The Media, Diversity and Social Change Initiative at the University of Southern California’s Annenberg School for Communication and Journalism describes itself as the “premiere research think tank in the world dedicated to addressing issues of inequality in entertainment.” It may be a slight exaggeration, but not by much. They do extensive research on diversity and the lack thereof in the entertainment industry. Their work is highly cited by those interested and concerned about the issue. You can read their annual reports and other research here.

Sometimes You’re Better Off Not Knowing

Today (November 21, 2013) is the last day someone can turn in their $16 million lottery ticket that they purchased at a food market in Florida.  Today is the last day someone can change their financial life in a way that they never imagined was possible.

Pile Of U.S. $100 Bills (Image: PicturesOfMoney.Org, Nov. 21, 2013)
Pile Of U.S. $100 Bills (Image: PicturesOfMoney.Org, Nov. 21, 2013)

It has been 180 days since an unclaimed winning Powerball ticket was purchased at Carrollwood Market on Saturday, May 25, 2013. For whatever reason the winner has yet to come forward to bask in his or her multimillion-dollar windfall.

The Huffington Post states that if the lottery winnings remain unclaimed “about 80 percent of that share will go toward the state’s education enhancement trust fund [and] the remaining 20 percent [back into the] Florida Lottery prize pool to fund new games and promotions.”

Hardcore, occasional and first-time lottery players are imagining what it would be like if they were the one to have that ticket. There are those who have never played who are wondering as well.

For a few, your lottery dream might go something like this . . .

You’re running around your home, getting ready for work when you hear this story on your local news channel. You frequently purchase lottery tickets, sometimes at the Carrollwood Market. Suddenly you realize or think that you may have purchased a lottery ticket at that store on Memorial weekend.

What your living room could end up looking like while searching for that lottery ticket. (Photo:, Nov. 21, 2013).
What your living room could end up looking like while searching for that lottery ticket. (Photo:, Nov. 21, 2013).

Immediately you start digging through your clothes, wallet, purses, and bags. Since you need more time to look you decide to take the day off from work so that you can tear apart your home and car to find that ticket. Hoping and praying that maybe your ticket has the winning numbers. During your search you start imagining all the things that you could do with all those millions. Pay-off your family’s debt. Quit your job. Take early retirement. Leave the area or country. Buy a new home and car. Set aside money for your children’s tuition. Go on a much needed vacation. Donate money to your favorite charities. Start your dream business.

But as the day passes and you still haven’t found that lottery ticket, you start to question your search. Telling yourself that you’re wasting your time. Thinking about the long odds that you of all people would actually have the winning ticket. That something so wonderful would never happen to you. That maybe your luck has finally changed. That maybe having that much money would bring about more pain than happiness. Eventually you realize that you have looked everywhere, but can’t find the ticket. Maybe you lost it. Maybe you never had it. Anyway, it’s 12:10 a.m. – the deadline has passed for you to cash in on a new life.

The next day the Florida Lottery Spokesperson announces in an authoritative yet still surprised tone that no one has claimed the $16 million winnings – that the money would go back to the state of Florida.

Aston Martin Car, Model - Vanquish 2012 (Photo:, Nov. 21, 2013)
Aston Martin Car, Model – Vanquish 2012. A dream car for the rich and famous. (Photo:, Nov. 21, 2013)

A week later you’re cleaning under your refrigerator and notice a couple of lottery tickets underneath. For a second you forget about the unclaimed lottery winnings. But then you remember – and then debate whether you want to look more closely at the tickets. You ask yourself ‘Do I really want to know if one of these are the winning ticket?’ You tell yourself ‘I will only look at the store name and the date to see if I had a chance of winning.’  But then you wonder if you can stick to that promise, especially if it turns out the store name and purchase date are the same as the unclaimed winning ticket. What about the numbers? Would you be able to live with yourself if it turned out to be the winning ticket? Would you end up shortchanging the rest of your life because you would always be thinking ‘If Only I Would Have Found That Ticket In Time?’

Your back starts to ache. You have been standing in the kitchen for almost 30 minutes, clinching the lottery tickets so hard so that you’ve practically crumpled them. You drop the tickets to the floor as if they were on fire. The thoughts of what you could have done with that money run through your head again like a never-ending freight train, though you know that this train has passed you by.

Powerball winner Gloria Mackenzie, 84, leaves the lottery office after claiming her lottery winnings. (Photo: Steve Cannon, AP, June 5, 2013)
Powerball winner Gloria Mackenzie, 84, leaves the lottery office after claiming her lottery winnings. (Photo: Steve Cannon, AP, June 5, 2013)

The tickets are staring up at you, but you look away as you place them in the kitchen trash can. You walk back in the living room, seemingly pleased with your decision to discard the tickets. Maybe for some this act would have been enough. But as you sit on your couch you know that you have to destroy the tickets as if they never existed. You retrieve the tickets from the trashcan, grab some matches and burn the tickets until all you see are small flakes of ash. Though you shake your head at your actions your mind is finally at ease because the ‘what ifs’ have disappeared.

You promise yourself that you’ll never play the lottery again. You remind yourself  wisely of the idiom ‘a fool and his money are soon parted.’ Weeks and then months have passed since you have purchased a lottery ticket. But one morning you hear that the Powerball is worth over $300 million.  Self-promises are tossed aside easily because – well, you have broken them before. After work  you swing by Carrollwood’s Market and then a nearby 7-11 store to pick up a few lottery tickets.

Your last stop is a hardware store to purchase a nice change box to keep your lottery tickets, just in case…because…you never know.


Update: On Friday, November 23, 2013 Florida lottery authorities announced that no one had come forward with the winning Powerball lottery ticket. The $16 million jackpot expired at 11:59 pm EDT Thursday, November 22, 2013. The ticket is now worthless.

Dear ‘Old White People’ – No, I don’t “work” here

PSEUDO DISCLAIMER: The following post is about the author’s retail experiences with “old white people” who have mistaken her for being a store employee. For the record, the author isn’t stating that all “old white people” assume – erroneously or otherwise –  that ‘shoppers of color’ are retail store clerks. Furthermore, the author’s blog post is not meant to disparage older persons or those hard-working individuals who are employed by retail and/or restaurant establishments. We at ‘You’re Entitled To Be Wrong’ do not discriminate against people based on age, race, sex, gender, class, ethnicity, religion or sexual orientation. We only have it out for those individuals who make stereotypical assumptions because they’re culturally lazy and myopic.

Shoppers carrying bags cross Broadway near Macy's in New York (Photo: Jeremy Bales-Bloomberg News, August 9, 2008)
Shoppers carrying bags cross Broadway near Macy’s in New York (Photo/Jeremy Bales-Bloomberg News, August 9, 2008)

I’m not much of a shopper. The best thing to happen to me when it comes to shopping is the Internet. Being able to shop online is simply fantastic. However, I still do in-store retail shopping, whether it’s for health supplies, make-up products, clothing or household items. Like most customers when you do in-store shopping on occasion you may need help finding something – so you go in search of a store employee for assistance.

For most people, when searching for a store employee you look for something that designates that person as a store employee such as 1) a store uniform (i.e. shirt with store logo, distinctive clothing, etc.);  2) person is wearing a store nametag/nameplate or 3) someone who looks like they work there (i.e. you see them tagging items, lifting boxes, wearing an apron, etc.). Once you spot one of these  indicators you approach that person then proceed to ask your question – makes perfectly good sense.

CVS Dress Code for employees (Photo/lCVS Caremark website)
CVS Dress Code for employees (Photo/CVS Caremark website)

Yet, it appears that ‘old white people’ (age range 50 to elderly) don’t go through these steps. They have their own steps which amounts to 1) they can’t find something and 2) they ask someone – usually a person of color –  if they “work here” – no matter whether that person looks like a store employee or not. These particular ‘old white people’ steps normally occur in general, specialty or department store retail establishments such as CVS, Payless, The Body Shop, Target or Macy’s.

I could be magnanimous and say maybe some of these ‘old white people’ are just being impatient because they haven’t been able to locate their desired item quickly enough. Time is of the essence to them since most of them have been around the block many times or at least “since the birth of Christ” (to borrow a phrase from my mom). Therefore they will ask the first person they see for assistance, which is a reasonable assumption.

But what about all the other examples which aren’t so simple? Where a person of color sometimes have to question the assumptions of these ‘old white people’ such as when the following occurs:

  • A black woman in business attire (black pants, red jacket, white shirt and pearls) at Macy’s is shopping for pantyhose. She is surrounded by white women dressed in casual to business wear. Older white woman, age 60+ weaves through the crowd of women to ask the black woman where the shoe department is located.
  • An Asian woman and her Black female friend are trying on shoes at a Payless Shoe Store. An elderly white male (55+) enters the store. He then walks up to the two women and asks them if they work there and proceeds to tell them he is looking for sandals.
  • A black male is standing near the front lobby area of a restaurant, waiting for his girlfriend who is in the restroom. A senior white female (60+) asks him for a copy of the menu because she wants to look it over while she is waiting to be seated.
  • A black woman in a pants suit in Rite-Aid is looking at make-up. Near the woman are three black female store employees who are stocking the store shelves. The employees are wearing burgundy smocks with the word ‘Rite-Aid’ on the back.  Older white woman (65+) walks down the aisle. She sees the women, but walks up to the pants-suit clad woman and asks where she can find aerosol sprays.

Walmart employee working at store (Photo/William Thomas Cain - Getty Images)
Walmart employee working at store (Photo/William Thomas Cain – Getty Images)

The above examples are incidents that have happened to a few of my friends and myself just this year. Unfortunately, it is a microcosm of incidents that I have dealt with for the past twenty-five plus years. My usual response to these ‘old white people’ is a firm “No” or  “No – I don’t work here.” Other times my response is semi-sardonic in which I’ll say “Wait – did I forget to put my nametag on today?” while looking exaggeratedly confused. It really depends on how I’m approached by these individuals.

Some would argue that since these ‘old white people’ ask the question “Do you work here?” it therefore negates their accidental assumptions or cultural ineptness. That particular argument is besides the point. What is also besides the point is the fact that people of color are primarily employed at retail establishments.

Target Store nametag for new employees (Photo/
Target Store nametag for new employees (Photo/

What is and should be the point is that there are ‘old white people’ making stereotypical assumptions in retail settings without allowing their eyes to do a bit of homework for them before they step into a possible ‘I am about to offend someone’ zone.

Is it really that hard for them to look for indicators to see if a person is actually a store employee before posing their ‘I need help’ question? Are ‘shoppers of color’ asking too much for this basic courtesy?

I could be ageist and make jokes or snarky comments about the deteriorating eyesight of ‘old white people,’ but somehow I think they see what they want to see just fine.

Now where did I put my Target staff shirt again?