What are your plans for your tax cut? Thoughts on what can be done with heavier paychecks and paying less tax

Depending on your world view, this blog post may upset you, but it contains some ideas worth pondering. As they once told us at the Writer’s Center, if you’re not making someone uncomfortable, you’re not doing a good job of writing. This may also be my first blog post to incorporate all of the principles of my blog.

Our calendar year is marked by different seasons. Each year builds up to the excitement of the traditional ‘Holiday Season’ – Thanksgiving and Christmas. When the ball finally drops in Times Square, all of the excitement stops with the birth of new year. The holiday decorations and advertising goes away and ‘Tax’ season starts. It wasn’t until I became a working adult myself that I realized that Tax season was its own season, spanning through the Super Bowl, Black History Month, Valentine’s Day, March Madness; right up until Easter Sunday.

You start seeing advertisements on TV for franchises like ‘H&R Block’, and software like ‘Turbotax’. If you have one your tax preparer starts calling you for your annual appointment. You see people dressed up like the Statue of Liberty on street corners encouraging you to have your taxes done at franchises like Liberty Tax. If you’ve paid taxes, you start gathering your materials together to have your taxes done – your W-2 and other associated forms, your gift receipts, your mortgage interest deduction statement, etc.
Depending on your diligence, you either get them done early, or you procrastinate right up to the middle of April. It’s an exciting time, or a desperate one. Depending on how you’re living your life, the refund (if you get one) will propel you further ahead, or it will be gone as soon as you receive it.

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The 2018 tax season will be different than most in recent times in that many Americans will receive a tax cut, thanks to the recently passed ‘Tax Reform and Jobs Act’. Tremendous controversy surrounded the bill – specifically its beneficiaries. If you were 100% against the bill and are still convinced that it was written solely to help the wealthy, no discussion of the increased standard deductions or the adjusted tax brackets will sway how you feel. This is particularly true if you live in one of the high tax states like my native New York State, whose residents are losing the ability to write off some of their state taxes – taxes which are much higher than the other states.

I would highly encourage everyone to do their own research and not take what you hear on the major cable news networks as the gospel. For this post, I’ve done my own research and am citing projections from the Tax Policy Center of the Urban Institute and Brookings Institution which was last updated on December 22, 2017. The majority of the rancor and debate in the Main Stream Media (MSM) has centered around the wealthiest

Americans being the biggest beneficiaries of the law. That discussion leads us down the road of ‘Identity Politics’, ‘Fairness’, and varying perceptions of what’s right and wrong. It brings up President Barrack Obama’s position that, “Some Americans can afford to pay more taxes,” versus the other point of view which is that it’s wrong to excessively take money from those who have created it, or inherited it for unsustainable government spending.

My focus is on the potential benefits for individuals living on ‘Main Street’ and what they can do with a little more money in their pockets. I would encourage everyone else to do the same – ask yourselves what you can do to make your life and the lives around you better, as opposed to focusing on what others are getting. It’s tricky because its gets us into discussions about doing for self, and personal responsibility – difficult discussions, but important ones nonetheless.

The new law seems to have already encouraged companies like Apple to reinvest in the United States, but what are the effects of the Tax Reform and Jobs Act personally for people living on Main Street? First, how it affects your life will in large part depend on how you’re living your life in the here and now. Are you living ‘paycheck to paycheck’ or ‘hand to mouth’ as some would say? Are you living outside of your means? Are you riding a high level of debt? Do you have any emergency money? These questions will determine if you’re able to take any extra money you get back and build with it, or if it will get gobbled up right away.

According the Tax Policy Center’s report, one of the major changes in the bill is the increased Standard Deduction for single people and married couples – $6,500 to $13,000 for single people and $9,550 to $18,000 for married couples. For us on Main Street, this one change is going to either increase your refund, or decrease the amount of tax you owe – a win for most people. The tax brackets and associated percentages have also been adjusted. I was originally going to discuss the host of other changes and provisions, but I’ll just simply say that many of the other changes were made based upon the generous expansion of the Standard Deduction.

In addition to the changes in taxes at filing time which will be seen when filing in 2019 for the 2018 tax year, it appears there are going to be changes to Main Street’s paychecks in the near future. Kelly Phillips Erb of Forbes published an article on January 11, 2018 titled IRS Releases New 2018 Withholding Tables to Reflect Tax Law Changes. Based upon these changes which are to take effect in February, many Americans are going to get ‘raises’ due to changes in the amounts withheld. Many people are going to have extra money to spend.

This brings me back to the title of this blog post. What are your plans for your tax cut? As in my ‘Net Worth’ piece, this is a rhetorical question – one whose answers I wouldn’t recommend broadcasting. There are reasons for my asking this question. Do citizens on Main Street need some extra money at tax time and in their paychecks? The data in the next section suggest that they do.

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About a month or so ago when the tax cut debate reached its crescendo, someone on Twitter shared an article entitled The shocking number of Americans who can’t cover a $400 expense, written by Ylan Q. Mui of the Washington Post. The article was published on May 25, 2016, and was based on a 2015 Report by the Federal Reserve which I’ve linked to this piece.

The article cited Figure 12 from the Federal Reserve’s report. Of the three groups surveyed, the group making less than $40,000 said they’d have the hardest time covering a $400 expense – overall less than 50%. The group making $40,000 to $100,000 had the second hardest time covering a $400 expense – overall 62%. As expected, the group making greater than $100,000 fared the best – overall 81% could cover a $400 emergency expense. That said it surprised me that someone making above $100,000 would have a hard time covering a $400 expense. By the way, the groups were broken down by race. Interestingly, black/non-Hispanics were the least likely of this $100,000 or greater group to be able to cover a $400 expense – 63% and Hispanics were close by at 67%.

The argument could be made that individuals making less than $40,000 just don’t make enough money to live off of, but what about those making above $40,000? The same is true for individuals making $100,000 or greater. This data suggests that either the United States has become too expensive a place in which to live, or that some people are mismanaging their finances. In both cases, it seems quite a few people could use the extra money. One could suggest that it’s unwise to not carry enough for a $400 emergency, but that’s dangerous because it gets us into discussions about personal accountability/responsibility, and self-reliance.

Rodney Brooks also of the Washington Post wrote an article entitled 71 percent of Americans aren’t saving enough for retirement. In the article he cited data from a national survey by Experion in collaboration with Get Rich Slowly stating that 71% of people surveyed said they didn’t have enough money to retire. Why would Americans not have enough retirement money? Mr. Brooks further cited data from the Consumer Financial Protection Bureau stating that among other things, the percentage of homeowners 65 and older with mortgage debt increased from 22% in 2001 to 30% in 2011. Among homeowners 75 and older, the rate more than doubled to 21.2% from 8.4%.

Furthermore, 49% of the people polled had credit card debt, and 46% had less savings than they expected to have five years earlier. Katie Ryan O’Connor, an editor from Get Rich Slowly, was cited in Mr. Brooks’ article stating that 71% of the people in the survey said they were not invested in the stock market, and 41% said that they had no plans to invest due to lack of funds. The data cited in these two articles suggest that some Americans could benefit from having some more money in their pockets. If you’re wary of investing money, a wise alternative may be to simply shove it under your mattress for an unforeseen emergency. Over the holiday season, a relative shared that simply getting, “rear-ended on the expressway,” causing a $500-dollar emergency would put many Americans in financial distress, so this seems to be real. By the way, a really good course for learning about the importance of emergency funds and the dangers of debt is Dave Ramsey’s Financial Peace University.

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I’ve discussed a lack of money for $400 emergencies and retirement savings, but what else can one do with an increased standard deduction and a heavier paycheck? One alternative is to put something into the collection plate of charities, causes and institutions of your own personal interest that also need money. That can be anything, but I’m going someplace in particular with this.

Early on in President Trump’s first year, some Historically Black College and University (HBCU) Presidents bravely visited the White House, upsetting many alumni, students, and African Americans in general. Why did they go? The answer is simple. Their institutions, many of which are close to folding, needed money. Higher Education is a business – one which relies on funding from the Federal Government via grants and loan programs, in addition to gifts from private industry, and donations from generous and loyal alumni.

Three out of the four years I wrote for the Examiner, I interviewed Allstate’s Cheryl Harris about her company’s ‘Quotes for Education’ program in collaboration with Tom Joyner. What consistently came out of those interviews were discussions about anemic rates of giving by HBCU alumni – something that continues today. For my alma mater, Johnson C. Smith University (JCSU), we’ve experienced the same thing. In 2014, as the treasurer for our DC Alumni Chapter, I unofficially got wind that my class of 1999 had an 11% alumni giving rate. That is only 11% of the alumni from my class gave anything to the university that calendar year. It’s a strange phenomenon in that in 2018, HBCUs – those still open, are still very necessary in terms offering higher educations for students who can’t get them anywhere else.

Recently on December 6, 2017, Reginald Stuart of the online publication, Diverse Education, published an article entitled SACSCOC Places Johnson C. Smith University on Probation. The article discussed how the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commissions on Colleges (SACSCOC) placed my alma mater on a 12-month probation due to concerns about the long-term financial viability of the institution. The article stated that SACSCOC’s actions do not immediately impact the school’s accreditation, though a failure to correct the standards cited could lead to the university losing its accreditation and subsequently permanently shutting its doors. The article further stated that JCSU, in addition to Bennett College and St. Augustine’s University, are ‘tuition-dependent’, meaning that they enroll a high percentage of students who need federal financial aid to attend college.

Why would my alma mater and others like it have such low alumni giving rates? It’s a difficult discussion to have once again because it gets us back into personal responsibility. One explanation for the anemic HBCU alumni giving is indifference about the future crops of students. An alternative explanation is that perhaps many HBCU alumni simply don’t have enough money to give back to their alma maters. It thus again suggests that perhaps they could benefit from a tax cut like the one just passed. If you’re an HBCU alumni who will benefit from the Tax Reform and Jobs Act, regardless of how you feel about President Trump and the Republicans, a potential use for your new extra money in your paychecks could be a donation to your alma mater or an organization like the United Negro College Fund, which gives money to black students at both HBCUs and ‘Predominantly White Institutions’. But that’s up to you.

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Clearly, there are a lot of people who can use extra money. How it’s used will depend on the individual. Will it be spent frivolously on a new pair of shoes and other depreciating items? Or will it be used for something long lasting like a down payment towards a house, retirement savings or donation to a charity? Consider the best way to use your gift from the Grand Old Party. Whose lives and community will it stabilize and enrich? Will it be your own? Or will it be someone else’s? Whose job is it to take care of you and your people? Is it yours or someone else’s? I touched upon this briefly towards the end of my blog post titled Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in household income, wealth building, and privilege. And in closing, what are your plans for your tax cut? Again it’s a rhetorical question – one I wouldn’t necessarily broadcast. Instead, it’s something to think about.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. In you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:

Who will benefit from Apple’s $350 investment?
Challenging stereotypes and misconceptions on household income and wealth building
We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing story
Mother’s Day 2017: one of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff
Your gross salary, your net worth and what they mean
The difference between being cheap and frugal

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Perspectives of federal workers caught in the middle of the 2013 government shutdown revisited

The following piece was originally published on the Examiner back in October of 2013 during my very first government shutdown as a federal employee. It was followed by another piece which I also recently republished titled The myth of the stability of being a government employee revisited. Five years later after our most recent three-day government shutdown, and with another potential one on the way, I thought it would be appropriate to republish it.

The reality is that regardless of one’s position on something like the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA), there are many, many government employees who have bills to pay and can’t afford the uncertainty of having a prolonged break in their income. This piece captured some of the rumblings of those around me leading up to, and during the time we were sent home for two weeks. It turned out to be a paid vacation as we were reimbursed for those two weeks, and ‘Obamacare’ was eventually signed into law – at least for the time being.

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By the time this article goes up, the 2013 government shutdown may be over, or it may still be in effect. No one knows except our elected officials. In the meantime, when writing up the piece about The myth of the stability of being a government employee, the idea recently came to me to capture some of the reactions and sentiments of friends and colleagues in the federal government before and during the shutdown. The following are samples of quotes and reactions to the shutdown from people in my circle.

“All we can tell you is to watch the news. We don’t know when this will be over,” our supervisors and managers told us leading up the shutdown and then on the day we when we went through our shutdown protocols. We all knew that the government shutdown might be coming months in advance so all of this wasn’t a big surprise, though leaving my workplace that last time not knowing when I would return was a sobering feeling.

“We got reimbursed back in 1995 after the Clinton-Gingrich shutdown, but it’s not guaranteed that we’ll get it this time. It’s actually not looking good,” a seasoned coworker said days before the shutdown with a look of fear on his face from potentially losing the pay. It was with good reason too as our bills would continue rolling in even as our paychecks froze.

Immediately after the shutdown went into effect, many federal employees took it hard. While many were worried about the financial pinch, many workers actually found fulfillment in their work, and were upset that they couldn’t work simply because of lack of agreement by our elected officials. Some even became skeptical about continuing to work for the federal government.

“This sucks,” a coworker text-messaged me the morning of Oct. 2, the day immediately after the start of the shutdown. In later messages over the course of the shutdown, his frustrations continued saying, “I’m going to keep my options open employment-wise. It’s just going to get more difficult in the government – more work, lower pay (furloughs), no promotions, on top of the usual politics.”

“When my federal job got shutdown, I knew that I was just go and spend time at my other jobs,” a friend who has his hand in a number of community service and other projects outside of work peacefully stated. While many federal workers were crushed about not being able to go to work, others saw it as opportunity to invest their time in other projects.

“We might get shutdown, but we’ll be back to work eventually. In the meantime, those who have savings will be okay, and those who don’t will scramble to find the money to buy a bag of potato chips. It’ll be okay.” Prior to the start of the government shutdown, some colleagues weren’t worried about it at all. An unconcerned seasoned coworker who was savvy about money and investing smiled and told talked with me about the shutdown in a very carefree way.

Some retired federal employees looked at the current situation with fond memories of previous shutdowns, and made observations about the spending habits of and mentalities of the younger generations of federal employees.

“We never worried about the government shutdowns. We just relaxed and enjoyed the time off,” a retired federal employee laughingly said at an alumni association executive board meeting I’m involved with. “We were a different generation though. We had money saved up and could thus survive. People in the younger generations don’t live like we did and are in real trouble right now. They’re going paycheck to paycheck.”

“I’m filing for unemployment,” a disgusted coworker said walking from the printer the day of the shutdown, when we had to go into the office and officially close down our work stations. He continued, “The director just sent this certificate to all of us. I recommend you print it off and do the same thing.”

About a week later, my unemployment papers were put in the mail as well. Other federal employees congregated around the city to take advantage of the free specials offered by local restaurants.   We all watched the news everyday wondering when our elected officials would make some sort of agreement and reopen the federal government.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. In you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me at the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

The myth of the stability of being a government employee revisited

“For those of us who are in the military, contractors and government employees living paycheck to paycheck yet who are still Democrats, to be honest, we NEEDED them to cave. Republicans don’t want the big gov’t anyway. They don’t care if it fails. We need our jobs.”

The following piece was originally published on the Examiner back in October of 2013 during my very first government shutdown early in my federal career. Five years later after our most recent three-day government shutdown, and with another one potentially on the way, I thought it would be appropriate to republish this. The opening quote is from a thread on Twitter. Someone took a verbal shot at Senator Chuck Schumer for caving in and ending the shutdown after only three days, and a federal employee responded saying that she needed Schumer and the Democrats to surrender. The reality is that regardless of one’s position on something like the Deferred Action on Childhood Arrivals policy (DACA), there are many, many government employees who have bills to pay and can’t afford the uncertainty of having a prolonged break in their income. When government shutdowns occur, we see that there are instances when federal careers are not as stable as we believe them to be.

* * *

Recently many of my articles have focused on financial literacy. One of the key components of financial literacy is the knowledge of how to generate income whether it be through working a job, entrepreneurship, or wise investment of money already earned. With the government shutdown taking place, quite a few federal employees have been forced to ponder one of the key considerations of working a job; security.

“When we were in college, the government was thought to be the place to be in terms of employment. A lot of people wanted to get in,” a close friend who is also a federal employee and a mother of two with a third on the way said when recently over lunch. “Now things are really different and there is so much uncertainty. People are rethinking whether or not they want to go in or even stay in the government.”

In a booming economy with plentiful tax revenues, a robust Gross Domestic Product (GDP), and when our elected officials are getting along, yes being a federal employee can be a good way to go, so much so that some would say that government employees are treated too well. Prior to 2008, it was thought to be stable employment and federal employees were thought to be relatively safe from the ups and downs of our nation’s economy. On a side note, it has also been said that it’s hard to fire federal employees, and that there are some in our ranks who have lost their desire to produce and are getting paid to do nothing. In that regard maybe some federal employees are treated too well.

When the country is in a recession and our elected officials can’t agree on how to best fund the government, or even to fund it at all, being a federal employee can look a lot less attractive. It is then that you (as have many) realize that you are still at the mercy of someone else; in this case our politicians who interestingly continue to get paid no matter what.
My tenure as a federal employee started in 2008 at the end of George W. Bush’s second term just as the current economic downturn ramped up (the Great Recession).

Though having a steady income while other sectors of the economy were disintegrating around us, federal employees have experienced/ endured:

• A freeze of our annual Cost of Living Adjustment (COLA);
• The uncertainty of ‘Continuing Resolutions’ instead having concrete budgets;
• The 2011 standoff over the raising of the ‘Debt Ceiling’ and the ‘Fiscal Cliff’;
• The 2013 summer ‘Sequestration’ leading to furloughs and;
• Now the 2013 shutdown over ‘Obamacare’ and a potential second showdown over the raising of the Debt Ceiling compliments of the Tea Party.

This series of unfortunate events has shown that federal employees are just as vulnerable to the same economic calamities as everyone else when perfect storms like the one that we’re currently in sets in. It has shown that federal employees are at the mercy of quarreling elected officials. These events have in fact shown that whether you’re employed by the private sector, the government, or an entrepreneur, everyone is vulnerable to something. Lastly though it hasn’t taken place during my tenure, there is also something call a Reduction in Force (RIF) in the government where the size of the workforce needs to be reduced, and federal employees are retained or let go based upon seniority and experience.

No matter what sector of employment or business you’re in, it is once again important to not live ‘paycheck to paycheck’ if you can help it, and to have some money saved up for unforeseen hardships such as this 2013 government shutdown. In his Financial Peace University course, Dave Ramsey calls that having an ‘Emergency Fund‘, or a ‘GOK’ (God Only Knows) fund.

Thank you for taking the time to read this blog post. In you enjoyed this post you might also enjoy:

Who will benefit from Apple’s $350 billion investment?
Challenge stereotypes and misconceptions on household income and wealth building
We should’ve bought Facebook and Bitcoin stock: An investing story
Mother’s Day 2017: one of my mother’s greatest gifts, getting engaged, and avoiding my own personal fiscal cliff
Your net worth, your gross salary and what they mean
The difference between being cheap and frugal

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Who will have the skills to benefit from Apple’s $350 billion investment?

Two of the principles of my blog are “Creating Ecosystems of Success” and “Long-Term Thought”. While my scientific background is in the biomedical sciences Pharmacology and Toxicology, it’s imperative for me to keep my eyes on what’s happening in the other Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM)-fields. This allows me to use my platform to help guide others career-wise, and also for investment purposes (see my Facebook and Bitcoin post). In this post I want to discuss both STEM and careers, and the impacts of the new tax bill on the ‘Tech’ sector, as well as others.

My goal is to keep this post short. I actually have another post in the works regarding the new controversial ‘Tax Reform and Jobs Act’, but a recent development involving the company Apple prompted me to craft of this piece. I’ll start with a recent purchase involving one of the other ‘Four Horseman of Technology Stocks’, Amazon. Shortly after the holiday season, I ordered a copy of economist Dr. Thomas Sowell’s “Trickle Down” Theory and “Tax Cuts For The Rich”. I didn’t buy the book strictly because the Tax Cuts and Jobs Act was recently signed into law, but because I had an Amazon gift card and thought it would be an educational read. I’m also admittedly one of Dr. Sowell’s biggest fans as he embodies most of the principles of my blog. He empowers his readers with the economic laws and theories, and historical facts to interpret current events, government policies and political discussions with a more complete perspective, independent of your political affiliation or background.

The very short book discusses the famous ‘Trickle Down Theory’ which is a hotly debated topic among economists, media pundits, and politicians. Coincidentally, according to Dr. Sowell, it isn’t a formal economic law and never has been. Instead it is a term used to demonize any cutting of taxes which have historically sparked economic growth in our country, as opposed being a means of making the rich richer and ignoring the needs of those on ‘Main Street’ – the way tax cuts are typically depicted by their opposition. As expected, leading up to its passing, the Tax Reform and Jobs Act was accused of solely being a tax break for the wealthy by its opposition. Recently however, numerous sources are now reporting that it’s actually going to benefit people on Main Street as well. But what will the new law do for the national economy itself on a macro level? On January 17, 2018, Yahoo published an article titled Apple says it will invest $350 billion and hire 20,000 workers in the U.S. over the next five years.

While this is an opportunity for some to boast to the opposition that they had the bill all wrong, my focus is on who will benefit from Apple’s repatriation of its earnings, and its $350 billion investment in the United States. It seems to me that those who are trained in the technologies Apple is working on, and currently has in its pipeline, stand to benefit significantly in terms of career, earning potential, and upward mobility. Those skills may involve things like writing applications for ‘Blockchain Technology’, and/or ‘Quantum’ computers among others. Those who are not trained in those areas will only benefit from the products Apple produces, for the most part, solely as consumers.

As a STEM professional and advocate myself, this is a very appropriate time to discuss some data I recently found published by US News & World Report in 2016 titled Report: Black Students Underrepresented in High-Paying STEM Majors. The article cited data from a Georgetown University Study titled African Americans: Colleges Majors and Earnings, which discussed how black students tend to cluster in fields like social work leading to lower paying careers. The data in the Georgetown study showed that 20% of degree holders in human services and community organizing were black, and earned a median salary of about $40,000 per year. By contrast, only 7% of degree holders who received STEM-related bachelor’s degrees, and earned a median annual salary of $84,000 or more, were black – a very low number considering that blacks are only 12% of the total population in the United States.

This low percentage of participation in STEM, in addition to Apple’s repatriation of earnings, and its investment back into the United States, underscores the importance of having the necessary skill sets at critical times to take advantage of environmental changes imposed by laws like the Tax Reform and Jobs Act. Malcolm Gladwell covered this phenomenon extensively in Outliers. Right now in the United States there is considerable debate about discrepancies in wages based upon race and sex. The question has to be asked though, do those discrepancies exist due to discrimination, or is it majors chosen leading to the acquisition of skill sets for which there is high or low demand from the economy at that particular time? Are we essentially running up against the ‘Law of Supply and Demand’ as we often do? After all, the economy typically dictates what’s needed at a given time, and how much individuals in the workforce should be compensated.

How many more companies will return to the U.S. to repatriate their earnings, invest in research and development here in the U.S., and subsequently hire U.S. workers? Right now it’s unknown. But if other technology giants like Apple return, clearly some groups of people will benefit more than others. The question is will the beneficiaries strictly be based upon to race, sex and class, or will the skill sets possessed by certain well positioned individuals have something do with it? And who will possess those necessary skills once there is an increased demand for them?

Thank you for taking the time to read this post. If you enjoyed it, you might also enjoy:

A look at STEM: What is Pharmacology?
A look at STEM: What is Toxicology?
A look at STEM: What is ADME/Drug Metabolism?
A look at STEM: Blockchain Technology, a new way of conducting business and record keeping
• Challenging misconceptions and stereotypes in class, household income, wealth and privilege
Your net worth, your gross salary and what they mean

If you’ve found value here and think it would benefit others, please share it and or leave a comment. To receive all of the most up to date content from the Big Words Blog Site, subscribe using the subscription box in the right hand column in this post and throughout the site. Lastly follow me on the Big Words Blog Site Facebook page, on  Twitter at @BWArePowerful, and on Instagram at @anwaryusef76. While my main areas of focus are Education, STEM and Financial Literacy, there are other blogs/sites I endorse which can be found on that particular page of my site.

Are you Cooning? Thoughts on Black America’s new favorite racial slur, critical thought, and groupthink

With a key principle of my blog being “Critical/Objective Thought”, I’ll occasionally jump off the STEM- and Financial Literacy-trains to discuss aspects of culture, current events, and politics as I did for Colin Kaepernick’s retirement.  Similarly, Black America’s adoption and use of the word “Coon” has been rolling around in my mind for a while and begging me to write a thought-piece about it.  Thus, at the risk of upsetting some people and sharing this with the “Dominant Culture”, I’ve decided to capture some of my thoughts and observations regarding modern day usage of this racial slur by the same people it was ironically first used against.  If you’re easily offended by the word Coon, you should stop reading now because it and others are mentioned quite a bit in this post.

In the aftermath of the events in Charlottesville, VA there was controversy, of course, surrounding President Donald Trump and his comments on the clash of protestors – particularly that there was wrong doing on both sides.  There were quite a few criticisms of his remarks; what he said, how he said them, how quickly he said them, etc.  Midweek after that a Facebook “friend” (a fellow African American) posted the link to an article titled “Black Christian Leaders Detest Claim That Trump Is the ‘Driver’ of Racial Division in America”.  The individual who posted the article wrote joking language tagging another friend and saying to, “Send up the Coon signal,” followed by a number of other posters who contributed numerous pictures and GIF animations about black people and cartoon characters “Cooning”.

I had mixed feelings when I saw the responses, but I was not surprised.  On the one hand, yes, it was funny.  On the other hand, here was another case of black people ripping other black people because of ideological and philosophical differences.  I shared the article on my page to see what would happen, and a good number of other African Americans in my network saw the article and expectedly became angry.  Most felt betrayed that these black clergymen and women would defend “#45” as he’s referred to now in many circles.

While this post was in part inspired by Donald Trump, it isn’t about Trump per se.  It’s about black people lashing out and ridiculing one another due to differences of opinion and points of view.  Unfortunately, this is actually common as discussed on one of Mumia Obsidian Ali’s podcast titled “Dumb it Down”, where he discussed how most of Black America – some of our most respected intellectuals and scholars included, can’t have diverging viewpoints without resorting to personally attacking the opposing side or as we say in the black community, “Playing the Dozens.”

In the podcast for example, Ali cited Dr. Michael Eric Dyson’s attack of Dr. Cornel West following West’s criticism of the Obama administration – not addressing any of West’s criticisms, just verbally attacking him and his character.  This squabble between Dr. Dyson and Dr. West represents a toxic dynamic in Black America today – philosophical and political disagreements resulting in emotional backlashes against black people who diverge from the “Social Justice” narrative, and then calling the person a “Coon”.  It’s very fascinating to witness when it happens.

Ali further described how individuals including: Dr. Thomas Sowell, Jason Riley, John McWhorter, and Dr. Glen Loury – all great black thinkers and writers have been regarded as “Coons” because of their independent/conservative, and non-social justice ideas and views.  Interestingly growing up on Buffalo’s eastside, I’d never heard about Dr. Sowell, the elder of the names mentioned.  I was ironically introduced to one of Dr. Sowell’s books, Inside American Education by a Greek-American classmate at the University of Michigan one day when discussing politics as we ran our experiments.  I didn’t hear anything about him either at Johnson C. Smith University, the HBCU I attended.  Anyhow, in his podcast Ali further stated that within Black American social media circles, that it is not uncommon to be met with the term “Coon” for merely disagreeing with a person’s particular personal experience/position or the prevailing zeitgeist of the black community at large.

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“Hey!!!  What about me?  Don’t you hold out on me you big Dummy-Nigger!!!  Ha, ha, ha, ha…….”

“Wild Bill” Wharton’s racial slur against John Coffey over not getting any cornbread in The Green Mile features another once humiliating word Black America has taken in as its own.  Just like “Nigger”, “Coon” was also a racial slur used against blacks by whites in the Jim Crow era.  Actually the Coon was a bigoted caricature of black people with the defining character trait being laziness.  I tend to think of it when I think of the old “Minstrel Shows” where in some instances white people would dress up as black people (“Black Face”) and act like clowns and buffoons.  In some instances, real black people participated.

In the 1990s, Hip Hop artists like Tupac Shakur took “Nigger” and transformed it into “Nigga” (Never-Ignorant-Getting-Goals-Accomplished), glorifying and popularizing the term, setting off countless debates both within and outside of the black community about who could use it, and if it should be used at all.  Recently Bill Maher re-sparked the debate culminating in Ice Cube stating, “It’s our word now,” on Maher’s show.  Then as now, some black people found it offensive and demeaning, while others felt as though a negative had been turned into a positive.

Some blacks felt and feel that it’s an accurate descriptor for the worst behaviors of our race – something echoed by many of our most popular comedians.  Overall black people couldn’t and can’t seem to agree on it even today.  Actually most black people do agree that it’s very offensive when other cultures use it with the exception of maybe Dominicans and Puerto Ricans due to some similarities in lineage and culture.

“You’re a COON!!!”  I may have been out of the loop, as per usual, but I first heard the modern contexts for “Coon” and “Cooning” when watching one of Tommy Sotomayor’s YouTube videos.  He’s one of the many black male YouTubers that I watch.  I won’t go into too much detail about Tommy, and I may lose some readers here, but yes I have become a regular viewer and a fan.  I don’t know that I would start a show saying the things he says, and in the ways that he says them, but personally coming from my background, he and others like him help explain a lot of things – particularly some of the pathologies in black communities across our country.  In most cases he holds our people responsible for their destructive behaviors and doesn’t blame white people, or dwell in the past.  He focuses on what not to do.  Tommy does lean conservative and he’s particularly hard on black women – I’m sorry, some black women.  Those who regularly watch the show understand the “not all” distinction.  He draws more than his fair share of backlash and death threats, and regularly gets accused of “Cooning”.

“Coon Train is coming.  Coon Train is coming.  Coon Train is coming…”

Tommy’s arch-nemesis, a “Pro-Black” gentleman named Tariq Nasheed, created the “Coon Train Awards” similar to the “Soul Train Awards”.  Someone created a jingle with the above words and a montage including Tommy Sotomayor and Jesse Peterson among others.  The song is actually funny, and it sometimes pops into my mind.  The actual use of the word does make me bristle though, especially when the person called the name is only asking a question, or is thinking differently than the person assigning it.

What is this modern day definition of a ‘Coon’?  It’s usually angrily and viciously unleashed upon blacks perceived as having ‘white’ points of view in the eyes of ‘Woke’ black people.  It’s the modern day incarnation of an ‘Uncle Tom’, or ‘Oreo’, or ‘House Nigga’, or the character ‘Uncle Ruckus’ from The Boondocks who usually comes up when someone has been called Coon.  It’s someone who is thought to be betraying the race for ‘White Supremacy’.  One of the biggest contradictions is that it’s often used by those who would consider themselves pro-black (some of whom themselves indulge in colorism and bigotry against other brown skinned people).  Consequently, both Coon and Nigga are terms designating one’s blackness, but in different ways – Nigga having good and bad contexts.

Calling someone Coon makes me think about the concept of ‘Groupthink’.  A simple search of the term Groupthink on Google brings up the following definition:

“Groupthink is a psychological phenomenon within a group of people in which the desire for harmony and conformity in the group results in an irrational or dysfunctional decision-making outcome.  Group members try to minimize conflict and reach a consensus decision without critical evaluation of alternative viewpoints by actively suppressing dissenting viewpoints, and by isolating themselves from outside influences.”

Groupthink is very dangerous and organized religion gets a bad rap from instances where groups of people have been mobilized to do evil deeds in a suicidal fashion (Jonestown), or against non-believers.  It’s simply following the herd without thinking.  It’s voting a certain way because one’s parents or race traditionally voted or believed a certain way.  It’s immediately calling someone a racist, a misogynist, or a sexist without analyzing all of the facts – usually responding off of pure emotion.  Groupthink prevents its believers from acknowledging when the other person/side might have good ideas or valid points, strictly because they’re on the other side.  These are all things I hear when someone calls someone else a Coon.

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Interestingly, use of the word Coon seems to be an artifact of my generation and those behind us.  When describing this to my mother’s generation (Boomers) who lived through the Civil Rights Era, and who readily heard this word and others in their youths, many are surprised and disapprove – at least those I’ve talked with.  Some elders in general ironically loosely still use the word “Nigga” – sometimes in jest amongst themselves.  Perhaps it’s just in our nature to turn negatives into positives, and adopt words that were once used against us.

Are you Cooning?  How do you know if you are?  What warrants being called a Coon?  Again, it often involves being black and having independent thoughts and conservative values.  It could be a matter of criticizing Colin Kaepernick’s protest as Minister Jap and Oshay Duke Jackson did – both black men who were subsequently called “Coons” and in some instances “Klansmen” by some of their commenters – the majority black.  It could be something like saying the single-motherhood rate in the black community is too high and is the major impediment of the black race’s advancement in the United States.  It could be pointing out that black people can be just as much, if not more, bigoted than white people – not racist of course, because black people don’t have power.  It could be the belief that black people are accountable for their actions and that everything happening in 2017 isn’t the fault of white people.  It could be stating that you weren’t offended by the Confederate flags and statues.  Lastly, it could be citing and believing statistics arguing that there is an unusually high rate of black crime.  Cooning could be any of these things and much more.

“You’re a COON!!!”  Whenever the word is unleashed on someone there is a definite viciousness to it.  The individuals who use it always seem to be angry and have reached a level of frustration with the person they’ve ascribed it to; not agreeing with their point of view.  To see such a display, look up Roland Martin’s show where he hosted the Prince of Pan-Africanism,  Dr. Umar Johnson.  In a panel discussion about the state of Black America, Dr. Johnson readily unleashed the word on some of the other panelists all of whom were black.  Martin, who aligns with the Democratic party, bristled at the use of the word, and constantly reminded Dr. Johnson not use it any further.  The entire exchange was amusing, but at times shocking to watch.

Have I ever been called a Coon?  Yes, I have on Twitter, but it was by someone no one takes seriously.  Considering myself an independent – one who doesn’t belong to either political party, and who questions things, I’ll probably be called it to my face before long, but that’s okay.  The important thing for me is to think critically and objectively – not solely off of emotion if I can help it, and not necessarily following the herd for the sake of following the herd.  So if that makes me a Coon, then so be it.  I’ll close by going back to our 45th President.  As I told a cousin who insisted he was a racist over a fiery Thanksgiving dinner discussion prior to the 2016 election, I’ve never heard Donald Trump say “Coon” or “Nigga”, but I’ve certainly heard black people say them to other black people quite often.  It’s kind of contradictory right?  It’s like ‘Pro-Blacks’ mocking other blacks because they’re too dark.  I guess it’s okay as long as we’re doing these things to one another.

“You’re a COON!!!”  Do I expect the people who enjoy using the word to stop?  Of course not.  While I stated above that the word is often used out of anger, those using it also seem to get a certain amount of enjoyment and satisfaction from using it.  Interestingly, ‘Coon’ in its modern context offends me more than ‘Nigga’ does.  So no, I don’t expect much of anything to change, but perhaps I’ve raised awareness here to some degree.

A cousin donated the meme at the beginning of this post in a Facebook thread I was tagged in, started by another cousin who really, really wants President Trump impeached.  I used pictures of Dr. Ben Carson and Sheriff David Clarke, Jr. in this post because their books just happened to be in stock at my local Barnes & Noble recently.  The same is true for Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, though I couldn’t find a good picture of Dr. Thomas Sowell.  The newspaper photos were courtesy of the Washington Post’s daily morning express edition handed out during my morning commute.

Both Carson and Clarke are well known for different reasons, and both are considered Coons.   Sheriff Clarke is unashamedly conservative and strongly believes in law and order.  I saw Dr. Carson speak live during graduate school for Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday when he still had his legendary status.  He’s intriguing not only because he’s also a Michigan alumnus, but because this brilliant and gifted neurosurgeon has fallen from grace in parts of the black community due to his conservative politics, traditional values, and his working in the Trump administration.  In the eyes of many, his medical and scientific accomplishments are tainted.  Lastly, while I’ve discussed only men in this piece, there are black women who draw similar criticisms – Deneen Borelli, and Stacy Dash come to mind.

I want to thank my brother and a group of friends for being my test audience for this potentially volatile topic.  We collectively discuss these issues all week long.  I especially want to acknowledge the Gaines brothers for turning me onto Tommy Sotomayor, Obsidian Radio, and the other black male YouTubers.  Without the discussions on their channels and podcasts, I wouldn’t have known most of this stuff was going on, and I wouldn’t have had the perspective to craft this post.

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