Thursday, December 15, 2011

Stories of a Holiday Sales Associate: The Needy

I work at a department store part-time. It's December, 'nuff said. As a Holiday Sales Associate, I want to say please don't be that shopper.

Today, I am on a mission. I've finally gotten a break, my sweet 15 minutes! I'm making a beeline for the back of the store, for the Employee Only door.

"Excuse me, miss!" 

If I'm walking with such force, such pointed determination, it means I am on an urgent mission. One that does not involve you. One where there is another, a higher priority.

"MISS!" She grabs my arm. Three feet away from the break room door. "Can you help me?"

I'm not allowed to turn her away, but I will also get in trouble if I do not take my break. I'm the one that needs help. She looks at me with old lady, pleading eyes. "I need to find something for my grandson for Christmas."

I definitely don't have the time to be her personal shopper. Suddenly, a wild manager appears, exiting the break room door at lightening speed!

"Help!" I yell to him.

He looks at me with crazed eyes and a fifty dollar bill in his hand. Now I've interrupted his mission.

"What?" he asks in that disoriented tone that mission-blown associates have.

I motion to the lady. He shakes his head. "I can't."

The lady releases my arm. "I can find someone else I guess. It's just that I've been here five minutes and I can't find anybody to help me."

She's not going anywhere except the guilt trip forest. I ignore her. "But my break," I say to the manager and he it is as if a cloud has been lifted. 

He blinks and I can see his brain rapidly processes his next moves as he speaks. "Oh...uh...uh...Yeah, go. I got this."

I bolt the last three feet through the break room door. Safe! As the door closes, I hear my manager pass the fifty dollar bill off to another manager, who was probably interrupted from their own mission.

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Stories of a Holiday Sales Associate: The Interrupter

I work at a department store part-time. It's December, 'nuff said. As a Holiday Sales Associate, I want to say please don't be that shopper.

Today, I worked the register and I'm supposed to ring each customer through in two minutes. At the same time, I have to push our brand credit card, survey, and any new sales on top of making polite small talk to every customer so that they feel special.

I'm focused, talking to my customer in line when I feel a tap on my shoulder. I am expecting my boss, maybe. Instead, I see this couple. "Excuse me, miss. Can you tell me where the snow pants are?" the woman asks me.

barely understand the words. A customer has stepped around the counter, the invisible boundary, and touched me. "Snowpants?" I ask. They've taken me completely off-gaurd. Couldn't they find an associate on the floor? The people not ringing walk the floor just for the reason of helping customers.

"Yes, snowpants. For kids," the man says as if this will help. My customer clears her throat. I'm not in floor associate mindset. I don't know if we have snowpants, let alone where they would be located. And how the hell am I supposed to show them when I'm on register with a customer?

The couple finally sees that I am not equipped to help them. A floor associate comes up and directs them to our snowpants 'cause that is her job today. I apologize to my customer and finish ringing her up.

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Stories of a Holiday Sales Associate: The Monopolizer

I work at a department store part-time. It's December, 'nuff said. As a Holiday Sales Associate, I want to say please don't be that shopper.

Today, I worked the fitting room, and I noticed that certain people like take the only handicap changing room. 

The Plus Size - These are the bigger people that need the bigger rooms.

The Shopaholic - She has, like, twenty thousand items, and needs, like, all the space she can get because she fucking deserves it.

McSpeedy - Has one item and figures they'll be in and out before a handicap person arrives anyway (I used to be guilty of this one.)

What these people don't realize is that you've made my job a lot harder. Not just handicapped people use that room. Moms with small children and strollers need that room.

Now I've got a mother, toddler, and screaming infant blocking the small entrance to the fitting room as we wait for one of those three princesses to get out. And all I can do is apologize, tune out the screaming, and try not to kirk out.

C'mon people, there are fifteen other perfectly available stalls to use. 

Monday, December 12, 2011

Stories of a Holiday Sales Associate: The Flipper

I work at a department store part-time. It's December, 'nuff said.

As a Holiday Sales Associate, I want to say please don't be that shopper.

Today, it's three hours into my shift, a lunchtime job of 11-4. I have not yet had my break. (By the way, I get only one 15 minute break during my five hour trip to hell to navigate the crowds at the food courts and cram burning hot pizza into my face.)

I've been assigned to refold clothing on a table that has somehow become this:

Which, you know, happens.

Yeah, it's not the customer's job to refold an item when she decides she doesn't want it, or to put it back as neatly as possible, or at least close to the original place she found it. I mean, it would only take you like five minutes and some common courtesy, but whatever.

Anyway, I'm working my way through the rubble when a woman comes up to the table, looks me dead in the eye, and says, "You know you're fighting a losing battle, right?"

Why would she want to break my spirit like that? I don't say anything back, too busy trying to not get fired. As if that wasn't enough, she goes around the other side of the table, finds a pink shirt at the bottom of the pile, and pulls it out which flips a recently folded stack over. Then she leaves.

Like really?

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Loopholes in PA legislature exposed

Below is text from the latest installment of my race column. It appeared in the Setonian and Setonian Online in the December issue.


You’ve been searching the newspapers and employment websites for a job, desperately and without much luck. Finally, the proverbial clouds part during this abnormally warm winter, and news for an opening at the mom and pop store down the street shows up on your social networking feed. You submit an application and get a call back.This is your chance! The day of, you pull on your fancy pants and check your face in the car mirror. Everything is in place. You enter the store, nervous but prepared. Before you get more than a few steps in, the manager stops you.

He no longer needs you to interview. In fact, he doesn’t even want your patronage at his store. You leave confused. Was someone else hired? What was wrong with you?

You shake it off and decide to take a night out. It’s not unusual to be rejected by an employer. You hit up a local bar, order a drink, and take a seat. Suddenly, some guy is behind you and he takes your overpriced drink, tossing it to the floor. He pulls you from the stool and starts yelling in your face, something about the way you look.

The bartender is nowhere to be seen. The shouting man’s buddies laugh as he shoves you out the door. “You’re not welcome here!”

This isn’t the first time this has happened. You know if you defend yourself, the drunks are likely to throw down. Besides, there’s three of them, and only one of you. Forget it. Your mother said those kinds of people were white trash anyway.

You return to your two-bedroom apartment where your “roommate” kisses you hello behind closed doors. You have to say “roommate” because the landlady is one of them. If she knew you were dating, if she knew you crossed the lines, you’d get a lot worse than the whispers in the common laundry room. You’d probably lose your apartment.
While it doesn’t happen frequently, there are places in Western Pa. that still have the ability to ban certain people from entering stores, working without discrimination and even drinking out of the same water fountains as everyone else.

These second class citizens are called names, spit at and physically and sexually assaulted on the street and in the workplace. And in this economy, they can be dealt (what I see as) the worst blow to their job: termination.
I’m not lying. This discrimination still happens in America. Law does not protect every person’s civil rights. Just because you are LGBT (Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual, Transgender), you are a second-class citizen in some areas of Pennsylvania.

Make no mistake: this is not solely about gay marriage. This is about our self-evident truths, “that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”

Equality PA is a grassroots, human rights organization that works to get these civil rights bills passed. Founded in 1996, it is “the only organization in the Commonwealth advocating in Harrisburg and across the state, exclusively for the rights of LGBT Pennsylvanians.”

Much of the information I have presented can be found on their website along with ways to report abuse and look for legal help. Equality PA’s ultimate anti-discrimination goal is to amend the Pennsylvania Human Relations Act, which provides legal protection against discrimination on everything but sexual orientation or gender identity or expression.

More than 20 states have already amended their laws to protect LGBT rights. Why not Pa.? Already, 25 municipalities and many major businesses, including all the Fortune 500s headquartered in Pa. have added equal protection policies.

Still, “based upon 2008 US Census Data, 73 percent of Pennsylvanians are not covered by a non-discrimination ordinance.”

If you want to help the movement, visit for more information, to donate, volunteer or apply for an internship. If you like their page on Facebook, the organization will keep you updated on bills that you can vote on, legislators to write to and progress on the equality front.

As always,
Peace, Love
& All That Jazz

Saturday, December 10, 2011

Race Column: Angry Letter to Editor & My Response

Below is text from the latest installment of my race column. It appeared in the Setonian and Setonian Online in the December issue.

In response to my last race article (Part II) about how campus can better embrace diversity, a Letter to the Editor was written. Below I have reprinted it with my response, which was also printed in the December issue of the Setonian.

Dear Editor, 
When I read the article “Seton Hill’s lack of diversity stems from students to faculty” I was surprised to find out that there are students who have not discovered the greatness of our diverse Seton Hill community. First of all, 16 % of the student body is minority students, and for a small Western Pennsylvanian university, this number is quite high.  
When I first came here, I was amazed by the multicultural community. I understand that the view on diversity depends on where you are coming from. For example, if a student is coming from New York City or any other metropolitan area, obviously Seton Hill will look very homogeneous. But we should take into consideration that our lovely university is located in a rural area and 16 % is pretty amazing. Not to mention the fact that almost everyone that I have met in my four years here has some kind of heritage that is not only “older European”. I know people that have Native American, Indian, Cameroonian, Argentinian, and Columbian backgrounds. How is that not diverse? 
Second of all, the information in the article that the focus of Seton Hill’s ethnic clubs has “waned” is absolutely false. NAACP has had a chapter at our university for 5 years now. And that is only when they gained official status. They have been on campus with their previous name the “Soul Club” since 1972! And they have been active ever since. Another club that promotes “exchanging cultures” is the Spanish Club. They hold numerous events throughout the academic year and they are open to everybody that attends Seton Hill University. We also should not forget the Intercultural Student Organization (ISO) that has had an official status since the early 90s. ISO probably has the most active members than any other club on campus. There are over 90 members and most of them are active. Not only are all of the intercultural students members of the club, but there are also numerous domestic students that have decided to discover culture and share diversity and have joined the club. ISO also hosts various events during the semesters that are educational, inspirational and fun. For example, the Intercultural Student Services Office with the cooperation of the ISO holds annual Intercultural Food Fairs. Those events are probably the biggest ones on campus with food from all around the world and multicultural entertainment. The most recent one had more than 150 attendees. ISO and ISS also host World Week. During that week, there are educational presentations that are showing throughout the day and, at night, there is some kind of entertainment that involves diversity and different cultures. 
I believe that our campus is quite diverse and there are so many opportunities to enjoy that, if only people are willing to invest time and effort in it. 
Sofiya Arnaudova

My response:

I will respond to the criticism in my article from the first issue to the last. To start, I did have a part one to this article in which I talk about how Seton Hill’s diversity is higher than the surrounding areas, and that diversity is all a matter of opinion and perspective. We are diverse, not as much as metropolitan areas, but we are. Second, “older European” is a term from President JoAnne Boyle herself in an interview to describe the Greensburg, Latrobe, etc areas. Not Seton Hill. Our local municipalities are filled with this demographic. While there are people of many heritages, they make up a small minority off-campus which has led some professors to leave the campus. They could not find a significant amount of their demographic, whatever that may be. My point is not that we need more diversity. It is that barriers need to be broken. It is that racism and prejudice still exists, and we need to strengthen as a campus community against them.

As for the NAACP, my source was wrong, and apparently so is the one above. In a recent email, Marilyn Fox Lewis of Campus Ministry told me the campus chapter was started in 2003. I do not know if this means it went on hiatus until five years ago or any other specific related to it, but there it is. I am not saying we do not have a strong history of fighters and lovers and believers. The clubs may have been active through the years, but what is active? Are they simply existing? I am asking for a heightened presence, not simply an active existence in which I have not been made aware of any events.

Last, I do apologize about the ISO food fair. In the original article, I had a paragraph about it but because of time and space it ended up being cut, and another shorter sentence was not written. The ISO does bring intercultural life and diversity to campus. It’s important. However, of the students I spoke to about ISO, they believed the club was for intercultural students, meaning those from other countries. Not for any and all races of people, including generic Americans. Granted, these are not people involved in ISO, but perhaps this means there needs to be work to tell the public that they are open, and WANT, everyone. Get those 90 kids in class to talk about an upcoming event during the semester and how every person is encouraged to attend, how every kind of person is represented. It probably happens, I’m sure. Still, in my four years, I have not seen it. Another idea: change the name and reinvent the club for the fall fair. Personally, I like something hippie-like, along the lines of, “Question Authority” or “Make Connections, Not Separations.” Combat the KKK with the CCC (Cultural Connections Club). I applaud the work that the clubs do, and as a club leader, I know you can only do so much.

What I wish for, what I am pushing for in our future campus is a heightened presence among racial and cultural clubs. If I, the race writer, do not know of their work/is not invited to their events, then how will any other students know? I should, as the writer seek it out. But will the average student? And it’s the average student that you need to enlighten. How will a student that doesn’t take Spanish, that doesn’t pay attention to the fliers falling off the wall, know that they promote an exchange of cultures and not a “learn to speak Spanish” club?

Peace and Love
And feel free to write me, correct me, chastise me. Anger equals action. Action equals clarity. Clarity equality compassion, and we can all agree there needs to be more of that.

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Part Two: University Diversity, Interview with President

Below is text from the latest installment of my race column. It appeared in the Setonian and Setonian Online in the November issue.

It’s no surprise that Seton Hill University (SHU) lacks diversity. In the middle of western PA, the Catholic institution draws in many local students. Statistically, the surrounding area is made up of mostly older Caucasian families.

This does not mean the university does not draw other types of students, or that it does not strive for diversity. The International Student Services Office serves students from Brazil to the Virgin Islands, India to Serbia. Qualifying undergraduate internationals may receive between $8,000 and $20,000 in financial aid.

But what of the diverse Americans?

We do have minority scholarships and affirmative action. Many student-athletes are also offered compensations. Still, not all of us are athletes and not all should be.

On campus, our student outreach is floundering. While any student can start a club like Black Student Union, it is up to the students to maintain it. In recent years, the focus on ethnic clubs has waned, many of them folding when student interest decreased.

We’re students. We’re busy. I get that. We should still be doing something. Be meeting with our peers, exchanging cultures and combating racism with community.

Of my four years on campus, I have only seen the NAACP chapter at SHU hold one large event. That’s great, but we need more. We need student unions to support each group of students, not just one. We need Days of Dialogue, where the “participants speak their own minds, while implicitly acknowledging that their assumptions could be wrong and that other people may legitimately hold differing opinions,” according to their website which works with campuses across the country.

Our Martin Luther King Jr. Day presentation needs to diversify. Last year, the demonstration put on by the theatre members was lacking. While I do admire their work at SHU Performing Arts Center, the visual performance was hardly distinguishable as a work promoting diversity. There were few members of color, and much of the student body watching did not see how beating your significant other reflected diversity.

Students interested in starting a club (with funding) or adding culture to our campus should contact the vice president of mission and student life, Sister Lois Sculco.
However, my rant does not fall on all students’ shoulders. Where are our professionals of color at the institution? Where are our role models?

I saw a black professor for the first time last month and immediately wanted to take a class with him. Never mind that he taught business. It was then I realized, while I had seen some colored foreign language professors and non-teaching colored professionals, I had not really seen or taken a class with any person of color. I’ve been at SHU for four years.

This is upsetting, obviously.

President JoAnne Boyle said the issue is “identified in our strategic planning to be more aggressive in finding and recruiting faculty of color. We are not nearly as successful as we’d like to be.”

According to Boyle, diverse faculty has been interviewed on how to recruit more professionals. Part of the reason people don’t come is because SHU doesn’t have compensation packages that can always compete with public institutions.

“In a few instances we have way upped our packages, but in those instances the person didn’t stay anyway,” said Boyle.

She described their reason for leaving as the Greensburg community, “older European.” The professor’s family cannot find a community and while Pittsburgh has more diversity it is a harder commute and still not as diverse.

“We totally get it as an institution that we do not have enough representation, on our faculty especially. It is a challenge that we are aware of,” said Boyle.

At the moment, the institution is looking into a national diversity fair held in Atlanta that doubles as a recruiting fair. They hope to send a team down to the next fair. The hiring search committees also have a representative of affirmative action, and they advertise in areas they know that people would be looking.

Other steps to increase understanding and diversity on campus include faculty training.
Each faculty member must take National Coalition Building Institute (NCBI) training to stop prejudice and stereotypes in racism, sexism, classism and general discrimination. The NCAA also has training for the athletic staff because there tends to be more diversity. There are also surveys given to the participants to see how awareness and behaviors have changed.

I suggest frequently surveying the changing student body to better find out their needs for diversity and meet them.

Friday, November 4, 2011


A friend of mine just deleted his Twitter and Facebook as an experiment.

On a whim.

I want to do something like that, something impulsive and a little unreasonable; something selfish and irresponsible. Something frighteningly happy and childish.

Something like me.

I've been thinking that my whole life was planned, that I had to be someone and I had to do something with my life. It's been nothing but responsibility and what would make me look good in the eyes of my family.

I don't know what I'll do yet, but it'll be something.

Monday, October 24, 2011

An Address to a Diverse-less University Community

Below is text from the latest installment of my race column. It appeared in the Setonian and Setonian Online in the October issue.

It occurs to me that my childhood of diversity was unlike that of the majority of the student body at Seton Hill University (SHU).

My townhouse community was filled with alternative lifestyles. On our right lived a gay man named Kelly, a deaf man and Cuban immigrants. To the left was an immigrant Asian family, a couple who believed in home births and no birth control and a black family. 

In middle school, I surrounded myself with foreigners: first generation Vietnamese-Americans and a Pakistani Muslim. I joined a writing group led by two immigrants, one Japanese and one Romanian.

In high school, I made friends with a half-Korean, half-German girl who stood loudly and proudly for gay rights. I was surrounded by diversity—by an absurd amount of diversity, but it was normal.

I’m not saying everyone should raise their children like this, or that if you came from some backwater whitebread town that you are somehow lacking. What I am saying is that my “normal” was never limited.What I’m saying is that when I came to SHU, I was not shocked at the lack of color. I was more perturbed by the way no one seemed to notice.

My best friend, who graduated from Hempfield (a local high school), said that SHU was a culture shock to her as well…because there were so many people of color.


Now, I never did like desegregation laws. I thought it was a little absurd. After all, where I came from, people bounded across class and race lines and expectations. People were people.

(This is not to say there isn’t racism in suburbia. Undercover racism actually runs rampant; however, that is a rant for another time.) It seems that things like Affirmative Action, the NAACP and equal opportunity employers are really needed in Greensburg.

At SHU, I see very few blacks who are not athletes, very few Asians and Middle Easterners who are not part of LECOM (the med institution from Lake Eerie). Where’s the Black Student Union or the Asian pride? Where’s the integration? How do I fit in?

Surely every student wonders about their future within their major or circle of friends. What of culture though?

How many non-international students from across the country ask for the whereabouts of their people?
College is all about being uncomfortable, yes. I maintain that it is a challenge on your level of comfort and your ideals. It should be in a safe and inviting environment. It should not be uncomfortable because you cannot find a place of belonging.

Still, I am forced to confront the truth. The diversity at SHU is large only in comparison to its surroundings. The minorities are cliquish, stereotyped and underrepresented. There are few professional role models of varied races.

For a list of my ideal solutions and an interview with President JoAnne Boyle about SHU’s checks and balances on segregation, check out the November issue.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

To Trade an Ex for a Mercedes

If you have not heard, I was engaged. Somewhere between April (proposal) and September (our four year anniversary and his chosen day to break it off), my guy reasoned that marriage wasn't right. I won't get into those reasons, at least not right now.

Silver lining: I now own my own car.
My parents helped me buy a used 1996 Mercedes-Benz C 280. It's the first time a car has been under my name, has been solely mine. (My ex and I shared a car that was given to us by his father.)

It's an exhausting experience owning the car. I had to get tags for which I paid out the wazoo at the DMV. I still have to get it inspected (this weekend, fingers crossed). Already, I've had two flat tires and I had to buy four new tires because of tire rot.

A few more notes: The lever/hatch to open the hood of the car is broken. I guess I need to buy that piece and find some place that will install it for cheap.

My radio and tape deck aren't working. The man that sold it to us said that changing the battery tripped it up and it needs to be reactivated. I have not figured that out either.

The single windshield wiper sticks sometimes. My dad says oiling up the piston in it will fix the problem. I remain skeptical.

All in all: Though I would much rather this have not happened, it is uplifting to look outside and see MY car. Finally.

Tuesday, September 27, 2011

Who Is America?

Below is text from the third installment of my race column. It appeared in the Setonian and Setonian Online in the September issue.

Of America in 1890, Walt Whitman said we are a “Centre of equal daughters, / equal sons, / All, all alike endear’d…” 

Who are we post Civil Rights? Who are we post 9/11? Who is America, professor of communication Frank Klapak likes to ask. Anyone who has had a communication or journalism class, a “defining target audience” class with him knows he drills the mixed and missing cultural identity of Americans.

We are multicultural; the clichéd melting pot. Others wail “No! We are a mixed salad” because we do not enjoy actually mixing our differences. We tolerate the separate pieces that make a whole.

We stem from a white Puritan, a Christian faith background, but that does not nearly make up the whole. We are also Jewish, Muslim and atheist. We are black and burgundy, yellow and brown.

Because as kevjumba from YouTube says, “Girls are like M&Ms,” and if we like one then we should like them all. I mean, essentially we are all the same thing; carbon gelatinous blobs composed mostly of water.

But now I have gotten away from the topic and I seem all free love. In America, we are separated by race, which is a human construct created to put one person above another. Why do we do that when we already have classicism? When something goes wrong, we blame differences, give them a face, and apply them so liberally that we devalue whole groups.

FYI: You might want to hold on to your butts because I’m bringing out our tainted past. When the English first came to America, they took the land from those red-skinned savages because, you know, the whites needed it more. When the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor, we took all those squinty-eyed people and put them in camps for our safety. Who cared really that they were Korean, right?

When terrorists hit the World Trade Center, we said, “Damn you Muslims!” and gave the stink eye to everyone with a turban and brown skin. Never mind that the five pillars, the main tenets, are of peaceful prayer, fasting, giving to those in need and believing in God. Like anyone in the Bible ever fasted.

You want an equivalent? It’s like the extreme rightist Tea Party bombing some country and the citizens (of the bombed country) being like, “It was those pale-skinned, rich bastards in North America,” and then attacking Canadians.

If you really want to divide and conquer in the world, you should first focus on bringing together a nation with something other than tragedy. Who makes up America? I know we don’t like immigrants anymore, but I think we can learn from the Latino population.

The Latino nations are unified. They are not fixated on race. In fact, they are multiracial, having mixed with European settlers, slaves, and natives centuries ago. In Mexico, they are Catholic, but they’ve integrated native traditions and made religion specific to their nation. They have a unified language, Spanish, with inflections in dialect that connects them no matter the distance or change in face.

My fiancé overheard a few men shopping near Pittsburgh. They spoke Spanish with a Mexican lilt and my guy instantly connected to them. It didn’t matter what they looked like, just that they spoke his language. They were his nationality.

Would an American care the same way? Would an American even be able to find common ground to do so? Because in Mexico, they aren’t “African-Mexicans” or “Spanish-Mexicans.” They are unified. They are mestizo.

Just be happy I didn’t talk about slavery and how even after years of being free and “equal,” the persecution that was constructed by facial differences ran so deep that they had to fight for basic civil liberties and get shot with fire hoses to do it.

Peace, Love
And All that Jazz

For more information on race relations, visit:

Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Tagged and Talking

I have been tagged, which means I must answer ten questions of my choosing about myself. Oh the humanity!

Want to know who tagged me? So did I.

1. I knew I wanted to be a writer/author before I was 10. While other dreams changed, this one did not.

2. I write best with confusion: noise, smut, and music. I love music whether it be from Earth, Wind, and Fire or Prince to Top 40 hits to bands like Mumford and Sons. But I came from a family of seven and always shared a room so I write best with commotion in the background. When I can't get that, I turn on a little Jersey Shore or Keeping Up with the Kardashians know...keep up.

3. My best stories come lying in bed, in dreams, or in the shower. Any inconvenient time, really. I try to write them down, but mostly I forget.

4. I am a thesaurus and dictionary. When peers need a different word, they ask me. As a newspaper editor, I'm also the go-to kid for fluid transitions.

5. I fear butterflies. My first published short story "Predator's Eyes" was about them.

6. I'm crazy about dinosaurs, but I try to keep it out of my work. Although, I did do a set of blogs on my dinoAdventure, where I spent one summer digging for bones on cliffs in Wyoming.

7. I love to travel. I hope to be a travel writer--whether this be fiction or A&E stuff I'm not particular. I've spent extensive time in Wyoming, D.C., Italy, Pittsburgh, Maryland, and Ocean City so far. My next stop is Mexico, where I plan to be married.

8. I talk to myself in public, and then aloud I will tell myself to stop talking to myself because it's weird.

9. I like to apply all learning to my writing whether it's a current event, historical reference, internet sensation, or classic literary reference. Especially for YA, I feel it really draws readers into a setting and a  "real place."

10. I believe that doing what you love takes precedence over doing something to make money (especially if it makes you unhappy). There is always a way to go for what you want, whether that be a partner in life, a college education, or a poor writer. However, this is not to say you can do everything. Quitting and failure are necessary albeit frustrating parts of life. (A writer stands up a yells "LIKE REJECTIONS?!" Yes, like those form-slip rejections that I have stacked in a folder in my inbox.)

Now I must Tag All the Bloggers! (It's a meme, and actually I'm doing just four.)
Christina Simon
Milana Howard
Shannon Palmer Bennet
Julia King

Tuesday, September 13, 2011

On Meeting President Barack Obama

Photo by Jalen Gumbs
On September 11 of 2011, I saw President Barack Obama (LIVE AND LIVING COLOR) at the Flight 93 Memorial in Shanksville, PA. He very somberly placed the wreath and bowed his head in prayer.
Photo by Aja Hannah
And then he came over to the crowd. I wasn't expecting it and nearly fell from the slanted wall on which I was standing. I missed the first photo, too busy staring at his standout ears. (They're bigger than they appear on television.)
Photo by Aja Hannah
Then I was clicking away with my iPhone as he shook hands with the people in front of me. We were separated by no more than an arms length. If I had reached out, perhaps jumped...
Photo by Aja Hannah
His wife, Michelle, shook those same hands. On screen, she was average. Here, in her black fitted dress and deep tanned skin, she was beautiful. So beautiful, I shouted that it was so.
Photo by Aja Hannah
In my bed that I night, I cried. I want to do something reputable, be someone respectable. I want to be someone that The President wants to shake hands with. I'm just not sure I ever will.

I think I'll write him a letter.
Fellow student reporters from left to right:
Katy B., Jalen Gumbs, Aja Hannah (Me), and Jessie K. 

Saturday, September 10, 2011

America: Ten Years Ago

Ten years ago, they turned the televisions off.
Ten years ago, they refused to speak to us.

Ten years ago, the class bell still rang.
But, they stopped teaching and we played guessing games.

Ten years ago, we still changed rooms.
Ten years ago, we walked empty hallways of middle school.
Because ten years ago there were no instructions, no plans or rules.

Ten years ago, my mother took me out of class.
Ten years ago, she refused to speak to us.

Ten years ago, she called our father in D.C.
She twisted our corded phone and waited impatiently.

Ten years ago, American meant brother.
Ten years ago, Bush was our father.
Because ten years ago, all we had were one another.

Ten years ago, terrorism meant muslims, and muslims were blamed.
Ten years ago, Hussain was my friend's last name.

For ten years, I hated and baited and played-
On my friend, her family, and her last name.
And for ten years, she took it and shook it off.
And still she never stopped talking to us.

Friday, September 2, 2011

Cause of Month: Stop Discrimination Against the Unemployed

In this time of economic turmoil, you would think being unemployed would not ruin your chances of getting a job. After all, many good and strong workers have been laid-off due to budget cuts and downsizing, not poor work ethic or job performance.

Still, and are being used by employers to weed out those that are unemployed, keeping them from even getting an interview.

As a soon-to-be college graduate, this concerns me. Sure, I have had a work-study job these four years and stints in sales, but (aside from one internship) I have not yet had paying work in my field of choice (journalism and creative writing). How can I enter the job market confidently when I know men and women who have spent years as experienced professionals are not being hired?

I have signed this petition to ban sites like from listing these discriminatory ads. There are over 91,000 signatures, and with your help, will meet their goal.

Already President Obama has voiced his support, saying the jobless discrimination "makes so sense." Also,, another job search engine, has blocked discriminatory ads from their site.

This petition was found on

Saturday, August 27, 2011

Colorblindness: Don't Hide Behind The Disease

Below is text from the second installment of my race column. It appeared in the Setonian and Setonian Online in the August issue.

You might not remember my last editorial. To bring this one up to speed: I basically called everyone everywhere racists, especially those with the “White Privilege,” which is a disease of sorts. To help those that may be ailing, I introduce my own WebMD sheet.

Overview and Facts for White Privilege
Webster’s Online defines the condition as “a sociological concept describing advantages enjoyed by white persons beyond what is commonly experienced by the non-white people in those same social spaces.”

Main Symptom: Color Vision Deficiency
A person that has been infected exhibits claims they live in a colorless word or that they have the freedom of the blind. In layman’s terms, it is that they are colorblind.

Now, I understand that some may view this as a positive tool in their anti-racism toolbox. My wonderful in-laws pull this card too, and though I respect them in all other aspects I must disagree here.

The bottom line is that when you choose to look past color, you blind yourself. You are an Oedipus of sorts, driving out an essential part of mankind so that you may not “see all those atrocious things.” And what will your future be, but dark?

I have three questions, and if you can answer them, then I am wrong and being colorblind is truly a great thing.

1. If you are blind, how will you see?
2. Will you understand the struggle for People of Color (POC)?
3. When will you know to act?

As a white person, or European American if you are sensitive, I demand to know how you will help me when you don’t even realize why someone has called me a name and not you. In Merriam-Webster, a real dictionary, the second definition of colorblind is “insensitive, oblivious.” Only then, listed third, is “not influenced by race.”

There are those who claim America has reached a “colorblind” state with the election of a black president. First, may I say that if they did reach a colorblind state, there would not be an emphasis on his race. 

Second, they would recognize him as mixed, having a white mother and all.

But third and most important is that I, as a mixed American, still face the issue of race everyday. From questions of race on standardized tests, such as the Graduate Requirement Exam (GRE) or Scholastic Aptitude Test (SAT), to people screaming at my fiancé and me to get a “green card” as we walk on the sidewalk, I am reminded that we are a divided nation obsessed with looks and putting people in their place.

Diagnosis and Tests
You don’t want to be colorblind, and you want to relieve yourself of the “White Privilege” before it consumes you. Congrats. First, you must know if you have it. Type “White Privilege Checklist” into Google and take one of the many tests.

See race and don’t feel ashamed because you do. A secure black man is proud and probably loves his heritage. The same goes for a Latina or Asian American. If we take color or race as something positive and without stereotypes, then it is a celebration of cultures. You see the differences and can therefore learn, understand and appreciate them. You are better prepared to help those treated unjustly. You can empathize.

A word of caution: Do not go overboard. You do not have to celebrate or support everything. You may criticize BET and telenovas. Be proud of who you are as well. Peggy Fringe’s checklist is a great starting point, but Ryan Faulk’s adds a counter-balance.

The most important thing is the search for the truth. From POC-to-POC, it is never the same, and to assume…well, we all know that joke.
It makes an “ass” out of “u” and “me.”

Peace, Love
And All that Jazz

For more information on race relations, visit:

Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Aja's Race Corner: Power to the People

Below is the text from the first installment of my race column. It's taken from the Setonian Online where it was first printed in June/July issue.

You might be Racist if:
  • You have to say, “I have black/asian/latino friends” at any point
  • You ask someone “What are you?”
  • You use any sort of stereotype as a truth
  • You use any sort of stereotype as a joke
  • You dislike the President because he’s black
  • You like the President because he’s black
  • You think one racist act merits another
  • You become offended when someone says you might be racist or claim that you meant (whatever you said) in a non-racist way
  • You change your behavior (even if it is to “fit in”) around someone of another race
  • You are mad about this list because you have somehow qualified
Now that I have your angry attention, I may say that everyone at some point in their lives has racist thoughts. I don’t mean this in the negative way either. It may just be a stereotype (positive or negative) that you’ve used. It may be something you never say, but thought.
It’s okay.

Well, actually it’s not, but that isn’t my point. I’ll be the first to admit I am racist. Being raised mixed, I’m hyper-aware of race and stereotypes. It’s something I fight now but, when I went through my teen years of insecurity, it’s a tool I used to set myself apart from blacks, whites, etc.

As a people, we need to combat racism in the United States and it all starts with the “White Privilege,” their “blindness” to the minority struggle. Raised in suburbia half-white, I was this way as well until I came to Greensburg, where racism is out in the open and being politically correct is swept under the rug.

For the people of Seton Hill University, a place of mixed race and religion, it may not seem so obvious, but step outside your bubble and walk down the hill please. Or, not even, just walk with me through campus and see what I see.

You might have The “White Privilege” if:
  • You claim to be colorblind
  • You believe racism is over in America (especially if you justify this with Barack Obama)
  • You believe (wrongly) that you are not any likelier to get a job, a house or a car than a minority.
  • You do not identify yourself as white, but as a “student” or “parent” or “female/male” instead.
  • You believe the education system, minority scholarships or affirmative action to be fine.
  • On the flip side, you don’t think we need affirmative action and minority scholarships.
  • You do not have to look for posters, post-cards, picture books, greeting cards, dolls or toys that feature people of your race.
I can go over all of these, but my editor says I only have a few inches left and I’m not going to waste it on explanation. No, go look it up on Wikipedia or something. Or better yet, come talk to me. Peggy McIntosh, a white lady, has a couple of good points that I have confronted:

  • “I can if I wish arrange to be in the company of people of my race most of the time.
  • I can be pretty sure that my neighbors…will be neutral or pleasant to me.
  • I can go shopping alone most of the time, pretty well assured that I will not be followed or harassed.
  • I can turn on the television or open to the front page of the paper and see people of my race widely represented [positively].
  • I can do well in a challenging situation without being called a credit to my race.
  • I can go home from most meetings of organizations I belong to feeling somewhat tied in, rather than isolated, out-of-place, outnumbered, unheard, held at a distance or feared.
  • I can take a job with an affirmative action employer without having coworkers on the job suspect that I got it because of race.”

I want you to realize this is what we face everyday. And for me, as a mixed kid, it’s not just whites. It’s everyone.

Black Power
Peace, Love
& All That Jazz

For more information on race relations, visit:
Or reach out and talk to us. I’m not going to beg…Okay, please.

Tuesday, August 2, 2011

August Cause of the Month

Note from Creator Aja Hannah

Please check out our August Cause of the Month on the new DOAMK website. It has a shorter and catchier URL so that it may be better remembered. The name better represents my sisters and our other writers as well. Their help and contributions have been vital to growing success.

The change over to the the new site will take some time as we continue to update it so don't worry about jumping over right away.

This site will continue to be updated, but the works will be less specific to the mixed-race struggle. It will include updates on my writing, books, and other causes that she supports.

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Guest Blogger Anne Simon: How Race Helped Two Families Understand Each Other

Anne's beautiful, blended family loves to play and grow together.
Pictured are Anne's grandchildren, children, and husband.
Anne is on the left of the bottom picture.
She created her mixed-race family through
adoption and marriage.
My first husband and I were a white, Ivy League educated family who decided to adopt a black baby. It was the 1970s and the adoption of my son fulfilled a life-long dream of mine to adopt a baby who was a different race than our family.

When my blue eyed, blond haired biological daughter was just a year old, my first husband and I began the process of adopting our second child, expecting that the journey would probably take 1 - 2 years. My then husband had been fully informed of my "life list" before our marriage, and he seemed to embrace it. To our great surprise, four months later the agency called us and said they had a baby boy for us. We brought home my son, an adorable 4 month-old dark skinned African American baby boy. I had two babies under the age of 2, and my mother thought I had lost my mind - which was partially accurate.

We were Upper West Side New York City dwellers; my husband was just starting on Wall Street, and I was in graduate school at Columbia. We knew that we would not stay in NYC to raise our children and were very mindful of the importance, for our children (and our family), of finding a community of like-minded people and diverse families. We landed back in CA where I was raised. In the Berkeley Hills we discovered a cooperative nursery school where our close friends and neighbors included four other families with interracially adopted children.

This idyllic picture shattered a few years later. As was part of living in the 70s, we pushed boundaries in developing our families, and then we pushed them in our relationships. Four of the five couples ended up divorced, including us. I fled to a rural area 100 miles north of San Francisco to recoup my lost identity and raise my children.

Eight years later, I met a man who I would marry. He had lost his wife to cancer and was raising his two teenage daughters alone. His former wife was African American and he is white. Once we married, our family consisted of children (emerging adults really) who ran the entire spectrum of color. My biological daughter has fair skin and blue eyes. My son has dark skin. Merging two families is never easy, but I think the fact that we were (and are) mixed-race families is what helped us navigate the potentially tumultuous waters of step-parenting and merging two families; families in which one had suffered the loss of their wife/mother and mine, and the other had dealt with a bruising divorce and custody battle.

I actually believe that the issue of race was one of the most unifying elements in this successful merger of our families. My step-daughters could not dismiss me as just another white woman who didn’t understand their racial identity. Given the profound decision I had made when adopting my African American son - one that I knew was to change the complexion of my family forever (pun fully intended) - I was extremely relieved and gratified, privileged even, to grow my family by embracing my two mixed-race stepdaughters. 

Far too often, issues of race divide families, break apart relationships and destroy lives. In our case, I’m pleased to tell you, the complex issue of race made the blending of our two families easier. Our kids instinctively understood each other. Each of them also understood their future step-parent because I had adopted an African American son and my husband had married an African American woman. Both my kids and my husband’s daughters knew they would be accepted by their new step-parent and step-siblings.

Racism was one issue they would not have to confront within the new family. In that way, race helped our family bond in a unique and invaluable way. My husband and I have been married for 25 years and our families continue to love and accept each other. Issues of race brought our mixed-race family together, which is where we’ve remained.

Anne Simon is recently retired after 36 years as an independent school administrator and teacher. She also co-authored a book, Beyond the Brochure: An Insiders Guide To Private Elementary Schools In Los Angeles. She lives with her husband and cares for her mother on their small horse farm in Virginia. She is a both a biological and adoptive mother, step-mother, grandmother, and foster mother. She enjoys driving her carriage with her horses, spending time with all of her grandchildren, gardening, swimming, and cooking, and she hopes to travel and write in the years to come. For more information about Anne, visit,

Monday, July 18, 2011

Poisoned in Ocean City

From left to right: Cherish, Darius, Aja on the beach at
Ocean City after The Incident.
Ocean City, MD
8:15 p.m.
110th Street

My younger brother, sister, boyfriend, and I walk to the bus stop. We're just starting our vacation and it's been pretty good so far. I'm taking my younger siblings to walk the boardwalk and ride the roller coaster. We punch the button at the crosswalk and wait. 

A small sedan comes through the intersection and a white boy sticks his head out of the backseat window. "Get a fucking green card!" he yells at us. 

Before we can react, he and his buddies have sped away. The light turns red and we cross the street. I try to give him the benefit of the doubt: maybe he was yelling at someone else, maybe he was drunk. But we were the only ones out and really there is no excuse for racism. 

We aren't immigrants! We aren't hispanic! Only my boyfriend is latino (technically), but he looks white as hell. Clearly the drunk kid was talking to my darker siblings and I. I want to turn around and chase him down. I want to beat his face in. Not for calling me out, but for saying it to my kin, the kids that I've protected since they were born. My little brother, who hasn't yet turned 13 but is somehow taller than me already, watches for my reaction silently. 

I laugh it off. What else can you do? 

We continue on to the boardwalk and pretend like it never happened except it still eats my brain. It's poisoned me and it burns. White people are twisting in front of me. They're all watching us, judging us, and suddenly I'm conscious of the fact that we're a group of minorities walking together instead of just a crowd of people. 

Now I'm not even identifying myself as person. Poison. 

On the bus to the boardwalk, my brother says something embarrassing and I jokingly tell him I'll slap the white off him. Just so the people around us know that he is like them. They look at me with queer eyes as if to ask if he is really white as...or perhaps it was about the familial violence (only now, I can't even think it's that.) 

My brother looks at me, completely serious, and whispers: "I wish you could. I'd welcome it."