Art & Culture



Tuesday, April 11, 2017

Poor Tax: How Car Ownership Disproportionately Penalizes Poor Communities

Everybody has preconceived notions about the poor, but one of the most common misconceptions is that they have access to cheaper, if lower quality, goods, and services. This simply isn’t the case. People without means have been penalized for hundreds of years, from vagrancy laws to low balance fees. Poor Tax is a monthly series on Ms. Vixen that was borne from a segment on the podcast Brunch & Budget on Bondfire Radio. The segment is curated by Dyalekt and it details everyday laws, services, and products that most of us may take for granted, but are a heavier burden on poorer and lower income communities.

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In NYC, we are fortunate. Most of us can get away with not having a car to get to work or run errands. Many native New Yorkers don’t even have driver’s licenses and Pam finally got her license at the age of 30 after having lived her whole adult life in Brooklyn.

For most of the country though, having a car is the only way to get to and from work and have the ability to buy groceries and other basic necessities. Even in other major cities, the bus and rail systems can be unreliable, don’t run 24/7, and often don’t reach into the suburbs. If they do, the housing costs to live near public transportation are usually 
 significantly higher.
So We Buy Cars.
The average American spends 20% of their income on transportation, but the average lower income person spends 32% on transportation. The cost of owning a car doesn’t go up or down based on income. If it costs you $400 to own a car, it’s $400 whether you make $2,000 per month or $1,500 per month.

To put it into perspective, in NYC, where we constantly complain about the cost of the Metrocard going up, a monthly unlimited card is $116.50, or about 5-8% of your income if you make between $1,500 and $2,000.

The cost to own and finance a car has also increased over the years. In 2014, the average car loan term was 66 months (over 5 years!) and the average cost after interest is around $27,000, with a resale value nowhere near that amount.

Essentially, you’re spending today’s dollars on a huge purchase that is only depreciating in value. Used cars are cheaper on purchase, but will invariably have unforeseen issues and need costly repairs. Those repairs take priority too, because a car can be the difference between gainful employment and a full day of judge shows. Carpooling isn’t an option when you live in a different town from the one you work 

How Did We Become Such a Car-Centric Country?

There is a fantastic explanation on the TruTV show, Adam Ruins Everything, about how jaywalking became illegal, and allowed cars to take over the road and it all leads back to the car industry. Roads used to just be the spaces between the buildings we walked to, until cars came smashing every horse and buggy in its path.

As a way to combat the stigma of cars constantly killing people in the streets, they coined the term “jaywalking” to put the blame on pedestrians for getting in the way of cars. Eventually, jaywalking became illegal. In case you care, a “Jay” was a hick that was too stupid and poor to to drive a car like a Real American.

Now our cities and towns are designed with cars in mind instead of people in mind and even major cities like LA are designed so it’s almost impossible to get around without a car or on public transportation because everything is built so far apart. Many areas have limited sidewalks and are covered by highways that are impassable for pedestrians.


Another clip explains that because we need space to drive and store all these cars, many cities bulldozed entire neighborhoods to create highways and throughways and some cities have up to 25% of their available land as parking lots.

Sometimes, it literally costs poor people more to own a car.

While it’s true that transportation costs are naturally going to be a higher percentage of your income if you make less money and some may argue that housing costs near public transportation are naturally going to be higher because of market demands, there are some situations where being poor is actually going to cost you more money simply because you make less money.

Subprime auto loans have grown in popularity among car dealerships since the Great Recession in 2008. With millions of Americans losing their jobs, getting their homes foreclosed, and damaging their credit, many only had the option to take out subprime auto loans, which allowed you to borrow money to purchase a car with bad credit or no credit and no assets or reserves.

Of course, the caveat was you could be paying upwards of 20% in interest. In 2009, auto financiers sold about $3 billion worth of subprime auto bonds through the securities markets. By 2014, that number was $22 billion.

Some auto insurance companies also charge higher premiums if you're poor. How do they know? In some states, insurance companies are allowed to ask your occupation and/or income. In other states, they tend to rate low-income neighborhoods as a "higher risk," for crime and theft to justify the increased premiums.

People go into debt to buy a car that takes them to a job that pays for the car. Any complication in that cycle can be disastrous. Yet another way the poor are encouraged to stay in their lane.

Pam & Dyalekt teach hip hop + finance workshops to kids, teens, and college students across the country. You can catch them talking about money and social justice and playing good music on their weekly radio show/podcast, Brunch & Budget on Bondfire Radio.
Social media:

Dyalekt insta @dyalekt
twitter @dyalektraps

Monday, March 27, 2017

How To Identify Victims of Sex Trafficking.

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We're all collectively on high alert regarding the many missing teenage Black and Brown girls currently in Washington D.C. What is also getting more awareness is the 64,000 missing Black women and girls currently in the USA. The cases of missing Black women and girls is being handled poorly, by law enforcement which we explore in a previous article Missing While Black

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In many cities across the country teenage girls of color are reported missing in large numbers, and many believe it's a result of human trafficking; specifically the sex trafficking of teenage girls. Many sources are disputing the spike in missing teenagers in D.C and attribute it to the social media contributing to heightened awareness. 

I myself have conversed on social media with people that think these girls are simply runaways and the heightened awareness of these cases is simply that, just hype. Which adds to how deeply Black women and girls are not a priority among the missing. According to The Huffington Post, teens targeted for sex trafficking are homeless teens and runaways and are fighting to live on the street. Runaways are being dismissed as simply that, rather than examining what they are running from, and what they are running towards. 

How do we save these girls, and provide safe spaces for them? One way to start is by being able to identify teens that have been forced into prostitution. Here are a few list provided by and

Some warning signs
  • Signs of physical abuse, such as burn marks, bruises or cuts
  • Unexplained absences from class
  • Less appropriately dressed than before
  • Sexualized behavior
  • Overly tired in class
  • Withdrawn, depressed, distracted or checked out
  • Brags about making or having lots of money
  • Displays expensive clothes, accessories or shoes
  • New tattoo (tattoos are often used by pimps as a way to brand victims. Tattoos of a name, symbol of money or barcode could indicate trafficking)
  • Older boyfriend or new friends with a different lifestyle
  • Talks about wild parties or invites other students to attend parties
  • Shows signs of gang affiliation (i.e., a preference for specific colors, notebook doodles of gang symbols, etc.)

    Common Work and Living Conditions: The individual(s) in question
    • Is not free to leave or come and go as he/she wishes
    • Is under 18 and is providing commercial sex acts
    • Is in the commercial sex industry and has a pimp/manager
    • Is unpaid, paid very little, or paid only through tips
    • Works excessively long and/or unusual hours
    • Is not allowed breaks or suffers under unusual restrictions at work
    • Owes a large debt and is unable to pay it off
    • Was recruited through false promises concerning the nature and conditions of his/her work
    • High-security measures exist in the work and/or living locations (e.g. opaque windows, boarded up windows, bars on windows, barbed wire, security cameras, etc.)

    Poor Mental Health or Abnormal Behavior

    • Is fearful, anxious, depressed, submissive, tense, or nervous/paranoid
    • Exhibits unusually fearful or anxious behavior after bringing up law enforcement
    • Avoids eye contact

    Poor Physical Health

    • Lacks health care
    • Appears malnourished
    • Shows signs of physical and/or sexual abuse, physical restraint, confinement, or torture

    Lack of Control

    • Has few or no personal possessions
    • Is not in control of his/her own money, no financial records, or bank account
    • Is not in control of his/her own identification documents (ID or passport)
    • Is not allowed or able to speak for themselves (a third party may insist on being present and/or translating)


    • Claims of just visiting and inability to clarify where he/she is staying/address
    • Lack of knowledge of whereabouts and/or do not know what city he/she is in
    • Loss of sense of time
    • Has numerous inconsistencies in his/her story

    To request help or report suspected human trafficking, call the National Human Trafficking Hotline at 1-888-373-7888. Or text HELP to: BeFree (233733). 

    By Queen 
    Queen is a 30 something from the Bronx, NY. She created Ms. Vixen to spread her thoughts on feminism, Black pride, it's the first stop on her quest to be a media mogul. 
    Follow Queen 
    Instagram @TheQueenSpeaks_

    Monday, March 20, 2017

    I “Whitewashed” My Resume and Here’s What Happened

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    I know I know, I can feel your judgment stares through the screen but hear me out. About 6 months ago I moved to Suffolk County (In Long Island) from Brooklyn. Growing up in NYC I won't say I never experienced racism but because NYC is such a melting pot I did not ALWAYS feel so immediately aware of my Blackness especially in a professional setting. Maybe I was Naive but I felt like for the most part my experiences with the job hunt my race didn't play such a huge part in the reception of me. Until I moved to Long Island, I have never felt SO aware of being Black and being on the job hunt.

    It started off simple enough if you have ever looked for a job you know how completely exhausting it can be. I would get calls here and there but after 2 months of searching and getting very few call backs, I knew I needed to try Something different.These bills were not going to pay themselves! Being unemployed isn’t cool especially when you are ACTIVELY looking for work, I was not collecting unemployment and I had vacations to pay for. Which if you know me plays a huge role in my life. Updating my resume has been something I have done periodically anyway, I even had my resume looked at by a recruiter friend of mine who gave it the seal of approval as being clear and concise. My name has been typically hard to pronounce for most people even though it only has 6 letters but I figured it wouldn't hurt if I made my name more “palatable” so I changed my name on my Resume from Electa to Elle.  I made the changes on my resume and my Linkedin and didn’t think too much of it. Almost immediately I started to get call backs left and right for jobs in record speed. Making a moderate estimate I went on about 4 interviews in 2 months as Electa but went on about 15 in that same time frame as “Elle”.  It was great to start getting callbacks but the Interviews themselves were a whole other story, my guess is It was always a bit of shock that Elle was a Brown skinned girl with natural hair.

    This experience has created a list of the worst interviews I have ever been on. Here are just some of them: Being on interviews where the interviewer doesn’t even want to ask me any questions about my work related experiences or any questions at all and basically stare at me, basically already making the decision not to seriously consider me before I even open my mouth. Having an Interview for a management position and then being told when I get there they are mysteriously not hiring for that position anymore when they were so excited to meet me just the day prior. Being told they do not believe I am “Management material” Even though I have more experience in the field than the person interviewing me. Receiving rejection letters before I even get back home after an interview. Interview after Interview I become increasingly frustrated, but I still put on a brave face and went out there again and again. I am not saying all of these experiences have been solely because of my race because I believe that would be an unfair assumption. I do however have over 9 years of experience in my field, a College education, I always dress clean and professional for every interview, my resume is awesome and prior to this, I have been on very few interviews without landing a job even in the super competitive market of NYC.

    After being on almost 40 Interviews (Yes, you read that right 40 INTERVIEWS!)  in 4 months as “ Elle” with NO job offers I decided the stress and frustration of going on countless interviews were just not worth it. I took a few weeks break from the job hunt to get my head together and decompress than hopped back into changed my resume back to the name my Momma gave me! I was not proud of what I had done and admittedly had tried to change, even if on paper a huge part of who I am. I love my name and although that has not always been the case my name is unique thus making me stand out.I am sure I won't be the first or last person who feels like they need to make themselves more “marketable” to the general public in order to simply step foot in the door. Hopefully one day this won’t even need to be an option, that your merit, work experience, and education will speak for themselves. I have not yet found a job but I have a few interviews lined up that look promising, I am sure the right opportunity will come along and I will find a company that values me for who I am and what I can bring to the table.

    Electa is a self-proclaimed foodie. She is a Wife, a domestic goddess, aspiring chef in training, and a Writer/Blogger from Brooklyn with serious Wanderlust. follow her on twitter: @emazing17, Instagram @emazing17 and snapchat @Emazing1787 

    Sunday, March 19, 2017

    Dear Tyrese, Black Women Don't Need You To Help Us.

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    Sometimes weeding out controversial messages is hard to do. Whether the message is accidental or completely intentionally, the message can still sting for those on the receiving end. After overhearing a group of women talking about how "men are stupid and will sleep with and marry damn near anything," singer, actor, entertainer, and now "beauty expert" Tyrese,  took to social media to sound off. 

    "I just feel the need to send a message to all of these "type" of ladies who just think Dudes are just STUPID??....WE KNOW the difference in real hair and fake clip-on. We know eyelash extensions, we know fake hard titties pointing in 4 directions with your ribs showing in the middle. He then continued his rant by saying, "I'm NOT trying to be mean, I'm just sending a message that US REAL MEN SEE THE BULLSH*T and IF He decides to rock with you, it's just cause they wanna get one off. No one will EVER take you seriously like that or really make that move....cause you look like a manufactured clown- some of you have convinced yourself that it's cause of how many dudes be trying to get at you." 

    Get organized with custom labels from StickerYou! 
    To add more salt to some wounds, Tyrese then attempted to uplift women by saying, 

    "Shout to #TeamNatural #TeamSquats and #TeamTakeMeAsIAm #TeamMatureEnoughToConsiderHarshTruth because you're single doesn't mean you're lonely. Know this... H**s, sluts, tramps are never without a man... You're single cause YOU have standard[s] and know your actual value." 
    Somewhere in between his extensive career and writing a book, someone clearly told him that he is qualified to give relationship and dating advice. 
    Aside from his Instagram essay, his message highlights a bigger issue: misogynoir, a dislike of, contempt for, or ingrained prejudice against Black women. The concept of making cosmetic changes or enhancements for yourself and not others is an important one. However, what is a bit distasteful is how all of a sudden, (some) Black men believe it is okay to talk down to Black women in a blinded attempt to "help" us. 

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    Tyrese, we don't need you to help us. We can perfectly manage on our own. Black women can manage on our own. Telling a Black woman that she needs to alter her appearance just to keep a man interested, committed long term, or even make it to the alter, is like stepping on a time bomb with blinders on. 
    You have a daughter. What would you say if a man tells her that she needs to stop wearing false lashes or put down the Beauty Blender next time? The implications of telling women they perhaps should change their existence solely for man is rooted in history, both past, present, and future. Just last week, someone on Instagram posed the question, "Why do Black athletes marry white women?"
    One user responded by saying, "The answer is simple, brother," he began. "Most of the sisters were raised in broken homes and they don't have proper guidance to how they should treat a man, so they mess up a lot in relationships. The biggest difference is that a white woman knows her position and accepts her role as women and lets her man lead." He continued by saying, "You can never get better at anything unless you can admit your fears and your mistakes. How would I be a better football player, if I'm not coachable? Black women are not coachable. Let's put it that way." 

    Black women are tired. We should be loud but not too loud. We should be angry but not the angry Black girl. We should be "coachable," but still have some self-respect. We're already oppressed from socioeconomic conditions, getting paid less for the same work, or even just facing issues from every angle. 
    But nonetheless, Tyrese, you do not have to bash women that don't meet your set of preferences. If you like women that are natural, then just simply say it without criticizing those that boldly wear weaves or wigs. Women don't wear weaves, wigs, lace fronts, or even false lashes for men. It's for ourselves because we want to look and feel good-- what's the problem with that? 
    So the next time you feel the need to take to social media about a topic aimed to "help" us, please don't. Your bashing isn't necessary. Black women don't need you to save us and we most definitely don't need you to help us. We're completely good on our own. 

    By: Ajea NicoleAjea Nicole is a 20 something from Boston, MA who craves anything style related. Though her love of style originated from scouring her mom’s closet, she often gleans style inspiration from Solange and June Ambrose. When she is not catching up on Project Runway, she can be found working out at the gym, reading a good book or
    somewhere in a sushi restaurant.

    Connect with her!
    Twitter: @ajeanicole
    Instagram: @ajeanicole

    Tuesday, March 14, 2017

    'Insecure' Season 2 Returns This Summer!

    Insecure's Yvonne Orji (left) and Issa Rae (right) Photo: Tumblr

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    Mark your calendars for 'Insecure' Season 2

    When 'Insecure' first premiered last fall, it immediately became a hit. It's cultural references, depictions of black female friendship and touch of comedy with real life situations, make the HBO show a must-watch. Although the first season only featured eight episodes, today Issa Rae has announced the arrival of Season 2.

    "I need you to mark your calendars for July 23 because it's about to get hot this summer. Hot. July 23. Tell your friends, tell your family, tell your enemies to watch Insecure on HBO. We're coming back happier, stronger, better, doper than ever. And I'm so excited for you guys to see what we've been working on this season," said in a video via Twitter. 

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    If you can't wait to watch Season 2 (like me), be sure to mark your calendars for July 23. But in the meantime, here's a clip from Season 1 and we know that Season 2 will be even better! 

    By: Ajea NicoleAjea Nicole is a 20 something from Boston, MA who craves anything style related. Though her love of style originated from scouring her mom’s closet, she often gleans style inspiration from Solange and June Ambrose. When she is not catching up on Project Runway, she can be found working out at the gym, reading a good book or
    somewhere in a sushi restaurant.

    Connect with her!
    Twitter: @ajeanicole
    Instagram: @ajeanicole

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