Thursday, June 25, 2020

June 2020 Shopping Reflections

It may be a bit presumptuous to post my June 2020 monthly shopping post now, with so many days left in the month. But I'm also quite confident that no other purchases are forthcoming in the next few days! It's almost a pity too, because I've been learning about so many great Black-owned clothing and accessories companies that do such incredibly beautiful work, but I'm just not in the frame of mind to buy much for myself right now.

In the last week or two, I've suddenly started feeling much more well-adjusted about our continued period of fairly strict social distancing. Admittedly, K and I are probably... excessively paranoid about COVID-19, especially now that NYC has turned back the curve so well and the danger is significantly reduced compared to when the shutdowns started. For the foreseeable future, we expect to continue sticking to largely the same practices, avoiding public transit and staying home except for essential trips to the grocery store and pharmacy, which we currently do approximately once every three weeks. In between those trips, we typically order from Southeast Asian Food Group, a restaurant supplier that now does home deliveries within NYC (they sell fresh produce, but no fresh meat).

Now that NYC is in Phase Two of reopening, I may need to start returning to the office at least part-time starting in July, but that's probably the only big change I expect to our social distancing practices before fall. I'll plan to wear a face mask at basically all times during my walking commute and once I'm at work, except maybe when I'm alone in my office with the door shut. I think that will pretty much be a legal requirement, actually, under New York state's reopening rules. 

I understand that K and I may be outliers with our continued adherence to strict social distancing. (I follow a NYC-based emergency room physician on Instagram who was on the front lines of the pandemic, and who is fairly cautious. Even he's started socializing recently, though only after being tested for COVID antibodies.) Being this extreme about staying home is probably only possible because we don't have children, are privileged to have been able to work entirely from home until now, and already tended to be homebodies on weekends before this all started. Then again, pretty much all our close friends still in NYC are somewhat similar, none of them have any intention of socializing - even outdoors - in the near future. 

My worries in May about my job security ended up being a mostly false alarm, even though the non-COVID disruptions to our business were significant. I do think the other shoe has yet to drop for the biglaw industry as a whole when it comes to the impact of this recession, and that could affect my workplace too. Let's just say I'm definitely not holding out hope for a year-end bonus. And I wouldn't be shocked if there was a salary cut at some point, though it's not looking too likely in the near future. Overall, I would say I'm reasonably confident I won't see any disruptions to my job or salary through the end of July.

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All the uncertainty about the economy, and about possible future shutdowns or a "second wave" of COVID-19 in NYC, seems to now (finally!) be having a chilling effect on my willingness to browse for and buy clothing and accessories. Given my extremely robust shopping history, I can't say for sure that this current low-shopping period will last indefinitely, but it's not showing any signs of letting up for now. 

Fashion - (TOTAL: $57.42)
  • Jasmine Chong "Ella" Scrunchie, lavender - $57.42 (including shipping and tax) - This is totally another sort-of-impulsive purchase of a category of item I would likely never have contemplated before the shutdowns, much like the matching loungewear set and the sweater too chunky to be practical for me. I don't think I've worn a scrunchie since I was in elementary school! And I was, I'll admit, somewhat inspired to get this specifically because of how it would look on Zoom or other video calls. This scrunchie is designed to be large and dramatic, and I've been wearing it with a high, jaunty ponytail so that the scrunchie peeks out from behind the top of my head. (I have thick hair, so I use another hair tie to secure the ponytail first, before putting this fancy one on. I don't want to accidentally break the elastic!) This is definitely on the expensive side for a hair accessory, but I think the $50 retail price is fair because it's handmade from silk organza by Jasmine's team in NYC, and they've sewn in these lovely little pleats that must be labor-intensive and are also fairly unique, as far as details on designer scrunchies go. In fact, at $50 before shipping and tax, the Ella is actually even... sort of on the affordable end, compared to its direct competitors. Among other things, the Net-a-Porter sale has many fancy scrunchies discounted to a similar price point, including a vaguely similar dramatically large white silk organza one in white and an intensely ruffled, carnation-like scrunchie in pink or green silk, and Sophie Buhai silk scrunchies start at $120 retail. Some similar competitor products are also linked in the Shopstyle widget below. 

Have things reopened where you are? How have you been adjusting your household's approach to social distancing, if at all, as places start reopening? Have you bought any clothing or accessories almost solely because of how they'll look on Zoom? I'm also always looking for more recommendations for additional Black-owned businesses or Black creators and artists to support! 

Monday, June 22, 2020

Checking In (And Some Thoughts on Charitable Giving and Due Diligence)

via Unsplash

I'm checking in with a few updates about my ongoing efforts to take concrete action against anti-Black racism and police violence.

First, my workplace may participate in pro bono projects related to the legal fight against police violence. I am eager for the opportunity to contribute. But my excitement to do this work is also tempered by my knowledge about how slowly the legal system moves in general (all my active court matters have been pending well over 18 months, and the prospect of any sort of satisfaction within the next 12 months are slim, if not impossible) and about how the odds are stacked against these efforts specifically (many people have discussed qualified immunity, including John Oliver's Last Week Tonight at around the 20 minute mark here; if I remember correctly from my clerkship - cases alleging police violence and abuse of prisoners are a significant percentage of many federal dockets -  that is only one of many significant obstacles to legal success).

Second, I'm not currently in the mood for much fashion-related shopping for myself, but I've been keeping a list of additional Black designers and Black-owned companies that fit my general tastes and price point. I'll need to put together a dedicated page for these, to make my recommendations easy to find and keep track of! In addition to my list from June 4, I'm also following some additional companies for potential future purchases:
  • Aliya Wanek - Clothing made to order or made in small batches in the California Bay Area. 
  • Third Crown - Jewelry company based in NYC. I like their bracelets!
  • Isobel and Cleo - Offering handmade knitwear and a selection of other products. 
  • Kemi Telford - Clothing, mostly made from beautiful, colorful printed cotton fabric. Based in the UK. 

Third, you may be aware that one of the bail funds I donated to recently, the Minnesota Freedom Fund ("MNFF"), came under some criticism gone viral on Twitter and other social media last week for only having spent ~$200,000 of the more than $20 million they've raised since late May. I believe it's well-documented that some of the initial viral tweets questioning MNFF came from known right-wing trolls, who were likely acting in bad faith. 

It's natural to have questions about how MNFF plans to use the money they've raised. As I noted on June 1, MNFF had already disclosed that they'd raised $20 million, several orders of magnitude more than they'd ever previously raised in a single year. By then, they were already practically begging people to donate elsewhere. But I understand they continued to receive further donations, for a total of ~$30 million.

I certainly didn't expect then to spend all $20 or $30 million in just two weeks. That's an unreasonable expectation. I also wouldn't expect them to share "receipts" about everyone they've bailed out. In my experience, such documents may perhaps be publicly accessible court records. But it'd be harmful to the community members they assist to wave around those records willy-nilly on social media, even in redacted form. (As an attorney, my name is on various public court documents, albeit mostly on behalf of clients, not in my personal capacity. But I'd still not enjoy it if people drew undue attention to those public records. And none of them have the stigmatizing effect of being associated with arrest or possible criminal charges.) 

Given these events and another recent news story about donations being sent to the wrong Black Lives Matter entity, I thought it might be good for me to explain some of my thought process when choosing entities to donate to for anti-racism and Black lives matter-related work. I refrained from sharing my thoughts earlier because I didn't want to give the impression that I thought my choice to favor mostly smaller, more grassroots efforts - over the well-established national entities like the NAACP LDF or Equal Justice Initiative, which also do important work - was better or more legitimate than anyone else's choices in this area. Plus, while I do some internet research-based due diligence before making a donation of any size (I gave $50 or less per organization, so I could spread my ~$350 across a large number of groups), I know I don't have enough knowledge or expertise for my donation to represent an actual endorsement. I don't know if any of these groups are the best and most effective at what they do. 

To be abundantly clear, I do not see any reason at this time to believe there is anything illegitimate or untoward happening with the MNFF donations. Admittedly, while I am an attorney (but not your attorney, and nothing in this blog should ever be construed as legal advice or the formation of an attorney-client relationship), I do not have any specific knowledge about either the laws governing nonprofits (whether federally or under Minnesota state law) or about any state or locality's bail system.* 

When I did my preliminary research into MNFF before making my donation on the late evening of May 29, and when I continued to follow their public statements afterwards, I saw many things that made me confident they were a credible organization. It was clear from MNFF's website that they were reasonably well-established, and had been paying bail for several years. I was aware their original mission included paying immigration bail, and this was perfectly fine by me. My first experience with charitable giving and bail was in relation to immigrant family detention under the Obama administration, as I've alluded to. I find immigration bail just as important and valuable as any other kind.

Tuesday, June 9, 2020

May 2020 Shopping Reflections

I originally planned to publish this post on May 29, but it was clear to me that, due to the protests occurring nationwide to rightfully seek justice for George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and so many others, it was not an appropriate time to talk about shopping. Instead, I posted about concrete actions I took in order to stand against anti-Black racism and police violence. I have now made the remaining $50 in monetary donations to these causes I promised, bringing my total donations to $354.30. To round out the total, I made a donation to the Black Mamas Matter Alliance, in recognition of the racial disparities in maternal mortality rates in the US, as well as an additional donation to the GoFundMe in support of Breonna Taylor's family.

My words and actions in support of the fight against anti-Black racism will not be meaningful if I do not commit to making it an ongoing, long-term priority. Monetary donations to anti-racist causes and making a conscious effort to support Black-owned businesses and creators will be part of what I write about here, as I've discussed. I'll check in periodically about those efforts.

As public discussions emerge about certain companies that have engaged in particularly egregious employment discrimination against Black employees and other non-white employees, I will try to do what I can as a consumer to promote better practices. Most recently, I will not be watching any more Bon Appetit YouTube videos until they (1) give backpay to many of the non-white employees appearing in their past videos and (2) compensate those employees for their appearances in new videos going forward (see discussions here and here, among many other places). I will be writing to Conde Nast to inform them of this. I should note upfront that my efforts in this area will necessarily be imperfect and incomplete, as employment discrimination is rampant.

Another part of my anti-racism work is continuing to do what I can to promote diversity and inclusion in the legal profession, but how best to do that is... a difficult and complicated question because large swaths of the industry are still an extremely conservative old boys' club. I ultimately lasted less than a full year in biglaw because I could not endure the obvious disparity between the opportunities given to the white male associates in my class year and practice group and the scraps left to the women and nonwhite associates in our class.

* * * * * 

Last month, my brain was still a bit kooky from continued social distancing. My sleep schedule continued to be all over the place and I remained unable to consistently read for fun. I had an occasional day here and there where I could manage a chapter or two, but those days were rare.

For significant portions of May, I wasn't that busy at work, which, for a private sector attorney, can be some cause for concern. Given my background, I tend to always be more paranoid than strictly necessary when it comes to things like potential layoffs, salary cuts, and the like, so I may be starting to worry more about eventual disruptions to my job security and income. Leadership at my workplace was likely not fully anticipating that we wouldn't be back to "business as usual" anytime this summer. (Here in NYC, I also wouldn't personally expect to resume complete "business as usual" by fall.) Furthermore, some additional non COVID-19 related events occurred that would significantly reduce our business for the foreseeable future. It's not the most stable time for me, professionally speaking.

I'm nervous, but also deeply grateful that our household has yet to see any disruptions to our job security and income. If anything should happen, it'll be quite some time before we actually need to worry: K and I are both extremely conservative when it comes to cash savings, and had each independently accumulated emergency funds far exceeding mainstream recommendations of three to six months' living expenses. (My emergency fund takes into account ~$1,600/month in minimum payments for my refinanced student loans. If I made only that minimum payment each month, it would take me four more years to pay off my remaining student loan balance.)

Looking back, I don't think there's anything significant we'd have done differently with our finances in recent years* if we'd known this was coming, except that we've always splurged a bit overmuch on rent. But we're also really appreciating our in-unit laundry now that we try to avoid communal spaces in our building as much as possible. That's a perk we pay maybe ~$100-$150/month extra for, based on my highly nonscientific comparison of prices for comparable units in our neighborhood, with and without in-unit laundry. 

In the past four weeks or so, I seem to have turned a bit of a corner when it comes to my online shopping habits. This time in April, online window-shopping (which then turned into actual shopping) was the only thing I had the mental energy for in the late evenings. It was still bringing me some entertainment and small sparks of joy, however briefly and superficially. Nowadays, online window-shopping is no longer soothing and no longer makes me feel better about the state of the world, however temporarily.

Anyway, I can't guarantee I'll stay away from shopping for the rest of NYC's continuing COVID-19 shutdowns. (Phase one of NYC's reopening began on June 8, but it's very limited.) I'd be satisfied if, in the next few months, I bought an average of, say, one item a month instead of three. And I'd prefer to spend my dollars on items from small businesses as much as possible. I've done okay with that last part, my biggest recent purchases have been from Elizabeth Suzann and Babaa, both small companies. Going forward, I'd also like to make it a priority to support Black-owned small businesses, though I've not yet done so when it comes to fashion purchases. (So far, I've purchased loose leaf tea from Blk & Bold Specialty Beverages and books from The Lit Bar's Bookshop page.)

Please note that this post contains affiliate links that could result in a commission, typically a few cents, for me if you click. Thank you for your support!

My social distancing experience has been characterized by wild mood swings about all kinds of things, so it's generally difficult to predict how I'll feel and how I'll do things going forward. But since the second half of May, I've been good about staying away from online window-shopping in a way that suggests I might not be buying quite as much clothes and accessories in the foreseeable future as I have in the months since March. Though before I got to that point, I was still doing a lot of shopping in May, as one can see from this month's tally.

Fashion - (TOTAL: $524.74)
  • Elizabeth Suzann Bel skirt, silk crepe, black - $245.00 - This purchase was technically made in late April, the day Elizabeth Suzann ("ES") announced this iteration of the company would close. But I'd already finished writing last month's shopping post, so I'm reporting this as a May purchase. That day, ES took orders for a last set of items they would make - along with March purchases, including mine - once their state government allows them to resume work at their warehouse. ES reached capacity quickly. This was the final item from their current product line that I was still interested in, it'd been pinned to my wish list a long time. It's difficult to predict how this purchase will ultimately turn out, as long and somewhat voluminous skirts don't always suit me because I'm short. (I ordered the size M, short length.) If the Bel skirt ends up not working on me, I understand there's still a robust secondary market for ES, so I'd likely be able to recoup a large percentage of what I spent without too much trouble. 
  • Babaa No. 15 jumper, oak - $208.14 - Between this and April's Babaa purchase (both with the 15% discount code offered through early May), it's probably clear that I'm extremely influenced by the super-stylish Erica. Last time, I ordered an item she'd recently posted, but in a different color. This time, I ordered an exact copy of something she's posted frequently. I swear I'm not being creepy! I just really like her fashion sense... As with the lounge set, the craving for this came out of left field. The combination of intentionally and dramatically oversized design plus super-chunky knit wasn't something I'd ever considered before. But all the uncertainty caused by COVID-19 made me want to wrap myself in a giant sweater at home. The No. 15 is good for that purpose. But I'm not sure how I'll incorporate it into outfits once we're allowed to move about freely outside again: This sweater is so oversized and thick that it doesn't layer well under my coats. I can get the coat on, but then I feel distinctly squished in and like the Michelin Man; there's no extra room under the coat because it's all taken up by the sweater! A few other quirks: With the rustic-feeling yarn, there are little bits of straw one needs to pick out; the itch factor is substantial at first, but gets better within a few wears; and the sweater had a strong lanolin smell when new, which subsided a lot - but not completely - after the first hand-washing (the smell also gets stronger when the sweater is damp). 
  • Lou & Grey Triple Cloth Midi Dress, dark ginger - $71.60 - (sold out) - This dress was another impulsive purchase. I normally don't shop at Lou & Grey - their styles are too casual - but I was browsing their loungewear and was really taken by the color and texture of the fabric, which looked nice in the official photos. As it turns out, the store photography is somewhat misleading as to color, the shade is less bright in real life. The 100% cotton fabric is also thinner than I envisioned. The dress is substantial enough that - under normal circumstances - I'd still wear it out of the house during the summer, as it gets hot and humid enough in NYC that one often reaches for flimsy, thin fabrics. Overall, if these were normal times, I'd probably return this dress. I like it okay, but I don't love it. But while COVID-19 shutdowns are still going strong, I'm treating all items as effectively final sale, I won't trouble anyone with returns. (For anything that truly doesn't work on me, I'd resell later, once things have calmed down.) Because the fabric is so light, this dress is comfortable for lounging at home now that the weather's getting warm, so I can see it getting plenty of use that way. While this dress is sold out, a matching set in the same fabric with a long-sleeved henley top and ankle-length joggers is available in a few colors. These could make for nice summertime loungewear because the fabric is so light. 

And that's it for May's shopping! It's quite a formidable list, all of it accumulated by early May. Time will tell if I'm correct that I'm actually over the "online window-shopping as distraction and comfort" phase of social distancing, for real this time. (I had a false alarm on this in March.)

My lockdown experience has generally been filled with wild mood swings and changes of habit: Just when I think I've settled into a routine at last, things change. First, I can't sleep in because of too much nervous energy - which is sad, because I normally love to sleep in whenever I get half the chance! - but then, all of a sudden, I'm drowsy and completely useless before noon, and then back again. Sometimes I get mild stress-induced tightness in the chest, and then it disappears, rinse and repeat. At first, I'm really optimistic that things can start safely reopening in NYC soon, and then I'm not. In any case, the question of when I'll personally feel safe doing "normal life" things again is a completely separate one.

* Well, if we wanted to look really far back, I probably shouldn't have clerked and set my financial progress back by nearly two years. But that's a complicated topic that implicates questions of long-term career development; the dramatic socioeconomic and "prestige" or school-rank-driven hierarchies in this profession; the inability of law school faculty and staff to give career advice that takes into account financial realities, etc. etc. 

Thursday, June 4, 2020

Ongoing Acts

via Grandpa Chan (@drawings_for_my_grandchildren

Recently, I have said very little because I continue to believe that now is not the time for voices like mine to be heard. Talk alone is cheap in this context when it comes from someone like me (Asian-American, from a well-to-do demographic of East Asian descent), and it is meaningless without concrete action. And as someone with considerable financial privilege, one of the most powerful ways I can be an ally is by putting my money where my mouth is. 

I have now made an additional $150 in donations to causes related to taking a stand against anti-Black racism and against police violence, with $50 remaining to allocate out of the amount I promised on Monday. In total, I have now donated $304.30 across the following:
  • Minnesota Freedom Fund - Bail fund based in Minneapolis, Minnesota. They now encourage people to direct their donations elsewhere, to other related causes.
  • @FreeThemAll2020 - NYC bail fund for protestors. They are no longer taking donations and ask people to direct their donations to other related causes, including COVID Bailout NYC. 
  • Black Visions Collective  - A community group based in Minneapolis. 
  • Lake Street Council - For rebuilding Lake Street in Minneapolis. 
  • COVID Bailout NYC - A general NYC bail fund established in response to the spread of COVID-19 at Rikers Island. 
  • Louisville Community Bail Fund - Bail fund in Louisville, Kentucky, where Breonna Taylor was killed by police. 
  • GoFundMe for the Family of Breonna Taylor - This was established yesterday for Breonna Taylor's family. 
  • GoFundMe for the Family of David McAtee - David McAtee was killed by police during the protests in Louisville last weekend. 
  • Fair Fight - Group started by Stacy Abrams to challenge voter suppression in the US. Voter suppression is rampant in the US, and has been amplified by COVID-19 and by recent curfews.

As various brands and companies respond, one conversation that's being raised is that many of these companies discriminate against minority employees, particularly Black employees. Thus, any public expression of support for Black lives matter by these companies can arguably be seen as empty or hypocritical, given that there's no genuine commitment to racial equality and inclusion even within their own ranks. The tweet below makes the point far better than I can. 

Various companies I patronize are also subject to these discussions, including Refinery29 (also here and here, it's not an isolated thing) and Cha Cha Matcha.* Though I don't read them, Man Repeller (follow up here) also has this issue, as they have a history of not retaining what few Black writers they hire for very long. (The relevant discussions are primarily in the comments sections of those Man Repeller posts.)

No doubt there are many, may other companies that should also take a long, hard look at their employment practices. Don't even get me started on biglaw firms. (It should be noted that they tend not to make public pronouncements about recent events. Any statements they make are likely to remain internal, addressed to employees only, so there are generally no public shows of hypocrisy there, in any case.)

Another important conversation that's happening now is about supporting Black-owned businesses and creators. I'm following @15percentpledge, which calls on major retail chains to devote at least 15% of shelf space in their stores to products from Black-owned companies. I'm also researching Black-owned businesses to support as a customer. (Sources I've used include @buyfrombipoc and various posts on social media, including from Twitter and from the Instagram accounts of some of the brands I've named below. Even Vogue has done something.) Here's my list so far, it's an ongoing project:

  • Blk & Bold Specialty Beverages - Coffee and loose leaf tea. I've ordered some jasmine green tea and passionfruit black tea. (Thanks to Kathy for mentioning them.)  
  • The Lit Bar - Bookstore in the Bronx. Offers online shopping through Bookshop, I've made an order. 
  • Lingua Nigra - Jewelry, based in Chicago. Also on Etsy
  • Omi Woods - Jewelry, based in Toronto. Also on Etsy
  • Two Days Off - Clothing, handmade in Los Angeles and made to order or made in small batches. Current product line is mostly linen clothing. 
  • Sibbotery - Pottery, based in Austin. Shop via Etsy
  • Mateo NY - Primarily jewelry, also some handbags. 

Fighting back against anti-Black racism must be a lifelong, ongoing effort. I believe it requires action in many areas of my life, including by being thoughtful about where and how I shop and in the content I consume, including on social media.

* In light of what I've learned, I will no longer be a customer of or promote Cha Cha Matcha. Thus, I have archived a past Instagram post including them and have revised my previous blog post mentioning them to reflect this.

Monday, June 1, 2020

Additional Actions

Art by Monyee Chau @monyeeart on Twitter (also on Instagram)

ETA 6/5/2020: The original version of this art I posted had, as the primary text, "Yellow Peril Supports Black Power," which comes originally from a photograph dated 1969. The artist has since revised the artwork to the version you see above. She, and others she's spoken to, are of the view that the original phrasing improperly centers certain Asian-American perspectives over the Black voices and perspectives that should be amplified at this time. Out of respect to the artist, I have therefore swapped in the revised version of the art. Please see the artist's explanation here.

At this time, mine is not one of the voices that needs to be amplified or heard. Instead, the best thing I can do is to take action as an ally who stands against anti-Black racism and against police violence. Black lives matter. 

As someone with considerable financial privilege, one of the best ways I can take concrete action now is through monetary donations: In addition to donating to the Minnesota Freedom Fund last Friday (they raised $20 million over the weekend, which is extraordinary!), I have also donated to a NYC-based bail fund, via @FreeThemAll2020 on Twitter. I understand both bail funds have expressed that they currently have enough resources because of all the generous support they've recently received. Both groups now encourage donors to donate elsewhere. (There are other general NYC-based bail funds that are still seeking donations, though they are not focused specifically on the recent protests.) I have also donated to Black Visions Collective in Minnesota and to the Lake Street Council in Minneapolis. My donations to these groups currently total $154.30, and I commit to donating at least another $200 this month to related causes.