Books about Black Women to Add to Your Black History Reading List

Let our society tell it, Black women have never had an impact on history.  Black women have no stories to tell.  Black women’s roles are to support – but never overshadow –  their husbands, sons, brothers and white counterparts.  History tends to leave Black women’s stories untold or flatten their stories into a bite-sized, one-dimensional tales of piety, sacrifice, or perfection.

The truth is that Black women have always been innovators, strategist, radical thinkers, and pillars of every community. Yet, somehow, so many amazing stories of Black women have been lost to time.

Here’s a short list of compelling books about Black women for your Black History Month reading list that aren’t Michelle Obama’s Becoming (which I assume is on all our “to read” or “read” lists).

For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Politics by Donna Brazile, Yolanda Caraway, Leah Daughtry, and Minyon Moore with Veronica Chambers

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Photo credit: Macmillian Publishers

This book tells the stories of four women who have been major players in American political systems.  These women met early in their careers and have helped each other navigate work dynamics, personal tragedies, career mistakes and more by creating a support system for themselves and the other black women around them. They, individually and collectively, have been driving forces in some of the major Democratic campaigns and political moments, including both Jesse Jackson’s and Hilary Clinton’s historic presidential campaigns and the Clinton Administration. In addition to recapping their biographies and careers, the women provide thoughts on the importance of building and nurturing your networks and finding mentors and allies who can push you forward and keep you sane.

Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry by Imani Perry

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Photo credit: Beacon Press

Most are familiar with Lorraine Hansberry’s play “A Raisin in the Sun”, the first Broadway play written and produced by a Black woman.  This book chronicles Hansberry’s short life before she died from cancer when she was 34 years old and proves that her famous play is just the tip of the iceberg.  Hansberry was dedicated to living a life true to her ideals.  Hansberry grew up the daughter of a prominent Black businessman in a middle-class Black family in Chicago.  She was an outspoken lesbian, feminist and Black rights activist who never shied from expressing her thoughts. Her crew included the who’s who of the day, including James Baldwin, Nina Simone, and Paul Robeson.   Hansberry was revolutionary.

When They Call You a Terrorist: A Black Lives Matter Memoir by Patrisse Khan-Cullors and asha bandele

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Photo Credit: Macmillian Publishing

In the relatively few years since the Black Lives Matter movement started, it has forever changed our language around the systemic abuse and deaths of black people by police officers. The casual BLM fan may not realize that that the organization was started by women who wanted to make a change in their communities.  This book serves as the author’s biography and to the events that lead to the start of the BLM and how the movement changed the lives the author and her family.

The World According to Fannie Davis by Bridgett M. Davis

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Photo credit: Little, Brown and Company

This book is at the top of my personal list, so – full disclosure- I haven’t read it but am extremely excited for my copy to reach my doorstep.  The author tells the story of how her mother made ends meet, bought a house and paid for her college education by running the Numbers.  The Numbers was something like a lottery system that was prominent in black communities.  Though this is a story of one woman, the greater story displays examples of Black entrepreneurship and black people creating wealth and investing in their communities through underground economies.

This list is just a flake on the tip of the iceberg and there are so many black female experiences not represented in this extremely short list.  What books would you add to the list?

HPV: There’s a Vaccine For That

The Human Papillomavirus (HPV) is the most common sexually transmitted disease (STD) in the U.S. It is linked to cervical cancer and cancers of the vagina, penis, anus (anal), throat, tongue, and tonsils. These cancers can take years develop but begin when someone becomes infected with the virus. There is only a routine screening for cervical cancer.

The Science Behind HPV

HPV has a genome made of double stranded DNA. Like other DNA viruses it has the ability to incorporate itself into the genes of its host, in this case humans. Once it is incorporated into the hosts DNA, its genes get replicated whenever the cell replicates. Depending on where the virus incorporates itself into the hosts DNA, it can turn cell growth genes permanently. This results in abnormal cell growth that leads to cancer. When you go to the gynecologist for Pap smear (Pap for Papilloma), this is what the doctors are looking for: abnormal cervical cells.

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Every year, an estimated 17,600 women and 9,300 men are diagnosed with cancer resulting from HPV infection. When broken down into communities, statistics show Hispanic women have the highest rates of cervical cancer, but African American women have the highest rate of death as a result of HPV infection since 1975 due to decreased likelihood of early disease detection. AA women also have the highest rates of vaginal cancer as a result of HPV infection. AA men have higher rates of anal cancer when compared to white men and Hispanic men have higher rates of penile cancer than non-Hispanic men.

The good news is that the HPV strains that are most likely to cause cancer are preventable and have been since the advent of the HPV vaccine in 2006. The bad news is that women of color, particularly Black women, are less likely to have their children (or themselves) vaccinated. The advisory committee on immunization practices recommends males age 13-21 and females age 13-26 be vaccinated. The vaccines are administered in 3 doses at timed intervals: 0, 1-2, and 6 months.

Vaccination rates from 2015 indicated that coverage for females age 13-17 was at 60% for the first dose of the vaccines and 39.7% for the third dose as of 2014. African Americans have the lowest series completion rate at 61.6%. Studies have shown that 48% of AA have never heard of the vaccination and those who were aware were female, employed, had some years of college education an annual income of $40,000, a regular doctor, had fewer children and were younger than 41 years of age. Awareness of HPV and the vaccine was also associated with cervical cancer diagnosis (i.e. they or someone they knew had a diagnosis).

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Lets Talk About Vaccination

Among AA parents, the most common vaccination barriers were concerns about safety, concerns that the vaccination would encourage promiscuity or pre-marital sex, lack of information, and lack of recommendation by doctor or perceived hesitance of a recommendation by a doctor. Additional barriers included perceived low risk of children acquiring HPV, mistrust in pharmaceutical companies, mistrust of medical providers, religious denomination and frequency of religious service attendance, concern about daughters being too young, and creating a false sense of protection against all HPV strains.

After wading through all of the facts, what it boils down to is that Black women have the highest rate of cervical cancer deaths, yet we are least likely to have our daughters vaccinated. The reasons why people are vaccinating their daughter boils down to either distrust in doctors and pharmaceutical companies or the fear that having our children vaccinated against an STD will somehow encourage them to start having sex or have more sex. Does anyone see the faulty logic in this? This falls into the same line of reasoning that talking to your kids about sex promotes sexual activity.

MERCK - Merck's HPV Vaccine, GARDASIL®9, now available in Canada

As a mother, a Black Christian women, and a scientist, I do not understand this logic. Even if your child does wait to have sex until they are married, chances are that their spouse did not. If protecting your child is the goal, denying them a vaccination in the name of purity culture does not serve them well. Perhaps reframing the discussion as that of your preparing a child to be a successful adult might encourage parents and caretakers to reconsider how helpful a vaccination can be in helping the current child avoid contracting a preventable virus from a future sexual partner. This vaccine can prevents cervical cancer. That is nothing short of a miracle that I embraced with all of my identities and encourage others to do the same.

Black communities in the United States have legitimate reasons for not trusting the scientific and medical industries (Tuskegee, Henrietta Lacks, the origins of US gynecology, etc). As a member of both the science and Black communities, I encourage us to consider that we can be both healthily skeptical of practices and intentions within the science industry/community AND recognize the ways that scientific and medical advances can support our health and well-being. How can Black communities build trust with medical and scientific communities? I genuinely want to know because as a Black scientist, I chose this field because I wanted to help my community through my research. I want to break down the walls of communication so that we can be free to live long and healthy/healthier lives.

Moving Forward

The biggest take home message for me with these data is that we need to get the word out to the parts of the community that are older, less likely to be college educated and more likely to be skeptical of the medical and scientific community. I think the best way for us to get vaccination rates up is by reaching out to the people in our communities who fit this description. I know that I do my fair share of communicating these things to my friends and family and I can only hope that they are passing these things along. This may also require leading by example. If you are reading this and you aren’t vaccinated and you are 45* and under, GET VACCINATED! If you have a child (of any sex and/or gender) within the recommended vaccination age, GET THEM VACCINATED!

I am challenging the #CiteASista community to share this post among friends and family and begin/continue a conversation about sexual health. Do your own research and share that too. We have to be able to uplift our community so that we can be more informed and healthier. If you have any ideas on how to improve communication between doctors and scientists to our communities, please leave them in the comments.

*Point of emphasis: The vaccine has been recently been cleared for people up to age 45!!!! This is GREAT NEWS.*

On #NappilyEverAfter and embracing #NaturalHair: A Review-ish & Personal Reflection

My hometown’s public school system committed to having 3rd and 4th-grade students learn how to swim. I’m an ‘80s baby and the ‘90s raised me, so “protective styling” options and swimwear accessories during the school year were very limited. I’ve never chemically treated my hair, so water and I had a unique relationship. So unique that I never let the shower water directly touch my face. I cupped the water with my hands and washed my face to avoid the fate of possible first- and second- degree burns induced by my mom using the hot comb.

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So, when swimming lessons came in 3rd grade, I was unprepared for a few reasons. I reported to the pool with a stocking cap and shower cap and thankfully, one of the Black teachers intervened, as she knew the tragedy that was about to happen. She then braided my hair in the pool locker room. I am grateful to her.

Growing up with natural hair has come with its shares of pride and struggle, so when I saw that “Nappily Ever After” (NEP) was premiering this past Friday, I had to see what it was all about. Because, you know – representation matters. And I’m also a fan of Sanaa Lathan. I enjoyed watching the movie so I wanted to share some quick thoughts with you all. If you have not seen the movie, stop here because *spoilers ahead*.

NEP tells the story of Violet Jones, a thirty-something who has a built a reputable marketing career advertising mainstream beauty standards. Violet has been dating Clint for two years and presumes that he will be proposing to her at her birthday party. To Violet’s dismay, her elegant engagement ring is presented as a cute Chihuahua, named Lola. When Violet confronts Clint, he shares that their two years has felt like “two years of first dates” and expresses that he doesn’t know much about her, nevermind marrying her. If Clint honestly felt that way, I’d like to know how he felt confident getting her such a large commitment, like a dog, for a birthday gift, but I digress.

I appreciated that that NEP scratched the surface of the complexity of beauty being tied to hair through the lens of a brown-skinned Black woman — and one with at least 4A hair at that. Society has conditioned us to believe that natural hair is beautiful if it is long, perfectly curly when wet, and styled effortlessly. And we typically see these women presented in the media, leaving a host of other beautiful queens out of the picture. Natural hair is also kinky and coily, can betray you with shrinkage when wet, and take multiple attempts to achieve a perfect style. This shouldn’t make these types of hair desirable or publicly represented. We are overdue for more women that show the full and beautiful spectrum of natural tresses on the big screen.

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Prior to Violet shaving her hair off, she believed that hair held her attractiveness. And thankfully, she learned that her confidence made her attractiveness despite whatever style she chose to wear on her head. Violet and her mom have forged a strong relationship over hair care. Violet depended on her mother to press her hair and in turn, her mother imposed her rigid standards of beauty, which Violet later projects onto Zoe. Violet followed “all of the rules,” but was disappointed that this formula didn’t equal a marriage proposal. I found it freeing that when Violet shaved her head, she also cut her mother’s expectations. I was happy that she was able to meet Will, a Black man who validated her appearance and was able to make natural hair products that benefitted her. I appreciated the exploration of a heterosexual Black man with an “unusual” profession, such as a hairdresser. I hope that this creates more conversations about gender roles in the Black community. Often, we talk about Black women assuming the roles of “a man,” but there is little analysis of Black men assuming the roles of “a woman.” There seems to be many assumptions about Will’s class and sexuality. But, we also see a single-parent business owner who wants to make a woman happy. However, I’m still processing that sensual head massage in the park…

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I liked that the film shed light on people making career changes later on in life. Richard Jones, played by Ernie Hudson, took a chance on a dream of and pursued being a male model. I found it hilarious that he was featured in a boxer brief advertisement which generated a lot of attention. Although Richard wasn’t initially supported by his wife, we’re reminded it’s never too late to go after you want. After all, you’ll never know until you try and someone may very well be impressed by your “junk.” ; ) *bah duhn tisk*

I like the diversity in the Black male characters presented in the movie, even though I didn’t agree with some of the perspectives presented. George Wallace played a small role as a rideshare driver and meets Violet after her bloody honey fiasco with the guy she meets in the club. Violet shares that Clint hurt her feelings and Wallace essentially shared with her that she shouldn’t have an issue if she wasn’t cheated on or (physically) abused. This scene irked me but showed an existing perspective. Women are seen as sacrificial beings. Society and sometimes family will tell us we have to get a man, “keep a man,” and raise our family while our dreams, mental health, and happiness be damned. We are supposed to always put our full selves out for everyone else and be satisfied with the empty glass left behind. A woman’s role on this earth is not merely to exist and be perfect while doing so. I appreciated that Clint was able to boomerang back to Violet with a ring, only for her to realize that it was a ring from a man she didn’t want.

I believe sometimes our shoes begin to hurt to help us realize that we’re walking in the wrong direction.

Overall, I enjoyed watching the movie. I found joy in its opening and closing with a pool scene. There is a lot of contention around Black people and swimming in general, beginning with slavery, stifled with segregation, and topped with Black swimming parties not actually being “swimming” parties. I liked that it didn’t end with a marriage proposal disrupting the idea that “Happily Ever After” has to begin with a wedding. It does start, however, when you realize you are living your life and controlling your temple on your terms and yours alone. I believe that there is more to Violet’s story before or if she chooses to walk down the aisle. I wish it was the first of a miniseries because I’d like to see her journey explored further.

I also wish her mama would have celebrated Juneteenth over the 4th of July, but that’s just me.

-Tia M. Howard


What are your thoughts on Nappily Ever After? Sound off in the comments and let us know what you think!

Here’s the Truth About Her Weight

Recently, a friend brought to my attention a blog post on the AfroPunk website because it discusses health and because it used a photo taken by the incomparable Saadi Khali as part of a discussion on the way we view bodies that are considered fat (I’m careful with my language here because I have a hard time using the word ‘fat’ to describe a person who does not describe themselves that way. Similarly, I don’t like being called ‘skinny’, though I am often described as such), especially when the body belongs to a woman. Khaali’s work aims to use photography as a means to restore Black love and Black beauty. For me, his work captures both the vulnerabilty and the power that is inherent in every human body in way that feels authentic. I have followed his work for years.
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So, I was a bit annoyed at many of the comments about the featured image used in the article. Specifically, I was annoyed because some the comments echoed similar conversations I’ve come across on the interwebs that 1) the tend to focus on a persons weight as something the each individual alone, has control over and 2) they tend to focus on a person’s weight as the sum total of their overall health (as well as the sum total of their humanity – but I hope I don’t need to talk about why that makes no sense and is simly not acceptable over here). So, for all the people out there who are living under these misguided (albeit understandable given our cultures fascination with policing other people’s bodies, especially the Black bodies and the ones we believe house uteri) beliefs, I ask that you consider the following:
Her weight isn’t just a matter of her lifestyle behaviors (eating well, working out, etc).
A person’s weight is socially determined. In short, this means that a woman’s health is determined by how factors like the city she was born in, where she works, her income, her level of education, her race/ethnicity, etc. all interact to determine the status of her health, including her weight. A woman’s health status, including the size of her waistline, is determined by much more than what she eats and how often she works out. If that were only a matter of those two things, you would not see entire segments of the population, even those who eat well and are physically active, being at what is considered to to an unhealthty weight. We only need to look to the inimitable Oprah Winfrey to know that weight, indeed almost every health status, is not that simple.
Of course self-care is important. I personally hold the belief that self-care is essential because it helps maintain harmony between the things a woman has control over and the things she does not. But, it’s important that if we are going to have a conversation about bodies, especiall the bodies of Black women, we have to be honest about the fact there are many, many factors acting upon her body, that affect her health and her weight that she does not have control over. Can we say race and racism?!  The literature on the effects of race and racism on the body is so expansive that it will suffice to say that if we are really concerned about size and weight as it relates to health, particularly for Black women, we really should have some honest and frequent conversations about race and racism. To that end, I suggest that the next time any of us decides to comment on the size of a woman’s body, particularly a Black woman’s size, for health reasons or any other reasons, ask yourself when was the last time we allied with her to mitigate or resist any form of oppression she undoubetedly experiences on a daily basis. If we can’t remember, then let’s do ourselves a favor and just keep quiet about folks’ body’s. I promise it will work out better that way.
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Her weight impacts her overall health. It is not the sum total of her health.   
We know that losing or gaining even 10% our body weight can have an impact on our health. Think about it. Have you ever tried to lose or gain 5-10 pounds? It’s not easy. You body will resist the change and even after you achieve your goal, maintaining it is a different story entirely. Every woman who has ever tried her change her weight knows this is true. That’s partly because the body is designed to maintain homeostasis. Every woman who has ever tried to change her weight will also tell you that a change in weight does not necessarily mean that she is better off any other area of her life tht impact her health. Issues like imposter syndrome at work or school, body acceptance, social stress, financial stability, family issues and other chronic illnesses may all still be present, and therbye affecting her health, regardless of her weight. You can probably name any number of women who lost weight but still struggled with mental health, emotional health, or spiritual health. So, in regards to the feature image in the Afropunk piece, I prefer to highlight the ways the woman centered in the photo showed an admirable level of courage, vulnerabilty, and power that truthfully, when I get my photos take by Saadi Khali, I doubt I’d be beave enough to show the whole entire world.
Finally, to quote @thedopeplesoul, one of the more purposeful comments on an instagram post intended to highlight the work Saadi Khali does to capture the beauty of all black bodies, especially Black folk in love, ‘Black love is so beautiful.’

3 Things I’ve Learned From My Long Distance Marriage

My husband and I have what some might call a non-traditional relationship…

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We were high school sweethearts who ended up going to different colleges and managed to keep the relationship together. You might be thinking what’s non-traditional about that? Well, let me tell you. After graduating from college my husband, then my bf, got a job in our home state of NJ and I went to get my masters degree in D.C. at George Washington University.   About a year and a half into my two-year program, we got married with the intent that I would move back home after graduation. I then got accepted into a Ph.D. program in Georgia. I moved to Georgia with the idea that he would get a job in Georgia and be down within a year. I knew job searching might take some time and we weren’t strangers to long distance, so what were a few more months, right?

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Well after not being able to find adequate employment in Georgia, what seems like a million arguments, many visits and 4 years, we still hadn’t moved in together. We were coming up on our 5th year of marriage and I was coming toward the end of my Ph.D. journey. We just moved in together full time for the first time after our 5-year anniversary in October after I wrapped up the research portion of my Ph.D. I tell this story to say that I could probably be considered an “expert” in long distance relationships and marriages since I did both for a cumulative total of 12 years. So when #CiteASista asked me to write a post on what I have learned through all of this, I couldn’t really say no, could I?

But first, a caveat: Neither me nor my marriage are anywhere near perfect. There’s still a lot of room left to grow as flawed human beings… 

Nevertheless, here are the top 3 things I’ve learned from my long distance marriage/relationship:

First: Communication is king, queen, prince, and princess:

Createherstock Black Love Neosha Gardner 62When you are in a long distance relationship communication is the most abundant resource at your disposal. Between Facetime, texting and phone calls you can ALMOST forget your significant other is thousands of miles away. But this goes deeper than you think. I was a person that relied heavily on facial cues and body language to gauge the tone of a conversation, but that isn’t always an option when long distance. Over time, I have been able to hear the subtlest changes in tone and have a general idea what my husband is feeling and so can he.

Second: Everything isn’t meant to be said: My husband and I would call each other at least 3x a day while long distance, in addition to texting and occasional video chats. Our arguments would get pretty vicious and when the only thing you have at your disposal is words…. let’s just say mine have surgical precision if I’m trying to hurt your feelings. But words also cut deep and when you can’t rely on physical closeness to help bridge the gap after an argument you realize that everything you say has a LONG LASTING effect. Over the years I have learned that even though I’m probably right and I could really win the argument by saying a bunch of true but not nice things, in the long run, its not worth it. Some of my friends can tell you this was a HARD learned lesson.

DSC M29Third: What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger: Let’s be honest here, marriage is hard AF. Married people who live together get into their fair share of arguments but at least they have make-up sex to fall back on. Long distance marriage is HARD. SUPER HARD. It’s not for the faint of heart. But I really feel like through all the rough patches of our long distance marriage we really have come through better people and stronger in terms of our relationship for it. Between learning how to fight fair (most of the time), understanding that communication is gold in any relationship and enduring not seeing each other every day, I feel like I cherish being with my husband, even more, now than I would have if we would have done things more traditionally.

BONUS! Its O.K. to do your own thing: I was only asked for 3 things so I’ll be quick. Being long distance through the majority of my relationship has allowed me to continue to grow myself as a person, foster invaluable friendships and do my own thing A LOT. Now, I can do things with my spouse and enjoy it, but I cherish the time with friends because they had my back when he wasn’t around and really became a great support system. I know it is easy to get wrapped up in your romantic relationships but friendships are SO important. It is 100% ok to reserve time for your crew and have your own interests and hobbies that don’t include your spouse.

Ok, that’s my $.02 about long-distance marriages. Are you in a long distance marriage/ relationship? Thinking about starting one? Let’s talk about it in the comments!

Interracial Dating whilst Black Woman x Natasha Lee

A few weeks ago, a friend of #CiteASista wrote a detailed post about her experiences with interracial dating. In true call it like it is form, Natasha reminded Black women why we should stop selecting ourselves out of the wider dating pool out of loyalty to Black men.

We especially loved the facts laced within the piece–

the dating pool becomes real limited considering the number of Black men who are imprisoned, hoteppy, or would rather wife Becky with the good hair. Consistent with anecdotal evidence, research shows that Black men are nearly twice as likely to interracial date and to marry a non-Black woman (Pew Research Center, 2017).

Ouch.

She continues with:

Black women have been taught to “hold down” and desire Black men through urban myths and stereotypes (e.g. the ride or die chick, white men can’t fight/protect us, and of course the Black male’s penis size).  We are even socialized in our childhood to desire Black boys. Consider the nursery rhyme that I and thousands of Black girls chanted as we were coming of age:

“I like coffee,
I like tea,
I like the colored boy and he likes me,
So step back white boy, you don’t shine,
Cause I’ll get the colored boy to beat yo behind…”

Now, name ONE nursery rhyme that Black boys are taught to celebrate and desire Black girls? Don’t worry, I’ll wait…

Three claps for the reality check. Read the entire post on Natasha’s blog*Here* and let us know what you think!

Social Class & Social Media: Why Everythang’ Ain’t What It Seems With Travel Posts

Hiking!

I travel a lot. As I took some time this morning to reflect on just how often I’m away from home, I found myself overcome with guilt and at one point grief: who died and said I deserve such a good life? I know I feel this way because as a woman and Black woman especially, I’ve been socialized to prioritize and center the experiences and journey of everyone else over my own. That there’s an expectation from people who are not me that I spend my labor, love, and money on giving back rather than taking myself on trips. Some of you might be scratching your heads right now, for the Black women I’m writing to–this is an all too common experience.

Beyond coming to grips with the fact that travel has irrevocably changed who I am at my core, I also realize how transformative my trips are because I often opt to visit places beyond resorts and beaches.  Allow me to be clear: this is not a diss to folks who solely vacation in those spots. Where you take your trips is your business, I’m simply happy that you’re going. But I write this to highlight the fact that I’ve learned so much about myself because I’m often in spaces where few women and Black folks travel to. I’ll never forget the faces some of my friends made when I told them where I planned to take my mother for her birthday. A few were mortified.  But I have a strong belief that if I expose myself to things beyond the beach, that if I commit to the Black Outdoors experience even sometimes, I’ll be a better woman because of it.

Abu Dhabi

For a while, I would downplay how often I was able to leave home to see places, people, and things I may not have otherwise. I grew up working class and my family never took family vacations as I’ve come to understand them since going to college. Some days, I’d feel ashamed of the fact that I’ve been able to travel so much despite doing so at such inexpensive prices–which I wear proudly because you don’t keep money if you’re always spending it.  I’ve also struggled to reconcile that somehow, the life I’m showing doesn’t align with the life I’m actually living all due to the fact that I’m in graduate school with survivable-adjacent income.

I am fully able to admit that I am enormously privileged to have the means to make my travels possible.

In fact, my last few months of travel since quitting full-time work and becoming a full-time graduate student have been all about big travel with small money, as my idols at Million Miles Secrets call it.

Hawaii, a couple days ago. Picture by Tiana (featuring her husband Justin).

Over the last six months, I’ve found myself in Barcelona, Dubai, Abu Dhabi, Columbus, San Antonio, Amherst, Salt lake City, Park City, and most recently Kona and Hilo, Hawaii where I’m writing this post from. Writing down the places I’ve traveled to since December has made me keenly aware of the  ways in which my Instagram and social media pages may lead people to believe that I somehow have tons of money out of nowhere when the reality is that I’m both savvy and privileged enough to maintain the life I want to live despite my graduate student status.

My trips at a glance:  

  • My plane ticket to Barcelona was $275 roundtrip. Even less for the AirBnB for the week which was split with a close friend.
  • I stayed in San Antonio and Columbus for academic conferences which meant roommates and university funding. One friend even covered the room entirely with her pro-devo and allowed me to crash with her. I bought both plane tickets on points.
  • My ticket to Abu Dhabi and Dubai was 400 RT and I paid even less for a rental car and hotel for the week after splitting with a friend.
  • My Amherst trip was a business venture: All expenses were fully covered.
  • Salt Lake/ Park City was a trip for my mother’s birthday. Half the plane tickets were paid for with points, half with cash and the Waldorf we stayed in was under 200 per night due to a Hilton special which I split with my baby sister as a gift to our mom. Approximate cost for a 5* hotel and 3 first class seats: 650 each.
  • I paid 15.00+/- in taxes for my Kona/ Hilo trip and am sleeping in my friends’ guest room after bringing them a house warming gift and using miles for the ticket.

In addition to the savings outlined above, I often received free meals and drinks for trips that involved Hilton hotels due to my status with their loyalty program…

Baby sis and mom in SLC.

All of these trips were made possible in part due to three things:

  1. Awareness of how to find inexpensive tickets;
  2. credit cards and loyalty programs to attain and redeem miles; 
  3. And, the wherewithal to figure out how to balance the two. 

 

I have 21 credit cards. Yes, 21. It takes an unfathomable amount of time each month to pay all of my bills because I try to make sure I spend at least something on all of my cards to show that I responsibly manage my credit. But these cards have been a large part of the means from which I travel. Of the cards I have, there are a few that I use most often.

Selected cards & their rewards when I signed Up: 

  • Hilton Amex (75,000 points sign up bonus)
  • Hilton Citi (50,000 points sign up bonus)
  • Delta (50,000 points sign up bonus)
  • United (50,000 points sign up bonus)
  • Southwest Plus (50,000 points sign up bonus)
  • Southwest Premiere  (50,000 points sign up bonus)

I tend to use these cards most because I’m able to directly see the return on my investment in card ownership. For instance, I use my Hilton Citi card to pay my rent which means thousands of points per month on an expense I already had, my Hilton Amex for all hotel stays as I *only* stay Hilton brands, Delta and United on other monthly expenses, and my Southwest cards in rotation between the others. The benefits of these cards beyond being able to accrue and redeem points and miles also shows up through lounge access, bonus points, free drinks, and early access to concerts and shows thanks to my card membership.

Dubai.

I share all of this to say: I realize that social media shows only the fruits of my labor, not the work behind the scenes to make this all possible. I often wonder how many of us look at people’s social media and make judgments or ask questions of how. How is this person able to have this when I don’t, when I work just as hard. The answer is probably privilege. In my case, it was the privilege to spend hours upon hours and years upon years taking the time to wade through all the drama to learn how to effectively use social media, credit cards, and points and mile programs to make my dreams come true.

SLC

I wouldn’t trade everything I’ve learned for the world and in fact, I’m taking time this summer to share all of my tips and tricks with all of you for a nominal fee so that I can see other Black women out here traveling and enjoying the world the same way (details forthcoming).  That said, I hope you’re all reading Loni’s column on Travel and Leisure as she and I initially bonded over much of what is presented here and that you all will take some time to pause, reflect, and then go for your wildest travel dreams. You’re worth it and you don’t have to live vicariously through someone else’s Instagram to do it.