Category — conquering adversity

Are You A Comeback Artist?

I’ve been reading several fascinating books by Steve Siebold including 177 Mental Toughness Secrets of the World Class. He says,

Champions Are Comeback Artists

Donald Trump was $9 billion dollars in debt in the early 1990s, did you really believe he was washed up for good? After Lance Armstrong survived cancer, did anyone really think he wouldn’t race again? How about Christopher Reeve? Did anyone really bet against him making an international impact to help people with spinal cord injuries, once he made the decision to do it? There’s an old saying among the world class: “A bet against a champion is a bad bet.” I couldn’t agree more. Amateurs quickly become demoralized by setbacks and defeat, and quietly slink back to their comfort zones. Professional performers know that large scale success is based on a series of comebacks. They believe that setbacks are set-ups for comebacks.

177 Mental Toughness Secrets, pg. 60. (emphasis added) Let me repeat some things I said in an earlier post.


The first delusion that’s killing many African-American women softly is the belief that somebody is going to rescue us. This one delusion is much like The One Ring in The Lord Of The Rings. The delusion that somebody else is going to rescue us is the underlying, controlling source of many other self-destructive behaviors, such as the inappropriate “therapy talk” that I’ve criticized. Too many African-American women believe that if only they scream out their pain loud enough in public, that somebody’s going to do something to alleviate that pain. No. Instead, all that happens is that we “other” ourselves in the eyes of the world at large. Also, our public yelps of pain become a source of pleasure and entertainment for the people who hate us, such as the Yung Bergs of the world.

The delusion that somebody else is going to rescue us is why we do very little to rescue ourselves. It’s also the reason we are so quick to give up on self-rescue efforts.


Intertwined with the rescue delusion is the frequent refusal to accept responsibility for our own choices. This includes most African-Americans’ free and voluntary choice of refusing to even try to upgrade their life circumstances. Instead of taking action in support lifestyle optimization, we proclaim all such strategies to be “unrealistic.” Meanwhile, we watch people from other ethnic and racial groups use these same strategies that we’ve labeled “unrealistic” to get ahead. In fact, for almost a century, we’ve watched several waves of immigrants (including some Black-skinned ones) come to this country and do all sorts of “unrealistic” things.

I’m reminded of this because I recently ran across a comment by a detractor over at The Black Snob Blog. My frequent discussion of strategies for developing additional income streams and international relocation options seems to frighten and upset this individual. According to her, this sort of conversation is “unrealistic.” I upset her even more when I spoke of sitting out this recent election, and researching third party candidates that I could wholeheartedly support in future elections.

This concerned individual proclaimed that, “. . . The truth is that MOST Americans of any race do not (and will never) have the resources or wealth to thrive even when the economy is not doing well and most Americans CANNOT run to a foreign country at will. We have to try to fix things here. If we throw our hands up in the air and do nothing, then we are GUARANTEED to fail. I hope that most black women will go out there and vote tomorrow, even though they may currently feel discouraged or disappointed.” See the comments to this post at The Black Snob Blog for the entire comment.

I wonder if this concerned individual believes that it’s more “realistic” for African-American women to continue hoping for new programs in the midst of a failing economy. Thereby putting their fates in the hands of the American voting public—roughly half of whom have repeatedly shown themselves to be insane.

Here’s the thing: While various Black “frogs in a gradually boiling pot” are busy telling each other that various strategies are not feasible, other people—who are much poorer than even the poorest African-Americans—are busy using these same strategies to upgrade their lives.

The November 6, 2010, issue of the New York Times featured a story titled “In Venezuela, A New Wave of Foreigners.” Among other people, the story mentioned a gentleman named Etienne Dieu-Seul, a street vendor who arrived in Venezuela from Haiti a month before the earthquake.

At the other end of the economic spectrum, many new immigrants continue to arrive on tourist visas and overstay their visits, drawn by incomes that are still higher than those in some of Venezuela’s neighbors and by a broad array of social welfare programs for the poor championed by Mr. Chávez’s government.

“One can live with a little bit of dignity here, at least enough to send money home now and again,” said Etienne Dieu-Seul, 35, a Haitian street vendor, who moved here a month before the earthquake that devastated Haiti in January. After the disaster, officials here said they would grant residence visas to the 15,000 Haitians believed to have been here illegally.

I would bet that Mr. Dieu-Seul the street vendor is very thankful he did something as “unrealistic” and “not feasible” as leaving desperately poor Haiti to go to Venezuela. The people in Haiti that he’s sending money to are probably also very thankful.

I won’t even get into the steady stream of American retirees on fixed incomes who relocate overseas each year in order to live much better for much less money. There’s nothing “unrealistic” about taking the minimal action steps of getting a passport and researching your options. Ladies, keep in mind there are a lot of nervous crabs in a barrel out there who are deeply frightened by the idea that you might make the leap into abundant life. It’s one thing to discuss the hurdles and difficulties involved with an undertaking. I’ve never pretended that making any of these moves is easy. All the things I talk about involve putting in effort and work. Some of us don’t want to put in that sort of effort, so we proclaim various things to be impossible or unrealistic.


Mr. Siebold challenges readers with the following action step,

Action Step for Today

Identify a goal or dream in your life that you have given up on, and ask this critical thinking question: “Is it possible to make a comeback in this area, and breathe new life into this old dream?” You’re a tougher, more competent performer than you were back when you abandoned this dream. Are you good enough to make a comeback now? (Hint: YES!)

177 Mental Toughness Secrets, pg. 61.


While you (with your able-bodied self) are meditating on the above questions, please take some time to browse this one, self-described “Cripchick’s” blog, starting with this post.


I don’t know how those two women’s shared journey will ultimately work out, but I pray for them. I also admire their courage—and truly radical level of trust in each other. Even though I’m often annoyed by a certain type of jargon-saturated, ultra-politicized talk (like that “heteronormative” term I tore into during the post If You’re A Straight Black Woman, Delete The Following Term From Your Vocabulary: Heteronormative) about issues such as disability, sexism, racism, and so on, sometimes that type of talk is appropriate for a particular person’s circumstances. One of the points the self-described “cripchick” blogger and her partner frequently make is how home is usually NOT a comfortable place for people with disabilities, children who were raised in the context of transracial and transnational adoptions, and so on.

Home is not comfortable physically because most places weren’t built with disabled people’s access in mind. Home is not comfortable because many adopted Asian kids were alone in a sea of Whiteness. Ancestral “home” (South Korea) is not comfortable because they don’t speak Korean, and did not grow up within or even with much direct access to Korean culture.

A similar (yet mostly unspoken) circumstance exists for African-American women, and from what Halima (blog host of Black Women’s Interracial Relationship Circle), and other United Kingdom-based Black women have described, also for Caribbean-British women in the UK. For these two ethnic groups of Western Black women, their home cultures are not comfortable. In fact, these home cultures are designed to destroy these Western Black women.

Well, I realized a while back that when there’s no comfortable home in existence, one is actually living in exile! Whether or not it’s “officially” called exile. One of the most radical things a person forced into exile can do is either take back their original home; or in the case where there was no original home, create a new and better one for themselves. That’s why I’m so in awe of those two women’s quest to move and create a new kind of home for themselves together. Given that one of them needs intensive daily nursing services because of her disability, I find that to be an incredibly complex and brave undertaking.

There are many repercussions and implications to being in exile. Most of which involve discomfort and having to make extra efforts compared to those who are at home. And this is even after a woman has figured or found out that she has been in exile. The African-American collective has been busy pretending that the many negative things facing African-American women are normal. And also heavily promoting the idea that anybody who’s been harmed by these things or is dissatisfied is inadequate. This is not true.

Yes, many African-American women have made many errors in judgment along the way. But the overarching cause for various painful circumstances that many Black women are facing is this state of internal exile. African-American women are programmed to restrict themselves to living and dating among an ethnic subculture that is set up to destroy them. No other group of women in human history have been forced to navigate the bizarre cultural mazes that African-American (and similarly situated Western Black) women have been tossed into.


Let me repeat: There are many repercussions to being in exile. Most of which involve discomfort and having to make extra efforts compared to those who are at home. I’ve grown very bored with listening to African-American women whine about the discomforts and extra efforts involved in taking their place on the global stage. Meanwhile, they continue to expend heroic amounts of energy chasing life-damaging fantasies. Life-crippling fantasies such as finding a Black male Prince Charming among the oceans of fatherless, non-protective, non-providing, defective African-American males. Fantasies such as resurrecting the already-dead Black family and Black marriage—all by themselves. Fantasies such as resurrecting already-dead and physically dangerous Black residential areas all by themselves.

This constant whining whenever they have to make the slightest effort, or endure the slightest discomfort in navigating the outer, nonblack world makes me believe the Black women whiners don’t really want solutions. They don’t really want to escape into a better lifestyle. What they want is to be able to semi-plausibly proclaim that “they tried X and it didn’t work,” and go back to chasing their delusions without having to feel like a fool for doing so. That’s fine. God respects free will, and so do I. Just be honest about it. Don’t say that “X doesn’t work.” Instead, say that half-a**ed, half-stepping X didn’t work for you. Tell the whole truth. Don’t be a dishonest crab in the barrel.

November 24, 2010   86 Comments

Compared To Stephanie St. Clair, Are You A Total Jellyfish, Chicken, Or A Wimp?


African-Americans have a mostly forgotten and little researched business history in this country. As a group, we have peculiar and selective bouts of historical amnesia. We cling to historical fairy tales that are of no benefit to us (such as the people among us who learn their history through fictional tv miniseries such as Roots). Meanwhile, we totally forget the things that could inspire us to achieve more (such as “Black Wall Street” and the families, businesses, and mutual aid societies that we built right after the end of slavery).

We’ve also forgotten more recent accomplishments such as those of Elijah Muhammad’s Nation of Islam during the 1950s-1960s. They had a network of private schools, acres of cultivated farmland, businesses in multiple cities, and international trade. If I remember correctly, they were importing seafood from South America for their restaurants.

There are internal and external factors causing modern African-Americans’ near-total lack of business ownership. We discussed the internal problems during this earlier conversation. There’s the normal level of inter-ethnic conflict caused by economic competition. I don’t expect people from other, competing “teams” to want to cooperate with me; I expect them to focus on cooperating with their own team. It’s not their fault that the African-American “team” refuses to work together. So, I’m not shocked or upset about people outside my ethnic group not wanting to facilitate my economic goals.

However, there’s a difference between: (1) noncooperation; (2) normal levels of economic competition and conflict; and (3) efforts to destroy any and all possibility of business activity among African-Americans. We have to acknowledge that this third phenomenon has always been part of our collective experience in this country. Our failures aren’t solely due to our internal problems. Our experiences have shown that there has always been a percentage of non-African-American others who don’t want to see any of us have anything.

There are non-African-American others who will be cooperative with our goals (for their own reasons). I’m simply saying that we can’t be naive about the continued existence of a “we don’t want African-Americans to have anything” faction. Those of us who are Black business owners especially have to be mentally prepared to face this reality. And prepared to find ways to work around it.

It’s not fair. It’s not right. It’s what is. Whenever I feel discouraged or exhausted, I think about what our people—and some of our Caribbean cousins like Stephanie St. Clair (also known as Madame Queen)—went through. It helps put things in perspective.

For those who are infected with the “we don’t want African-Americans to have anything” virus, nothing sets them off like our people controlling significant amounts of money. This extends to the criminal underworld. Which brings me to the Black “policy” kings and queens, and state governments creating lotteries to seize the large sums of money they controlled.


One of the reasons state lotteries (with their “daily numbers”) started up in the 1970s was to capture the money that African-American gangsters in cities like Chicago (and some Caribbean gangsters in New York) had been making off of their own private, illegal lotteries and casinos. These illegal lotteries were called “the numbers” and “policy” rackets. From what I’ve read, the African-American gangsters in the Chicago area held out the longest in resisting White mobsters seizing their gambling rackets. I will add that these Black men (and a few women) were real gangsters, as opposed to gang members. There’s a big difference in terms of sophistication and organization. From The Black Mafia: African-American organized crime in Chicago

This analysis will explore the participation of Chicago blacks in organized criminal activity during the period between 1890 and 1960. This analysis will also demonstrate that African-American vice syndicates existed on the South Side of Chicago, just as Irish and Italian vice syndicates flourished in other segments of the city.

Though they did not participate in bootlegging, African-American criminal syndicates ran speakeasies and after-hours nightclubs, and participated in illegal casino and policy gambling for almost fifty years. African-American organized crime differed from other criminal groups only in the fact that they continued to independently exist long after Chicago’s other ethnic-based criminal syndicates fell under the dominance of Italian mobsters. [pg. 34]

. . . One of the reasons that the policy racket was so important was that policy bankers were often the only members of the black community with money to invest. Nineteen policy wheel operators owned at least twenty-nine different businesses in the black community. For example, the Jones brothers owned the Ben Franklin Department Store, four hotels and several large apartment buildings. Policy operator Dan Gaines owned the only black Ford dealership in Chicago. Policy Banker King Cole invested in the Metropolitan Funeral System. Julian Black, owner of the East and West Policy Company, was the manager of world heavyweight boxing champion Joe Louis. Matt Bivens owner of the Alabam-Georgia, the Whirlway and the Jackpot policy wheels also owned Bivens Van Lines. It was rumored that his moving vans were excellent places to print policy slips because they were always on the go.

. . . The policy racket was also responsible for the establishment of a fair number of quasi-legitimate but colorful enterprises such as the sale of “policy players dream books,” “lucky number candles,” “lucky number incense” and “sure-fire gigs,” which were all used to create good luck. The dream book would tell a policy player what number to bet. [pg. 51]

I first heard about “policy” and “the numbers” from my older relatives. My mother’s high school boyfriend’s family ran a “policy wheel” in the 1950s. This is why his family was affluent and he had his own car in high school. Real life is filled with shades of gray. Even though I don’t care for criminals, I’ve always had a grudging level of respect for the segregation-era African-American “numbers” mobsters. Unlike (the stupid and disorganized) modern drug-dealing African-American gangbangers, many of them did productive things with their ill-gotten money. My older relatives talked about how a number of the African-American policy kings financed their siblings’ and children’s professional educations and aspirations. More than a few African-American owned car dealerships, medical practices, law and accounting firms, and so on were created this way.

From what they described, all of that fell apart in the 1960s. The nature of poverty and crime among African-Americans changed. For the worse. At that point, African-Americans abandoned almost all Black-owned businesses that weren’t barbershops or hair salons.


A number of the policy kings and queens in New York City were West Indians such as Casper Holstein and Stephanie St. Clair. From the Black Past.Org entry about her:

St. Clair developed the first numbers bank located in Harlem. Here she and her partners, including Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson, made the first significant criminal fortunes in black New York. Initially they had little competition but by the 1930s their undisputed control over Harlem’s numbers rackets was challenged. After the Great Depression began and Prohibition ended in 1932, a number of white New York mobsters saw their profits rapidly diminish. They turned to the lucrative Harlem illegal gambling scene to supplement their loss revenue. Led by Dutch Schultz, a coalition of non-Harlem gangsters engaged in a bloody war with St. Clair and her allies for control of organized crime in that community. Over 40 people were killed in gangland related violence including often the murder of Harlem numbers operators.

Despite the violence against their operation, St. Clair and Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson initially refused to surrender to Shultz. Over time, however, their power weakened. St. Clair made several futile complaints to local authorities about harassment from the New York Police Department which she felt aided Shultz. Without political influence at City Hall, her concerns were ignored. In response, St. Clair took out several ads in Harlem newspapers accusing senior police officers of various forms of corruption. Outraged by this, she was arrested by the police on several exaggerated charges. In response she testified to New York State’s Seabury Crime Commission about the large number of kickbacks she had paid police officials to protect her operations. Her charges led to the dismissal of several police officers.

As St. Clair realized she could no longer oppose Shultz, she agreed to a truce which transferred the power and profits from her organization to Shultz and the Italian Mafia headed by Lucky Luciano. In 1935, Dutch Shultz was assassinated on the orders of Luciano. Although St. Clair was not involved with his murder, she was remembered for sending an infamous telegram to his bed that stated “As ye sow, so shall ye reap.” The telegram reportedly made headlines across the nation.

St. Clair’s former lieutenant, Ellsworth “Bumpy” Johnson ecame the Mafia’s representative in Harlem while she slipped into obscurity. Stephanie St. Clair died quietly in Harlem in 1969.


  • She ran her own numbers racket. She wasn’t a “ride or die” fool risking everything for some man’s enterprise.
  • She said “no” to the White mafia. For the most part, nobody does that. Yesteryear, yesterday, today, or tomorrow.
  • She told on the White mafia and the corrupt police officers they controlled. She took out an ad in the paper to tell on these people. Contrast this “bolder than bold” move with modern African-Americans who have let themselves be intimidated into a “stop snitching” ethos.
  • She didn’t flee the United States or New York. With all of this going on.
  • After all of this, she managed to die “quietly” in her elder years.

I don’t like criminals, but I have to give Madame St. Clair, and the Chicago area African-American policy kings who resisted the White mob their due. When I feel tired or frustrated, I remind myself that any opposition facing a modern, legitimate Black business owner is nothing compared to what Stephanie St. Clair faced—without flinching.


Like everybody else, I feel tired and discouraged at times. I’m not as bold as Madame St. Clair. I would never put myself in the middle of the criminal underworld. Our times and circumstances are very, very different. But in terms of how I face adversity, I refuse to be an absolute jellyfish, chicken, or wimp in comparison to her. In terms of my personal fortitude and determination, I refuse to be outdone by some “old-school” Black criminal like her! I don’t want to come up short—in a gut check—compared to them.


If you want to find out more about the policy kings, see here, and here.

July 27, 2010   36 Comments

Polite Comportment And Good Habits During Uncertain Times


Dear Hearts, after reading this frightful report, I thought it might be a timely occasion to remember what our predecessors overcame. Remembering this is a good mental habit to cultivate. I shall note that true politeness is the exercise of civility as an everyday practice. I know that as ladies of rank and refinement, you would never engage in the vulgarity of gloating about another’s misfortune. Or using their being brought low as an opportunity to rehash a philosophical debate with a wounded opponent. I know that you will continue to match the salutary example set by Gina, blog host of What About Our Daughters, by discussing such matters with the delicacy that they require.

Melina, blog host of The Art of Being Feminine, recently extended a most gracious invitation to share some brief remarks with her guests. An invitation that I was delighted and honored to accept. I hope you will find the example of Madam C.J. Walker a helpful and encouraging one during these uncertain times.

May 21, 2010   36 Comments

Conquering Adversity: Don’t Take It Personally

I’ve been studying marketing while building my side businesses. An internet marketer that I’m aware of recently hosted a free webinar about facing adversity. Of course, after the presentation, he made a sales pitch for an e-course that he’s put together. In any event, he had a fascinating conversation with his special guest, a woman named Jennifer Wilkov. Ms. Wilkov is a former financial planner who survived a four-month stint in New York City’s Riker’s Island correctional center. (Shudder—that place is legendary for its violence.)

One of several excellent points the marketer and Ms. Wilkov made during the presentation is that it’s best not to take adverse events personally. This includes other people’s negative behaviors that are directed at you personally. Taking things personally is usually counterproductive.

I would add my own observation that taking things personally starts off being about you, but almost always ends up being about “them.” Focusing on the fact that “they” are doing whatever negative action against you usually morphs into focusing on the fact that “they” don’t like you. And all the possible reasons “they” don’t like you (they’re racist, sexist, envious, crazy, whatever). None of this matters; and it diverts your attention away from what does matter: mapping out a strategy for victory despite “them” and whatever they’re doing.

The world of work is filled with these sorts of problems. Often, you’re not going to be treated right at work. And large numbers of people are not going to respond appropriately to your talents and skills. Mostly for reasons that are a reflection on them, and not you.

For example, I realized early on during my short career as prosecutor that I would never be seen by most defendants or their attorneys as a “real” authority figure. No matter what. Simply because many people don’t view women as “real” authority figures (especially, Black women in their 20s). I watched while defendants and their attorneys happily accepted plea offers from my (equally young) White, male partner that were more harsh than I would offer. Meanwhile, defendants and their lawyers were inclined to reject my slightly more lenient plea offers, go to trial, lose, be convicted, and then look shocked that I won against them. Incidentally, this particular White courtroom partner was busy trying to undermine me with office politics. It was all crazy. But I was blessed to realize early on that none of this was about me. Instead, it was about these other people and their issues. My plan was to focus on what I could do to advance my goals, and not on these other people.

You have to avoid holding pity parties, and instead “keep it moving” despite other people and their issues. The same applies to business. For example, the harsh reality is that most consumers, including Black consumers, don’t want to patronize any Black-owned businesses. The only exceptions for Black consumers are hair salons and barbershops. And, particularly for African-American consumers, this aversion to supporting Black-controlled businesses has little to do with quality or service. If it were about quality and service, then these same Black consumers would not flock to shop in filthy, rude and potentially deadly Arab and Korean-owned businesses. (Consider the murder of Latasha Harlins by a Korean shopkeeper’s wife in a Korean-owned store in Los Angeles.)

The African-American business owner has a choice. She can focus her energy on bemoaning this situation. Or she can work around it and succeed despite irrational consumer resistance. One strategy is to make one’s business as “colorless” as possible. Either by being secretive about it being Black-owned, or by having a “faceless” business (such as selling e-books online). We discussed various angles to this topic during the Art of Black-Owned Business series of posts at the previous blog, here, here, and here.

Here’s an example of a White, female freelance writer who did what she had to do to succeed despite consumer sexism. She reinvented herself online as a man for her business. Here’s an interesting post by a feminist writer discussing this incident, as well as the folly of post-feminism and post-racism.

No matter what you’re doing, there will always be “haters.” When haters try to sabotage your efforts, it’s best to not take it personally, revoke all passes to Pity City, and keep it moving! [Thanks, Karen, for the amusing phrase “Pity City.”]

February 18, 2010   36 Comments

Conquering Adversity: Choose Empowering Meanings for Events

I’ve been studying marketing while building my side businesses. An internet marketer that I’m aware of recently hosted a free webinar about facing adversity. Of course, after the presentation, he made a sales pitch for an e-course that he’s put together. In any event, he had a fascinating conversation with his special guest, a woman named Jennifer Wilkov. Ms. Wilkov is a former financial planner who survived a four-month stint in New York City’s Riker’s Island correctional center. (Shudder—that place is legendary for its violence.)

One of several excellent points the marketer and Ms. Wilkov made during the presentation is that we have the power to choose the meaning we assign to negative events. They weren’t talking about borderline events that can be easily “spun” into being perceived as neutral or better. They were talking about events that are, without any doubt, heavy hits to our lives. We can choose the mental poison of seeing negative events as insurmountable catastrophes; or we can make the more productive choice of seeing them as speed bumps along the way to something good.

We can choose disempowering, devastating meanings to adverse events (“I’ve lost everything . . . My life is over”). Or we can choose empowering meanings to the same events (“I still have my health, my loved ones, my wits, and so on . . . This is a chance to start over, build again, and make it better this time.”)

The choice is ours.

February 17, 2010   3 Comments