On Culture: Tipping in America

In the novel I am reading, Americanah, the act of tipping a waiter or waitress is mentioned as an aspect of American culture unfamiliar to the Nigerian protagonist. The act of tipping, giving a server additional payment for their service, is a staple of multiple industries and professions. Tipping at its inception was a way for a customer to acknowledge their server’s hard work, but has unfortunately become the primary source of income for waiters/waitresses, hotel bellmen, bartenders, and valets.

An overwhelming majority of waiters and waitresses in restaurants are paid under the minimum wage by their employers, and make up the rest in tips from customers. In fact, over 80% of a restaurant server’s income comes in the form of tips. The main positive to this dilemma is that tipping is a form of quality assurance; waiters and waitresses feel compelled to perform their job well in order to receive tips. However, the negative sides to this situation far outweigh the positives.

First, companies that hire service workers, like restaurants, taxi cab services, and bars, are able to legally get away with underpaying their employees. Although some waiters may make more annually than a person making minimum wage, they are not guaranteed the same financial security. Second, customers are being ripped off in a sense that they carry the burden of paying a server’s salary as opposed to their employer. Tipping is unjust to both the server and the customer. In fact, the tipping triangle between an employer, a server, and a customer only benefits the employer. Finally, because a large number of service industry jobs with low pay are filled by low-income individuals and immigrants who recently came to America, the cultural “norm” of tipping is a form of oppression to these groups of people. So next time you decide to tip less than fifteen percent, or not at all, consider the impact you just made on another’s livelihood.

 

On Travel: Which Passport Is The Best?

I just saw the new Beauty and the Beast adaptation with Emma Watson, and I have to say that it was a great adaptation of the original. In the new version, some elements were added to give new life to an old story. Among these was a magical book that the Beast allows Belle to use in order to travel anywhere in the world that she desires. So naturally, as I was admiring Disney’s newest film, I asked myself, “If I could visit any place in the world, where would I visit?” But before I could even answer my own question, another thought occurred to me: the nationality of a traveler affects their ability to travel internationally. So, instead of perusing the web for Beauty and the Beast fan theories, I researched various passports from around the globe. This is what I found.

Americans, though we like to think we are the best at just about everything, do not have the world’s best passport. In fact, we don’t even have the second best, or third even. America is ranked by Passport Index as having the world’s fourth most powerful passport, tied with eight other nations. The Passport Index ranks passports by how many other nations it can visit visa-free. The world’s best passport belongs to the Germans, with their ability to travel to 160 nations without visa.  So, if a young girl in Germany just saw Die Schone und das Biest, it is her that has the most travel potential.

What does this mean on a bigger scale? It means nationalism from decades and centuries ago still affects our lives in a meaningful way today. There is a reason Americans cannot visit Pakistan or Iran without visa, or why Colombians need a visa to travel to Costa Rica but Mexicans do not. That reason is tension. That reason is the existence of allies and enemies. That reason is our inability to forget the past and look forward on a global scale. We should be gazing in that direction, aspiring to one day be global citizens and not consider a fantasy trip to be fantasy at all. We should be one.

 

On Beliefs: Religion Is Inherently Toxic

Let me begin this blog post by putting it out there that I myself do not belong to any particular religion. Drawing this conclusion based on the title probably would not be too difficult, but stating this eliminates the possibility of me surprising anyone and writing “EXCEPT FOR MY RELIGION! MY RELIGION IS NOT TOXIC! I BELONG TO THE BEST RELIGION!” at the end.

According to some estimates, there are currently 4,200 religions in the world, with new sects of older religions coming into existence constantly. Throughout human history, it is difficult to estimate the number of faiths that have ever existed. There have been overlapping faiths, where one God in one faith is equivalent to one God in another, such as the Greek Zeus and Roman Jupiter. There were also many religions that most likely went undocumented and we have no knowledge of today. To be conservative, there have probably been tens of thousands of religions throughout history. So for someone to convince themselves that their religion, their God or Gods are the real Gods, is hogwash.

Religions by definition are exclusive to non-followers and assert that they, and no other religions, are correct. With tens of thousands of religions having existed, and only one being “correct,” conservative calculations put 99.99% of all religions being wrong. So why do these religions deserve say in creation of government policies all around the globe? Why do they deserve tax breaks? Why do they deserve the following of billions around the globe? Many teach intolerance, impede scientific discovery, hinder women’s rights, and kill in the name of their God or Gods. And worst of all, the pious are viewed as those who need to be protected the most in society.

Ultimately, religion is outdated and harmful. Man created God in his image as a means of bringing people together, which lead to those in power using Him to control the masses. Today, religion is unnecessary. We no longer have a justifiable use for God as we have science. Religion is toxic, and needs to be phased out if we want a peaceful future here on earth.

On Hair: Dreadlocks Are Not For White People

I have been growing out my hair for nearly twenty-two months, and at times I have considered chopping it all off because of how much of a hassle it can be. I have the average head of Caucasian hair for the most part; my strands are naturally straight in some places and wavy in others. Washing it and conditioning it properly in addition to brushing eats time away from my day, and I’ve spent my fair share of time sitting in a parked car in front of the barber contemplating a cut. Once, while ranting about my hair struggles to a friend, he suggested that I style my hair into dreadlocks. “You can lock your hair once and never have to mess with it again,” he said. First, I told him that having locs doesn’t automatically mean I won’t need to spend time taking care of my hair, and that I like my hair the way it is and can handle taking care of it. Second, I told him that locs were not for me as an individual, but more importantly, that locs were not for my race. Period.

Dreadlocks, or locs, are twisted rope-like strands of hair. They have existed in cultures around the globe as far back as 3600 years in places like Egypt, India, Greece, and Northern Europe among others. The history of dreadlocks is one of spiritual association, political resistance, and, unfortunately, cultural appropriation. Though locs have been popular in many African cultures throughout history, they recently became popularized in the Western Hemisphere through figures in the Rastafarian religious movement, such as Bob Marley. To those unfamiliar with the history of dreadlocks,primarily whites, the hairstyle was seen as trendy and available for all. When whites with locs were met with resistance from people who held spiritual or cultural value in the hairstyle, they argued, and continue to argue, that their European ancestors had worn locs throughout history as well. Though this is backed up by historical evidence, the “ownership” of dreadlocks isn’t necessarily based on who has worn them the most throughout history. It is about who has been privileged the most throughout history.

This argument is not about hair, it is about power. Black people, oppressed people, have identified with this hairstyle for reasons very important to them, all the while under the oppression of Europeans. So when a white man or white woman decides to wear their hair in locs, even after centuries of Europeans criticizing African descendants of their “unkempt” and “dirty” hair, they undermine the cultural value they possess. Thus, it is important for whites to be mindful of their privilege in relation to way they style their hair. Even if they’re tired of brushing it.

 

On Class: Why The Rich Are Not As Nice

Most Americans are familiar with the “snobby rich kid.” Maybe his name is “Sebastian” or “Neville” but whatever the case, he is one of the most out-of-touch, obnoxious, bratty kids one could ever meet. He is not snobby because he was born that way, and it doesn’t even have anything to do with him being named Neville: it’s because he is rich.

I am currently reading a novel by the name of Americanah written by Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, the love story of a Nigerian woman, Ifemelu, who moves to America leaving her boyfriend, Obinze, behind and returns many years later to find her past lover married with children. Early on in the book, the reader gets a glimpse at life in the newly democratic Nigeria from the lens of Obinze. Trying to make his way in Nigeria, Obinze associates himself with the country’s elite social and economic class. Obinze himself does not possess a luxurious background, and by no means an elitist way of thinking. For those around him, the same cannot be said. They think that the wealthy class of Nigeria, themselves, has the right “to be rude, to be inconsiderate, to be greeted rather than to greet.” This way of thinking is not specific to this region of the globe, nor is it specific to this time period; however, it is specific to the upper class.

Empathy is arguably the most important characteristic of personality, yet a majority of the most privileged group of people on Earth lack it. This is because empathy is something born out of necessity to work with others and for others, a necessity that those who know the luxuries of affluence don’t have.

In my short time alive I have experienced a larger portion of the spectrum of wealth than most my age, and am happy for that as it has given me a better outlook on where I fit into society.