'Be careful, she'll blow up,' he said. I'm Iranian. This was my response.

Back in July, I had a racist encounter. I say "encounter" because when you have skin as light as mine, experiences with racism can feel pretty alien.

All napkin illustrations by Anisa Rawhani. Used with permission.

I should start from the beginning.


My boyfriend and I hop on the subway. The man standing next to us strikes up a conversation. We laugh and chat, enjoying the company of a stranger.

Then the man begins to speculate about my white boyfriend’s background, to which he responds that he’s British.

Then it’s my turn.

“And you, you must be Portuguese or Italian,” the man says.

“I’m actually Persian-Iranian.”

The man turns to my boyfriend.

“Be careful. She’s going to blow up.”





Unwanted attention. Everyone has experienced it, albeit to varying degrees.

Most women experience it when they’re belittled because of their gender. Catcalls, harassment, day-to-day indignities — all to make us feel like we don’t have a right to the space we’re occupying.

None of that is new to me, and each time one of these gender-based indignities happens, I grow a little less shocked and a little more outraged. Each incident piles on and crawls further under my skin, echoing every other time it’s happened to me or a friend.

But when I heard a man say I’d blow up, I entered uncharted territory. Suddenly, my race was the target.

At first, neither of us understood what he meant. My boyfriend thought "blow up" implied I’d get emotional. I thought it meant I’d get fat. Seeing our confused expressions the man clarified: He was talking about bombs.

Maybe if he’d said that to someone browner — someone more "ethnic" — the penny would have dropped faster. When it finally did, I remember feeling shocked and disappointed. That was about it.

It wasn’t like those times men harassed me because of my gender. This man’s words didn’t inspire deep emotions because there were no memories to be recalled. There was no wound for him to reopen and exploit.

Indifference in the face of racism is an unbelievable luxury.

That someone was unable to cause me pain or reduce me to a feeling of nothingness with mere words is not a mark of my own strength, but a mark of my experiences — or lack thereof.

That I’m not insecure about my race isn’t because I’m a confident woman; it’s because I so rarely have to think about it. I’m not constantly being reminded.

After the man on the subway clarified what blowing up meant, I remember:

Feeling my face fall, seeing my boyfriend’s jaw flex, the man sensing the change and backtracking because we were taking what he said too seriously. He wasn’t racist. His girlfriend was Indian and Muslim, which he explained smugly.

When I see racism from the outside I leap to my feet; I’m ready to take on anything. But when it was about me, I couldn't do it.

I just wanted to be as far from that man as possible.

In the time that immediately followed, I thought about all my non-white friends who’d confided in me about moments like this. I thought back on all the times my friends told me about racist encounters with classmates, professors, and strangers. How often I’d thought: Why didn’t you do anything?

I know now what an unfair standard that was.

When you become the target of racism, you’re stripped of valid choices. That doesn’t mean you’re powerless, but you’re working within a set of circumstances that are fundamentally unjust. You’re expected to rise to the occasion when someone’s attempted to strike you down. It’s easy for people with their feet planted firmly beneath them to say stand up for yourself.

We’ve all heard about racist incidents — many far more disturbing than what I described. Many of us (myself included) would like to think if we were in that situation we’d have a witty response on hand — or at the very least that we’d give them a piece of our mind.

It’s rarely so simple.

Option A: You can try to back up and disengage.

Option B: You can blow up. You have every right to be upset, so you confront the person’s prejudice. You make it clear just how out of line they are.

Option C: You can speak up. When you’re the victim of a racist incident, you’re immediately racialized. When you speak, you aren’t speaking as yourself, you’re speaking as an ambassador of "your people." That’s a lot of pressure.

It’s great in theory, but difficult and emotionally taxing in practice, especially when you’re not exactly prepared for it.

Whether someone speaks harmful words out of ignorance or because they have deep-rooted hatred, they tend to grow defensive very quickly when confronted with their indiscretion.

Not every ear is willing to listen, not every person is worth pursuing, and it’s not the responsibility of victims to educate their assailants.

For those of us who aren’t victims (or rarely are), remember that raising expectations and what-ifs, or questioning why a victim responded the way they did, isn’t helpful.

After the man rambled on about why what he said wasn’t offensive, the train started to slow and my boyfriend said this was our stop. We left the car and waited on the platform for the next train to come.

Some things about this incident remain unclear, but one thing I know for certain: As I waited on that subway platform for the next train to come, I was sure glad I wasn’t alone.

This post first appeared on Raw Honey and is reprinted here with permission.

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Judy Vaughan has spent most of her life helping other women, first as the director of House of Ruth, a safe haven for homeless families in East Los Angeles, and later as the Project Coordinator for Women for Guatemala, a solidarity organization committed to raising awareness about human rights abuses.

But in 1996, she decided to take things a step further. A house became available in the mid-Wilshire area of Los Angeles and she was offered the opportunity to use it to help other women and children. So, in partnership with a group of 13 people who she knew from her years of activism, she decided to make it a transitional residence program for homeless women and their children. They called the program Alexandria House.

"I had learned from House of Ruth that families who are homeless are often isolated from the surrounding community," Judy says. "So we decided that as part of our mission, we would also be a neighborhood center and offer a number of resources and programs, including an after-school program and ESL classes."

She also decided that, unlike many other shelters in Los Angeles, she would accept mothers with their teenage boys.

"There are very few in Los Angeles [that do] due to what are considered liability issues," Judy explains. "Given the fact that there are (conservatively) 56,000 homeless people and only about 11,000 shelter beds on any one night, agencies can be selective on who they take."

Their Board of Directors had already determined that they should take families that would have difficulties finding a place. Some of these challenges include families with more than two children, immigrant families without legal documents, moms who are pregnant with other small children, families with a member who has a disability [and] families with service dogs.

"Being separated from your son or sons, especially in the early teen years, just adds to the stress that moms who are unhoused are already experiencing," Judy says.

"We were determined to offer women with teenage boys another choice."

Courtesy of Judy Vaughan

Alexandria House also doesn't kick boys out when they turn 18. For example, Judy says they currently have a mom with two daughters (21 and 2) and a son who just turned 18. The family had struggled to find a shelter that would take them all together, and once they found Alexandria House, they worried the boy would be kicked out on his 18th birthday. But, says Judy, "we were not going to ask him to leave because of his age."

Homelessness is a big issue in Los Angeles. "[It] is considered the homeless capital of the United States," Judy says. "The numbers have not changed significantly since 1984 when I was working at the House of Ruth." The COVID-19 pandemic has only compounded the problem. According to Los Angeles Homeless Services Authority (LAHSA), over 66,000 people in the greater Los Angeles area were experiencing homelessness in 2020, representing a rise of 12.7% compared with the year before.

Each woman who comes to Alexandria House has her own unique story, but some common reasons for ending up homeless include fleeing from a domestic violence or human trafficking situation, aging out of foster care and having no place to go, being priced out of an apartment, losing a job, or experiencing a family emergency with no 'cushion' to pay the rent.

"Homelessness is not a definition; it is a situation that a person finds themselves in, and in fact, it can happen to almost anyone. There are many practices and policies that make it almost impossible to break out of poverty and move out of homelessness."

And that's why Alexandria House exists: to help them move out of it. How long that takes depends on the woman, but according to Judy, families stay an average of 10 months. During that time, the women meet with support staff to identify needs and goals and put a plan of action in place.

A number of services are provided, including free childcare, programs and mentoring for school-age children, free mental health counseling, financial literacy classes and a savings program. They have also started Step Up Sisterhood LA, an entrepreneurial program to support women's dreams of starting their own businesses. "We serve as a support system for as long as a family would like," Judy says, even after they have moved on.

And so far, the program is a resounding success.

92 percent of the 200 families who stayed at Alexandria House have found financial stability and permanent housing — not becoming homeless again.

Since founding Alexandria House 25 years ago, Judy has never lost sight of her mission to join with others and create a vision of a more just society and community. That is why she is one of Tory Burch's Empowered Women this year — and the donation she receives as a nominee will go to Alexandria House and will help grow the new Start-up Sisterhood LA program.

"Alexandria House is such an important part of my life," says Judy. "It has been amazing to watch the children grow up and the moms recreate their lives for themselves and for their families. I have witnessed resiliency, courage, and heroic acts of generosity."

via Wikimedia Commons and Goalsetter

America's ethnic wealth gap is a multi-faceted problem that would take dramatic action, on multiple fronts, to overcome. One of the ways to help communities improve their economic well-being is through financial literacy.

Investopedia says there are five primary sources of financial education—families, high school, college, employers, and the military — and that education and household income are two of the biggest factors in predicting whether someone has a high level of financial literacy.

New Orleans Saints safety, two-time Super Bowl Champion, and social justice activist Malcolm Jenkins and The Malcolm Jenkins Foundation hope to help bridge the wealth gap by teaching students about investing at a young age.

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2020 was difficult (to say the least). The year was full of life changes, losses, and lessons as we learned to navigate the "new normal." You may have questions about what the changes and challenges of 2020 mean for your taxes. That's where TurboTax Live comes in, making it easy to connect with real tax experts to help with your taxes – or even do them for you, start to finish.

Not only has TurboTax Live helped millions of people get their taxes done right, but this year they've also celebrated people who uplifted their communities during a difficult time by surprising them with "little lifts" to help out even more.

Here are a few of their stories:


Julz, hairdresser and salon owner

"As a hairdresser and salon owner, 2020 was extremely challenging," says Julz. "Being a hairdresser has historically been a recession-proof industry, but we've never faced global shut down due to health risk, or pandemic, not in my lifetime. And for the first time, hairdressers didn't have job security."

Julz had to shut down her salon and go on unemployment benefits for the first time. She also had to figure out how she was going to support herself, her staff and her business during this difficult time. But many other beauty industry professionals didn't have access to the resources they needed, so Julz decided to help.

"My business partner and I began teaching basic financial literacy to other beauty industry professionals," she says. "Transitioning our business from behind the chair to an online academy was a challenge we tackled head-on so that we could move hairdressers into this new space of education, and create a more accessible curriculum to better serve our industry.

Julz connected with a TurboTax Live expert who helped her understand how unemployment affected her taxes and gave her guidance on filing quarterly estimated taxes for her small business. "I was terrified to sit at a computer and tackle this mess of receipts," Julz says, so "it was great to have some virtual handholding to walk me through each question."

In addition to giving Julz the personalized tax advice she needed, TurboTax Live surprised her with a "little lift" that empowered her to help even more beauty professionals. "When my tax expert Diana surprised me with a little lift, I was moved to tears," says Julz. "With that little lift, I was able to establish a scholarship fund to help get other hairdressers the education they deserve."


Alana, new mom

Alana welcomed her first child in 2020. "I think my biggest challenge was figuring out how to be a mom, with no guidance," she says. "My original plan was to have my mom by my side, teaching me the ropes, but because of COVID, she wasn't able to come out here."

She was also without a job for most of 2020 and struggled to find something new.

So, Alana took it as a sign: she decided to launch her own business so she could support her new baby, and that's exactly what she did. She started a feel-good company that specializes in creating affirmation card decks — and she's currently in the process of starting a second, video-editing business.

TurboTax Live answered Alana's questions about her taxes and gave her some much-needed advice as she prepared to launch her businesses. Thanks to their "little lift," they provided her with a little emotional support too.

"I got my mom a plane ticket to finally [have her] meet [my daughter] for her first birthday," Alana says. "I was also able to get a new computer," which helped her invest in her new business and work on her video editing skills. "It's helped my family and me so much," she says.


Michael, science teacher

When schools shut down across the country last year, Michael had to learn how to adapt to a virtual classroom.

"As a teacher, I had to completely revamp everything," he says, so that he could keep his students engaged while teaching online. "At the beginning, it was a nightmare because I had no idea. I had to go from A-Z within a couple of weeks."

Michael's TurboTax Live expert answered his questions about how working from home affected his taxes and helped him uncover surprising tax deductions. To top it all off, his expert surprised him with brand new science equipment and supplies, which allowed him to create an entire line of classes on YouTube, TikTok, Instagram, and Facebook. "Now I can truly potentially reach millions of children with my lessons," he says. "I would never have taken that leap if not for the little lift from TurboTax Live."



Ricky, motivational youth speaker

As a motivational speaker, Ricky was used to doing his job in person, but, he says, "when COVID-19 hit, it altered my ability to travel and visit schools in person [because] schools moved to fully virtual or hybrid models."

He knew he had to pivot — so he began offering small virtual group workshops for student leadership groups at middle and high schools.

"This allowed me to work with student leaders to plan how they would continue making a positive impact on their school community," he says. He wasn't sure how being remote would affect his taxes, but TurboTax Live Self-Employed gave him the advice and answers that he needed to keep more money in his pocket at tax time — and the little lift he received from them has helped him serve even more students.

"[It] has been a major blessing," he says "There will be multiple schools and student groups from across the country that I can hold leadership workshops with to empower them with the tools to be inspirational leaders in their school, community, and world."

Plus, he says, it was great knowing he had an expert to help him figure out how being remote affected his taxes. "I felt confident and assured in the process of filing my taxes knowing I had an expert working with me, says Ricky. "There were things my expert knew that I would not have considered when filing on my own."

Filing your taxes doesn't have to be intimidating, especially after a year like 2020. TurboTax Live experts can give you the "little lift" you need to get your taxes done. File with the help of an expert or let an expert file for you! Go to TurboTax Live to get started.