Category: Lisa Rismiller

The Gray Treatment

“Don’t do it!” she warned, her face displaying a mixture of surprise and concern.   “People won’t treat you with respect if you do.”

My young friend’s perspective softened soon after, when she showed me a picture of a not-yet-twentysomething Kardashian sporting a head of long, gray locks. 
So maybe letting my hair revert to its natural—presumably some level of gray—color wouldn’t be as disastrous as she’d initially thought, she concluded.

It was a “transition” I’d been contemplating for several years, but only seriously since I’d passed the half-decade mark.  I’d discussed it with my hairstylist on and off for years, but she’d discouraged me from taking the plunge.  Not that she was a disinterested party to my decision: for years I’d paid her a good chunk of money every four weeks for her skill with scissors and chemical colorants.  But now I’d made my decision—not for any momentous reason—it just felt like the right time.

I called her from the car midway to my monthly date with “medium ash blonde” and said, “I’m on my way but don’t mix up my color. I’m going to LET IT GO.”  Of course, I didn’t say the words in an ominous tone, but saying them still felt significant.  She must have sensed my determination, as she didn’t even question my decision once I sat in her chair.  Together, we planned a shorter-than-normal cut for the much-feared “grow out” stage, then I was in and out of the salon in 20 minutes flat, with a still-damp head and much smaller dent in my checkbook.

Back home, I went straight to the bathroom mirror to check the result and was relieved to see that this first round wasn’t very noticeable.  Over time, as the gray overtook my head, I was initially relieved that people didn’t immediately notice.  Truth be told, once it became clear to me just how gray my hair now was, I was really liking it.  It somehow felt empowering to no longer worry if gray was peeking through.  I started to appreciate when people noticed the change.

And back to my young friend’s concern—has it become reality?  Do I have any sense that people treat me differently now?  Frankly, no—at least not that I’ve noticed.  But maybe the truth is they do, but because I’m happy with the gray, with myself, and with my life in general, it doesn’t matter.  Perhaps there’s real truth behind the old saying, “People will treat you how you let them treat you.”


Activism via E-mail

Editor’s note: This is an email exchange between two white Women’s Center employees, our Programming Coordinator Margaret Murray and Director Lisa Rismiller who were talking about Baltimore, injustice, and the role of white people. It started with a comment on Facebook and led to questions, which led to a series of e-mails between the two. One of those questions was “should we?” Should we post a series of e-mails on our blog? Our director initially thought “no” but pulled out our mission statement and saw “agents of positive change, social and gender justice, inclusive, diversity, community-building…” and decided “yes.”

On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 9:41 AM, Margaret Murray <> wrote:
Here is a comment (which includes my own voice and edits) that I thought summed everything up pretty well for white people:
We [white folks] have to look into our hearts and consciences and determine what exactly are our perceptions of people or color, and specifically, black people. We really need to analyze and critique our own behavior as white people, including those who consider themselves to be “white allies” in all of this.

Let’s be honest with ourselves and answer these questions: Do we see black people as equal in every way to ourselves? Do we treat them the same way we treat our (presumably white) family and friends? Do we love our black neighbors as we love ourselves? Or, do we see, label, or perceive black people as gangsters, murderers, thugs, drug addicts, or criminals? Do we avoid them when we walk down the street? Do we fear them?

The way society views the different groups within it determines the way these groups and individuals within it act and how they view themselves. If we view black people as thugs and criminals, we will not work to make the places they live better, with jobs, education, and other resources that will help them lift themselves out of poverty. Instead, many believe that they “deserve this” and “brought it on themselves.” If this is truly the case, it didn’t happen without indifference and complicity from the rest of society.

When “riots” broke out in Ferguson and now in Baltimore, I was disturbed by the number of white people, including those who considered themselves “white allies,” who condemned the actions of those whose lives and opportunities have been suppressed for centuries. The sense of powerlessness and suppressed anger can be volatile and explosive when finally released. At the end of the day, can you really blame some of their reactions? Really put yourself in their shoes and imagine how you would react.

People of color are fed up. I’ve heard people say, “We’re not going to take it anymore.” Frankly, they should have never had to “take it.” They are supposed to be treated as equals in society. But because of decades of misunderstanding and teaching of hate and fear of black people, the white majority has developed perceptions of them that are not only false, but have become a self-fulfilling prophecy for people who have black skin.

On Wed, Apr 29, 2015 at 10:24 AM, Lisa Rismiller <> wrote:
Insightful….and heartfelt, for sure. I’m especially struck by “The way a society views the different groups within it determines the way the group and individuals in it act, and how they view themselves…” and how white people in this immigrant nation seem to have totally forgotten that most of our ancestors were at one time “different” from the majority and seen as “thugs,” “drunks” (Irish), or members of religious cults (Catholics). Because of our white skin, over several generations, we’ve been able to largely erase, or at least hide, those distinguishing characteristics and so have been able to be absorbed into the U.S. mainstream. Not so for our black and brown fellow citizens……they have never been able to effectively erase their otherness, so they remain seen (and treated) as different and less…..Like every US social movement before it, until those in power (vs. the majority, which is rapidly changing) become part of the protests pushing for solutions on behalf of their fellow citizens, we’ll get nowhere as a nation.

Tip Your Hat to Tipped Employees

If you’re observant, you can point out those of us who have worked as waiters or waitresses at some point in our lives. Long after we’ve ditched whatever ugly uniform we had to wear, we continue to carry unwieldy items–pizza boxes, trays of food and drinks, etc.–in one hand, balanced on one palm. We make a point of addressing restaurant servers and grocery cashiers by the names pinned to their uniforms, and we try not to leave pennies on the table as part of a tip. Perhaps most tellingly, we tip well. Sometimes, even for sub-par service or food if it was obviously caused by factors beyond our server’s control.

If you’ve never been a tipped employee, you may think, “I work hard for my money, too, so why should I give a ‘bonus’ to servers?” What you may not know (in fact I hope that the miserly tippers don’t know this) is that the federal minimum wage for tipped employees is currently $2.13 / hour. Thirty plus years ago, when I was a tipped employee, it was $2.01 / hour. Yep, that’s right:
In the 30 years since I’ve had to rely on tips to pay my rent, buy my textbooks, put gas in my car, etc., the federal government has only raised the minimum wage for tipped employees a full 12 cents an hour.

So, those “bonuses” servers get from tips should more accurately be called “wages.”  No one, not even the thriftiest amongst us, can live on $2.13 / hour.  Even working full-time (40 hours / week) equates to just about $85 / week–before taxes. And most tipped employees receive few, if any, employer-paid benefits such as healthcare coverage, paid sick leave and paid vacation. Try to imagine living on $85 / week without any benefits. Lest you still think that working as a tipped employee–very physically demanding work, I might add–can be a gold-mine, keep in mind that those “bonuses” in the form of tips are also taxable and often must be shared with other restaurant personnel, who are most likely also paid $2.13 / hour.

Assuming you, like me, think leaving hard-working people’s ability to earn a living wage in the customer’s hands is unjust, you might be asking, “What can I do?”  At a minimum, you can be more conscious of your tipping habits because until the powerful lobbyists who’ve convinced our elected officials that it’s OK for you and me to pay the bulk of servers’ wages are shouted down, there’s little chance we’ll budge from today’s $2.13 minimum wage. You can also take a few minutes to educate yourself on other ways to help food service employees, everything from making small changes in your own tipping behavior to making conscious decisions on which restaurants to patronize–or not–based on how they treat their employees.

To learn more, start here…..

– Lisa Rismiller, Women’s Center Director