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The end of the world as we know it?

And no, I’m not talking about Armageddon as induced by the Large Hadron Collider or Sarah Palin becoming president of the United States of America.

I’m talking about the incredible series of events unfolding as I write this, events that have shaken Wall Street, the City of London and the global financial system to its very core.

Unless you’re intimately involved in finance (or regularly read the Financial Times or the Wall Street Journal), your knowledge of what’s been happening in the financial markets over the past year or so may be limited to certain mainstream media friendly buzzwords – “subprime crisis” “credit crunch” “possible US recession” “probable US recession” “dead certain US recession”. And so on, and so forth.

You might think – if you live in the Caribbean, for instance – that what’s happening “out there” might not affect you.

You would be completely wrong.

As I write this, Lehman Brothers is hurtling toward a bankruptcy filing and Merrill Lynch is in advanced merger discussions with Bank of America. AIG – one of the world’s largest insurers, and the parent company of T&T’s ALGICO – is finalising plans to sell assets in order to raise enough money to fend off a crisis of its own.

These names may mean nothing to you, but the significance of these events is inescapable. Wherever you are, whatever you’re doing, you will be affected by the billions of dollars of losses being incurred by the pillars of the world’s financial markets; by the reshaping of the global financial system; by the subsequent job losses; by the inevitable slowdown in global growth.

Thousands of people have already lost their jobs, and thousands more will wake up tomorrow to find that their jobs (and their companies) have ceased to exist.

And those numbers do not at all reflect the job losses across industries like airlines, tourism, manufacturing and construction.

Stop, think, (re)assess. Think more carefully about the way you spend, about whether your lifestyle would be sustainable if the bank decided to raise the interest rate on your credit cards or loans (because it will happen, and sooner than you think).

No one knows what’s going to happen next – not the people on Wall Street or in the City of London or in Hong Kong or Sydney or Tokyo; not the governments; not the the Central Banks; not the regulators; and certainly not the media (this reporter included).

But two things are certain: this will not be over quickly, and you will not enjoy this.

And I, for one, do not feel fine.

Maybe I am my hair

(Pace India.Arie)

I started growing my locs five years ago. Since then, I’ve fielded a host of questions from friendsfamilyclassmatescolleaguesrandomstrangers, including but not limited to:

– Do you wash it?

– How do you wash it?

– Can I touch it?

– Does it itch?

– Is it real?

– Does it hurt?

– Don’t you miss your real hair?

– Are you a Rasta?

– Why did you do it?

This last question, now as then, is the hardest to answer. My responses have varied, depending on the questioner, the context of our relationship and how I felt that day. I lacked a substantive, definite, “because.” I didn’t have “the answer” that the questioner – and I – was looking for.

Then I read this response to a column by Steven “Freakanomics” Levitt on the economic disadvantages of “sounding black” and of having a “black” or “Asian” name:

But if you’re intelligent and hard working, shouldn’t your resume get you in the door no matter what name is at the top? No, you’re saying. The world doesn’t work like that. But couldn’t it be said that the more HR people who encounter intelligent, hardworking people with names like Shaniqua Keisha Jones, the more people will stop pre-judging people with names like Shaniqua Keisha Jones.

Ditto “sounding black,” having a southern accent or a clearly Asian name. Deleting these things could be construed as self-hate, denial or disingenuousness. Is it better to be sneaky, calculating and take a “by any means necessary” approach in the workforce? Is “sounding black” something people need to apologize for? Do the people who “sound black” need to “invest in” the ability to sound more white? How best to bust a stereotype? By playing into it? Or defying it?

My hair is about defying stereotypes. To plagiarize myself,

I’m a twenty-something overachieving chick with dreadlocks and a predilection for wearing Converse to work

So there it is. I am my hair. I am challenging, I am defiant, I do not apologize.

And the next time some Wall Street multimillionaire or Oxbridge-educated middle-aged perpetually entitled white British editor encounters a twenty-something <insertracehere> woman from the Caribbean, or someone with locs, he will pause.

He will pause because he will remember someone else who was more than the stereotype.

Someone who was more than just her hair, or her ancestry, or her age, or her gender, or her accent, or her taste in shoes.