Used in a relentless pursuit of the elusive middle class, side hustle culture is killing Black folx
Black folx need to be vigilant to care for ourselves and assert the importance of community in a society that emphasizes individual success.
Editor’s Note: This month at BYP, we will be exploring Black Liberation & Organizing, and we are interested in publishing works that address these topics. How do we hold politicians accountable to Black communities? Is that even possible? What should be our role in the electoral politics? What does abolition look like in practice? What is the viability of third party organizing, or non-voting? What amazing work are community-based organizations doing in your hood, and what can we learn from them?
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By Khye Tyson
By now, what Black folx historically colloquialized as “side hustles” have been appropriated by white Americans who began to take on side jobs more frequently in recent rocky economies. Today, millennials and side hustles go together like Will and Jada or Instagram models and contouring. It’s hard to go a whole day without seeing an ad for “50 great virtual side hustles!” or Pinterest posts about monetizing our hobbies. Between student loan payments and skyrocketing housing costs, many of us need a few extra coins anywhere between every so often and every week.
Lost within the normalization of side hustles is the fact that Black folx in today’s economy are often forced to work multiple jobs just to keep their family’s heads above water, let alone to have access to the middle class.
Though it is not impossible for Black folx to access the middle class, for many of us, the battle is all uphill. The elusive middle class is an undefined middle ground between dirt poor and filthy rich. For Black people, being middle class could just mean that you don’t have to help your family pay bills, even if your family may not be equipped to handle a financial setback such as a medical emergency. But middle class often also means navigating whiteness more frequently and more “successfully,” and, as we know (Omarosa), proximity to whiteness doesn’t protect Black folx from microaggressions, discrimination, and systemic racism. Proximity to whiteness also frequently requires Black folx to exist in and perpetuate a space of anti-Blackness through code switching, adhering to respectability politics, and policing other Black bodies.
Still, this inaccessible identity of middle class is so entrenched as aspirational that even when we make good money in our main job, some of us turn to side hustles because we’re saving for a down payment on a house, the next trip abroad, or starting up a business. We’re working off debt so that we can kiss Sallie goodbye forever. We’re grinding so that we can help younger siblings, cousins, or children move up in the world. There are as many reasons for working a side hustle as there are hustles. But with all this working, are we able to take care of ourselves?
The United States is a capitalistic society run by people and systems that are doing everything in their power to kill Black and brown folx. Self-care can only go so far in a world designed to kill us. Black folx need to be vigilant to not only care for ourselves but to assert the importance of community in a society that emphasizes individual success.
Black folx are dying because of capitalism. We know we’re overworked and underpaid. This is an even more common sentiment with the advent of the gig economy. Are we discussing how side hustle culture is advocating for our continued burnout, exhaustion, and poor health?
One could argue that Black folx been hustling since the beginning of time. But we have also historically had community, family, and spirituality to guide us through struggles. Then slavery. Then Jim Crow. Then the Civil Rights Movement. Then CoIntelPro. Then Rodney King. Then Trayvon. Then #blacklivesmatter. Then Pulse. Then 45. It is crucial that we recognize the unique pressures we face today to run ourselves into the ground, ultimately making more money for someone else than we do for ourselves.
How do Black lives matter when we just tryna survive? How can we show up for each other, our communities, our families, when we’re too tired to get out of bed on a rare off day?
While burning it all down is my favorite solution, we should also consider what to do before we go all Hunger Games District 11 on these hoes. I have found comfort and healing in going back to my our roots:
- Communal living: I always wanted to live in a big house with all my best friends and their kids and families. Then I grew up, had a few nasty ass roommates, and reconsidered.Every ministry ain’t mine. But even if you don’t live in the same house as your friends, family members, or community, consider how can you can support each other. Help each other out with childcare, host or plan community meals, share cars or transportation passes, borrow items from each other instead of buying them, and generally look after each other.Consider larger community efforts such as buying houses, land, and other assets together, childcare/homeschool (or additional education outside of public school) co-ops, supporting each other’s businesses, or paying off each other’s debt. Capitalism is at its strongest when we’re separated.
- Connect with the ancestors: We learn about our history and connect to our roots by remembering our ancestors, naming them, and furthering their work.As Lonnie Bunch, the founding director of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture says, “[t]here is no more powerful force than a people steeped in their history. And there is no higher cause than honoring our struggle and ancestors by remembering.”What is community without those who have made it possible for you to be here? Learn your family’s history. Talk to the elders in your family or community and ask them about their elders. Who were their grandparents? Who were their parents? How did they get to where they are now?Take it a step further and acknowledge the ancestors during community gatherings. Something as simple as naming the ancestors and thanking them out loud in a community space can strengthen your ancestral connection. If you’re interested in further connecting with your ancestors, consider exploring ancestor reverence through learning rituals, creating an ancestor altar, or pouring libations at your next event.
- REST. REST REST REST and REST: Follow @thenapministry, then take a nap. Then do something else you enjoy that’s calming. Rinse and repeat. I’m not even gonna bother with self-care, because that idea has been colonized and sold back to us in so many ways. Just do stuff you enjoy that doesn’t hurt anyone or cost you money (remember, we broke, sis).Do something creative every so often. Paint, write, dance, sing, cook, draw, make a homemade face mask or body scrub using stuff you already have around the house. Watch Dreamgirls and act out all the parts in the “It’s All Over”/”And I am Telling You” scene (but do it alone so you don’t get dragged for being off key). Whatever you do, put your phone on silent (or in the other room) and take a few hours to unplug.
- Show gratitude: Yes, I know everything is terrible and we barely surviving out here. But don’t overlook your blessings. Believe it or not, that’s how we receive more. Hug a friend a little longer and tell them you appreciate them for listening to you complain about the same nigga for 3 years straight.Write thank you cards and send them to some friends or family who have been there for you. Go all out for your bae (but only if they are amazing and deserve it). Lean more into your spiritual practices (if any) and thank Papa Legba/God/the ancestors/the universe/Spirit for you being awake and alive with breath in your lungs. Thank your body by feeding it healthy food and/or moving it around in whatever ways feel good. Verbally thank your plants for not dying. Reach out to an old teacher or mentor and thank them for helping you through a hard class, being there for you during rough times, or just for listening.
- Get your feelings out: Being Black is a damn Olympic sport sometimes. You need support to get through this. Get a journal. If you can, check out a group healing session through a therapist’s office or in the community. There are many types of group sessions for grief, recovery from addiction, mental health, polyamorous folx, LGBTQ folx, illnesses, and more. Alcoholics Anonymous, Codependents Anonymous, and Al-Anon are three that I highly recommend if you or someone you know is battling addiction.If you live in a place with Black therapists and can afford it, find one who understands who you are and what you’re up against as a Black person attempting to survive capitalism. Many mental health facilities offer payment plans and sliding scales for low income folx or those who don’t have insurance.
In conclusion, capitalism sucks, but we’ve survived every damn thing else. We’ll survive this too. Hold each other, look out for each other, and love on each other. Until next time, remember: burning it all down is always an option. I’m just waiting on y’all.