Every time I turn around there’s another meme or instagram square urging everyone to lean into their “side hustle”. And each time I see it – I cringe. Not because I don’t think people deserve to make money and make it in a variety ways, but because hustling didn’t always have such a wonderful reputation. Now slapped with a coat of millennial pink and loved a slew of thin, well dressed women. We see more people are clamoring to tell the world about how they made their “side hustle” a real business, I’m left wondering – how did they gentrify hustle?
Defined as obtaining by forceful action or persuasion; and a fraud or swindle, it is intriguing how the white community has taken the term and flipped it on its head. The word hustle in the past has been used to describe unsavory citizens, those who are out to get others unknowingly. These days its image has been prettied up and belongs to those who are slanging overpriced cookies disguised as “bars” using grandma’s recipe. Or selling e-books and creating webinars out of nothing. Growing up when I was selling snacks out of my own family’s pantry no one was calling me entrepreneurial, they were calling me a hustler. And it didn’t sound good. It made me feel as if I was doing something wrong rather than creating a valuable solution to a problem.
Creating that business set me on course and tapped into my innate skills of developing streams of income…
What I’m wondering is why when I did it, was given a street name and years later suburban moms and teens are being given Forbes articles lauding their abilities? For years Black men, women, and other marginalized groups have had hustler thrown at them with vitriol. They’ve not been encouraged to turn their hustles into full time businesses and certainly have rarely given the opportunity to grow.
As I watch groups like Create + Cultivate, girlboss, and various entities on Instagram encourage and even admonish those who don’t have side hustles. Telling them to get out there and slay; I wonder why when Black folks have no other options, their hustle is ghetto until proven otherwise by someone white? I recall being told once by a former employer at an unpaid internship – that it was hustle that got people further along. I was left aghast after that conversation because I was a single parent, technically unemployed, and traveling 2 hours each morning in an attempt to gain knowledge and eventually a job. Only to be told that I needed to hustle harder? It was in that moment that I recognized hustle is only cute when it’s packaged a certain way.
Let’s put it plainly, disenfranchised communities have been hustling. We’ve been hitting the streets trying to make dollars out of cents with no empowerment groups egging us on. As single parents, as first generation college students, or as dreamers and it hasn’t been easy. It hasn’t been bookended by podcasts about getting the $5,000 needed to start a business from an uncle or having a mentor introduce us to a director at some major company. In fact it’s very likely been in silence, in darkness, and scary.
My goal with this post isn’t to throw sand atop of the blaze of someone’s success. Rather to highlight how hustle got rebranded and the hustlers before who were left behind. I urge these groups to look outside their circles when they are putting together lists of panelists or booking guests for podcast episodes. It is starting to look very homogenous at this point. We’ve heard from the new class – allow us to hear from the old. Case in point, Dapper Dan has finally began to get his comeuppance after Gucci
so graciously realized they royally messed up after copying his designs. While he hustled during the 80s to bring luxury wear to the streets, they turned a blind eye. But when they needed some edge, a rejuvenation, they focused their aim at a hustler who had been doing it right all along.
The next time you hear someone regaling in the joys of killing their side hustle, think about the real meaning of the word and those who weren’t given the luxury of being praised for their hard work in the same manner. And ask yourself – are you really hustling or are you just catching up?