In This Episode:
- The racist origins of hustle culture
- How we currently define hustle culture in society
- How we really eradicate hustle culture
Listen to the podcast here:
Dismantling Hustle Culture
Hustle culture as we currently define it in modern society is problematic in and of itself, but it’s got a dark history rooted in white supremacy and racism. If you weren’t already disillusioned with hustle culture, you will be after you listen to this. Ready? Let’s get started.
Honestly, I intended for this episode to go in a totally different direction when I first jotted down the idea a few months ago, but before I start each episode, I do pull up Google and do a little research.
I type in some common questions about the topic because I want to see what pops up. I want to see if I‘m way off in my thinking, see if I may be missing an angle from a different perspective. I want to check myself and make sure that I’m not slathering white privilege all over something.
When I dug into hustle culture, I realized that that’s exactly what I was gearing myself up to do, because I didn’t understand the deeper historical roots of this word. I found some things that were surprising to me. I wasn’t intending on defining “hustle culture” or “hustle” past our current social definition of what it means to hustle, work yourself to death, and eventually burn out, all while still feeling like a failure.
After digging deeper and doing a little bit of research, I realized that there was so much I didn’t know about the historical context of the word “hustle,” and now, I believe that it’s even more important to dismantle this phrase, to understand its origins, and to dismantle the culture it creates in the world, especially in the world of online business—plus dismantle how it contributes to racism as a whole.
I started with an NPR article as one oftentimes does. There are quite a few things on there that I didn’t pull into this episode.
Urban Dictionary defines hustle as “striving voraciously towards a goal.” That’s the first definition. There are a couple of others.
Colloquially, kind of socially as a society, we see hustle as a means of working harder, longer, and more intensely in order to make more money, to get a raise, whatever. Historically, hustle evolved from Dutch origins originally meaning “to shake.”
With the rise of industrialization and the industrial revolution, hustle became synonymous with hard work, but only in the right settings—of course. Basically, hustle became the nineteenth–century version of Corporate America. This is when you also see the rise of productivity and the emphasis on profits over people. I talk more about that in episode two about capitalism and the patriarchy.
But ironically, around the same time, hustle also starts to be applied to con artists and sex work. If you’re hustling Johns, you’re in sex work. If you are hustling people on the street—or Ponzi schemes was hustling. So white men decided to define what was a good hustle and what was a bad hustle.
Since white people are good at making things racist, they decided that a lack of hustle plus blackness equals laziness.
We held black people back with systemic racism like redlining, segregation, Jim Crow laws, racial violence, discrimination, and more.
Then we decided that if they didn’t hustle as hard as white people thought they should be hustling, to overcome all the bullshit we put in front of them, then they were lazy—because of course we did. This concept then of hustle—of side hustle, maybe even a “seedier hustle” was then absorbed into black culture.
To me, reading through some of the examples of this, it felt like a big middle finger to white people about the world that we created for black folks to exist inside of—and we deserve it and so much more.
Malcolm X wrote about people needing hustles to survive, and then it showed up in popular culture like rap music with the message that you need to do whatever it takes to support your family. Hustle culture was created when white people forced black people to work twice as hard for less money, less rewards, less accomplishments, and less recognition.It's important to dismantle hustle culture, dismantle the culture it creates in the world. Click To Tweet
Then, white people showed up and appropriated hustle culture in order to make a buck off of it because of capitalism and because of white supremacy. That’s when hustle culture saw a bigger shift into the mainstream. By mainstream, I mean “white consciousness.” It showed up largely in the rise of the gig economy because companies like Uber would encourage people to always hustle—hat was an early tagline by their very problematic founder who no longer works for the company. They’ve scrapped that hustle language now, but the gig economy created this rise in side hustles.
Hustle culture defined in the present day, is that mainstream white society is working harder, longer, more intensely in order to make money, get a raise for your business, whatever.
You now have the concept of a side hustle. In my experience, watching people create, especially their service provider-based businesses, a lot of online businesses tend to start as side hustles.
Typically, if you have something you’re calling a side hustle, you’re probably white, you probably have some means to be able to invest time and money into a side hustle, and you’re doing so in the hopes that one day, you make enough money to leave your 9-to-5 job.
Hustle was a huge word when I started an online business back in 2015, but it’s another word that I never liked right up there with a “girl boss.” It always felt a gross to me, because why would I want to leave my demanding 9-to-5 job and work more hours for myself than I was before?
I didn’t want to work twelve hours a day, five days a week, and another few hours on the weekends. I didn’t want to work weird hours or late nights in order to grow super fast. I didn’t want to work on vacation.
That’s such a huge thing. It’s like the laptop lifestyle where you can work from anywhere. I don’t want to work from anywhere. I want to work from my home office. When I go on vacation, I want to leave my computer at home.
I didn’t want to hustle, as they say, in order to grow super quickly. Honestly, I didn’t grow super quickly in the beginning because I was so fucking exhausted from working all the damn time.
This word is certainly falling out of vogue. I‘m glad to see that we’re no longer glamorizing the phrase in privileged white circles, but to denounce this word without pointing out the fact that we are still very much mired in the racism where it began is a disservice to everyone who flippantly throws around this word, whether you’re for or against it.
Just because this word falls out of the mainstream of privilege and people are calling out the toxicity of hustle culture in capitalism and business, you see a lot of things popping up on hustle and things like that.
We cannot ignore or forget that hustle is still very much required for black and brown people who want to get even half as far as white people on twice the effort, because black and brown communities are still very much hustling against the systemic racism still in place in our society.
They’re often forced into multiple “side hustles” like Uber driving, grocery delivery, or just straight–up working multiple jobs. If the pandemic at this point has taught us anything it’s that black and brown communities don’t have any choice but to continue to hustle to make ends meet. The jobs that pay next to nothing, the ones that require the hustle in the first place and are essential is a pandemic, pay almost nothing.
Grocery store clerks, fast food workers, restaurant wait staff, delivery drivers: these are the people we decided as a society where essential workers during a pandemic while millionaires and billionaires have profited off a corrupt rollout of government aid. These people have had to hustle even harder to stay afloat and stay alive. In many cases, it’s not even working because now we‘re watching systematic evictions for people, and an end of the extra boost in unemployment benefits.
In order to see a true end to hustle culture, we definitely have to stop being so obsessed with productivity, output, profits over people, profits over a good way of life, profits over your mental and emotional health.Hustle culture was created when white people forced black people to work twice as hard for less money, less rewards. Click To Tweet
We absolutely have to see changes there, but we also have to fix the systemic problems of racism in our country like income inequality, racist housing policies, prison reform, government aid, healthcare, and so much more.
If we don’t do that, all we’ve done is removed hustle culture, the word “hustle” from our very stylized privileged social media feeds. We haven’t actually fixed the problem, we’ve just pushed it under the rug so we don’t have to look at it anymore.
That doesn’t fix anything. That doesn’t move the needle forward. That doesn’t make life better for anybody.
So until we have eradicated the requirement for hustle in our society by eliminating systemic racism, until we get to a point where we can pay people a living wage for doing even the most basic of jobs, we haven’t eliminated hustle culture.
Just because we stopped seeing it in our newsfeeds, it doesn’t mean that it has gotten better or gone away and we have more work to do.
That’s it for me today. Don’t hustle—rest. And be your best self. Bye, y’all.