A good example of hustling is me, writing this article on New Years Day, battling with period pains, whilst entertaining various members of my family, after agreeing to work one of my other jobs on New Year’s eve. Hustle culture is the idea that a person should be doing lots of things at once to lead a fulfilling and successful life (this can be financially, emotionally, or physically).
Before me, my ancestors hustled. Enslaved Africans organised uprisings and revolts, ran away to join the maroons and waged war against their oppressors by spending hours a day braiding the routes to freedom into each other’s hair. Many enslaved Africans hustled so hard for basic human rights that they died before they were able to access them, working to “earn” freedom through paying “masters” or completing military service on the battlefields. Today, Black people are given larger workloads than their white counterparts, expected to complete this work on a lower wage, and it is required that they work twice as hard, sometimes three times as hard as white people to achieve the same professional results. This, after four centuries of Black people hustling.
Cue the side hustle, one of the ways in which the hustle has been linguistically appropriated from Black people by corporations. Through the side hustle, people can have a job on top of their job, and can work themselves to the point of burnout in a socially acceptable and encouraged manner. People on Etsy and Depop sell overpriced items and make small fortunes, so we could too, so we should too? Whether our side hustle is working from home as well as being a full-time parent, or being an Instagram influencer as well as working in an office, it is now the expectation that we must all spin many plates in order to be successful.
But this success is still being seen through the eyes of white supremacy and capitalism, and Black people’s side hustles are yet another gateway to Black Capitalism, which sees Black people conforming to a society that will only ever benefit the few individuals at the top. Through working for white people who are still in charge, we as Black people are simply giving our time and energy to companies and corporations who funnel money into racist power structures. Whilst slaves hustled to be free, many Black people today are hustling, and side hustling, to continue to uphold our capitalist and racist power structures. Hustling allows individual Black people to be successful, but if we are not hustling for our collective liberation, and hustling for all Black people’s autonomy to finally stop hustling, then what is the point of all this work?
Can we give up the hustle entirely? For lots of Black people, hustling is even now a life-or-death situation. Survivors of the Windrush scandal are still battling for UK residency and living on the streets, whilst Black UK residents risk being denied Universal Credit. Almost no Black person can give up the hustle without facing extreme consequences, but perhaps we could give up the side hustle? Perhaps we could prioritise the hustles which actively dismantle racist structures and uplift other people (rather than the hustles which make us rich).
Black Power Naps is a sculptural installation, vibrational device and curatorial initiative (an amazing art project) which looks at laziness and idleness as power, something I am fascinated by. Through reclaiming our rest, Black people can grow stronger and healthier together. I try to imagine resting indefinitely, without a goal or a time frame in mind. I try to imagine my Black family, friends and neighbours doing the same thing. Somehow, this mental image feels more unrealistic than picturing us all continuing to work ourselves to the brink of exhaustion (and often past that point) even though I know this to be unsustainable. Black Power Naps challenges everything I have in my head, choosing to create space for people who are so often told to be small, it is an example of a group of people hustling for change.
Black people across the globe are uniting to create space, and love within our community. We have come together to dance and to eat, to make music and art, to make homes and to organise, but all of this is impossible without rest. We must access rest urgently to continue to exist, and we are not allowed to rest within the system. At the moment, there’s a social-pressure-cooker of keeping fit at home during Covid, working off Christmas weight gain, making new year’s resolutions, working from home, not working from home, leading a fulfilling out-of-work-life, reading important books, having worthwhile hobbies, and many more things. I want to know what happens if we don’t do all of that? I want to know what happens when all of our actions’ end goal is collective Black liberation and rest? I want to know what happens when we give up the side hustle?