If you reach back far enough into your memory, you may recall the mixed emotions that existed at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. After the initial shock of being told that staying in the house was suddenly the safest thing you could do, people approached being at home in a variety of ways. Some rested while others worked toward reaching weight loss goals that they had spent years putting off — other people felt that if you weren’t still finding a way to work or building a side hustle, you were wasting precious time.
The suggestion that Americans should still find a way to work even when there is an opportunity to rest is another example of how toxic “hustle culture” is. The idea that hustle culture revolves around — that one can overwork themselves and achieve the level of success they desire — developed a strange grip on many working Americans. Yet, the reaction that it had from the Black community is particularly interesting. Suddenly, having a side hustle or starting up a small business was regarded as a means of building the financial success and liberation that had been denied to Black people for so long. In reality, relying on a hustle in order to create extreme wealth is unhealthy for a multitude of reasons and indirectly reinforces racism in America.
Too often, the idea of a side hustle is regarded as a means to create wealth. Along with this, hustle culture on its own breeds the toxic idea that if one only works hard enough, they will be able to pull themselves out of any economic challenges they may face. For many people within the Black community, the ideas revolving around hustle culture are dangerous because they do not offer a realistic plan for overcoming financial difficulty and entirely ignore the concept of enjoying life.
Hustle culture does not acknowledge that there are larger societal factors that are put in place to keep Black people from attaining economic success. Among these larger social forces is racial discrimination. This is seen plainly in the long and tired history of racial discrimination that has barred Black people from purchasing homes, obtaining well-paying jobs and accruing a significant amount of savings. Each of these elements and much more is reflected in the unequal distribution of wealth that exists between Black and white households, a dynamic made possible by centuries of systemic oppression that cannot be undone with a mere side business or “hustling” harder on the job.
It is entirely possible for Black people in America to build wealth. However, it must be done through a healthier and more realistic vessel than the hustle culture that exists today. Pushing people toward the idea that hard work or a side business is what creates wealth is irresponsible and ignores many important aspects of building wealth in the first place, among these being the education and the initial investment that is required to start a business. Taking the steps to build wealth is an attainable goal for some people within the Black community, yet it is less possible for the majority, and to suggest that “hard work” is the solution would leave many people working until death with little to no rest.
One of the realities of hustle culture is that it directly reinforces capitalism — a system that lives and breathes with racism as its primary artery. This is likely related to the fact that capitalism as it exists in America was developed on Southern plantations. We see this in enduring elements such as the exploitation of people through despicably cheap labor that then allows for a greater export that will, in turn, yield more money. Given how slavery played an integral role in the development of capitalism within the United States, it is inevitable that racism would still exist as a component of the system today.
Racism is expressed in many different ways under capitalism, with one example being the wage gaps that persist even now. A survey conducted in 2019 found that Black men make $0.87 for every $1.00 that their white counterparts make. Another survey found that Black women without a high school diploma earn about $0.60 for every dollar white men of equal education make. A Black woman with a master’s degree earns $0.64 for every dollar a white man with the same education does.
Outside all of this, there is an irony to the oppressed using the tools of their oppressor in the name of financial liberation. In an interview with Democracy Now, Angela Davis stated it is wrong to assume racism can be destroyed and capitalism will survive it. And yet, this seems to be the very goal of hustle culture within the Black community: to overcome the racist systems put in place by creating wealth within the capitalist model. However, because of the relationship that exists between racism and capitalism, it is impossible to have one without the other. Thus, the goal of hustle culture is made void. The energy that is put toward upholding hustle culture would be better used in contemplating a new economic structure that does not depend on exploitation and racism.
Even outside of the Black community, hustle culture revolves around the strange and toxic idea that the only thing that stands between a person and the success they desire is “hard work.” In reality, some people will work until the end of their lives and have nothing to show for it. Idealizing hard work as a recipe for success is dangerous and sets people up to work until they are burned out. The concept of enjoying life is entirely disregarded and it is made clear that if a person desires success, they must sacrifice themselves for it.
Hustle culture should be completely reimagined if not thrown out altogether. Any working person deserves a healthier mindset that encourages them to be more than a cog in the capitalist machine. However, within the Black community specifically, the relationship between creating a side hustle and upholding hustle culture requires deeper investigation. To use the tools of the oppressor as a means to gain financial liberation is not the key to success that some believe it to be.