When Black Hustlers Make Money, It Subverts The Social Order

Updated March 23, 2016 11:50am PDT

As a self-identified hustler, and someone who grew up working poor and opposes capitalism, I have long struggled with relationships to money and status.

“Now a diva is a female version of a hustler...I just might be the next Black Bill Gates in the making, we slay, all day, okay, now ladies let's get in formation...always stay gracious best revenge is your paper.”

an intentional combination of the Beyoncé songs “Diva” and “Formation”

On the one hand, people use money, status, power, and the pursuit of these things to subjugate those who do not possess them. As the history of colonization and imperialism is certainly an indication, entire frameworks of belief have been built and continue to be propagated to justify the theft of lands, resources, and the abuse of bodies and cultures. It has been called manifest destiny. It has been called the white man's burden. It has many names and many, many casualties.

On the other hand, or one of the many other hands, in an increasingly capitalist (although the fissures are becoming apparent) global context, what do reparations look like? How can we imagine survival, getting what's ours—to quote Cookie Lyon—let alone just doing well and feeling good, without money? 

I would love to see an entire redistribution of all the wealth in the world to all the people in the world. I would like to see a reorganization of governing bodies which wouldn't rely on the formation of a nation-state, white supremacy, and “western/developed world”—or as I prefer to say, “minority world”—supremacy, but instead on small-scale local cooperation and Native expertise. 

Until that time, however imminent I hope it is, I would like to applaud various efforts to subvert the current and historically cumulative social order.

I became an anarchist at about the same time that I became a sex worker; a growing understanding of anti-oppression politics and systemic oppression drove me out of feel-good liberalism. Communism and socialism weren't doing it for me—fascism under any kind of authoritarian government is too easy to fall into.

Sexual liberation, as a disabled person of color who had predominantly grown to understand my naked body in a medicalized context, felt imminent and essential to full scale liberation. Making money under the table, at something that didn't necessarily require previous work experience, balancing things on trays, or lifting heavy objects, was essential to my survival.

Other anarchists and some less self-examined punks taught me that being a business owner was evil, that even having certain kinds of jobs necessary to sustain oneself, ones family chosen or biological, or one's medical needs, was potentially evil as well. It took me a long time to tease this out, to see the ways that this kind of hard-lined way of approaching my politics was not only unrealistic, but actually also perpetuated and resulted in internalized ableism and racism. 

I am embarrassed, but feel it is essential to admit—once, on a Mangos with Chili tour, after listening to queer (some disabled) artists of color discuss their contracts and what they demanded their worth was, in terms of how much they are paid for labor, energy, and expertise, I pulled a new friend of mine aside and asked:

“Are these folks like super capitalist?”

“Why, because they want to get paid for their art?”

At the time I recoiled from the question, because it occurred to me, quietly, that I had been asking to be paid what I was worth for sexual labor, for labor at a wage slavery job, for educational labor, but not for my art. I believed that if I kept my art separate from how I made money, I could keep it pure, keep it radically political, keep it both generous and mine. 

And yet—I wanted to be famous. Because everyone knows: anarchists, hustlers, no matter how covert, are divas. We need people to believe in us, because if you are rushing from gig to gig, from protest to protest, tired, hungry, stretched thin, in pain, it's the belief that keeps you going. It is the sustained and sustainable art of other queer and female, disabled, weird and wondrous people of color that keeps me going, that tells me: I am showing up in the world, and I am flipping tables. 

Rest assured, insurrecto-bros, I am still an anarchist—I just don't anymore believe that making money as an artist to support and blast your message on high out into the world is antithetical to my radical politics.

As a black, queer, female assigned person, I see in the work of contemporary black artists like painter Kehinde Wiley, choreographer Donald Byrd, TV writer Shonda Rimes, and popular music queen Beyoncé, not merely a grab at what we've all been waiting for, or reparations for the undue suffering, genocide, enslavement, humiliation, stigmatization, and theft of our peoples and culture at the white hands of (continued) colonization, but an utter flipping of the paradigm. 

Who deserves to be bestowed with value? What is this value that white supremacy and heteropatriarchy have defined? If we can make the same money you can, who's money was it in the first place? If we can't make money because of continued subjugation, or we make it in wonderfully indirect, even illegal ways, how can money be sufficient to define anyone's value?

It's pretty common—the story of the poor person who becomes rich in an effort to escape their unstable upbringing and to make certain their survival, and becomes, much to their family and friends' chagrin, the spitting image of the rich, self-absorbed assholes who once patronized and spit on them. How often does it actually happen that someone who has literally spent most of their life with nothing, empathizing with others most disenfranchised, becomes rich and then forgets who the fuck they are? 

More often, I would wager, it's the people around them who would like to forget who they are, where they came from, and that their success is not in fact proof of the function of the American Dream, but an anomaly of white supremacist, misogynist, ableist capitalism. But passing, as blueblood, as high society, as white, as cutthroat, as not one of them, does not require forgetting so much as it requires silencing the parts of you that remember.

I don't know what makes people align themselves with revolution or with assimilation. I don't know at what point you stick to a path. Part of my commitment to radical solidarity, societal rupture, and revolution, is my desire and ability to see subversive potential in many things. I like to believe that having just parts of a goal in common can be reason to work together. So maybe we both don't want to see an end to capitalism, but you want sex workers of color, disabled people of color, trans people of color, and other kinds of people of color to not be murdered and incarcerated? And maybe you even think prison abolition could be a thing? Then we have shit to talk about. Our desires can align. 

And maybe, with time, what each of us imagines to be possible will grow. Maybe we will give ourselves room to want more. For example: Jay Z donates a ton of money to BlackLivesMatter, but he also participates financially in the gentrification and development of his old neighborhood. Let's work on aligning these desires a little more.

Radical thinkers around me ask: if a capitalist enterprise is sending a radical message, is the message still radical? Like how could “How to Get Away with Murder” be saying the radical things that come of Annalise Keating's mouth and still be on ABC? What if it's all a part of a plot to pacify those who oppose the legal system and mass incarceration? 

If Beyonce's message in formation—which I'm only barely getting sick of discussing—is, “I just might be the next Black Bill Gates in the Making”, in the same breaths that she says, “okay ladies now let's get in formation,” as in let's organize, is the latter message neutralized, or even mocked? My answer is no to both. Or rather, I don't care. 

In the same sense that fascist, white supremacist, capitalist propaganda works whether we like it to or not, leftist, subversive, order shifting, life-loving propaganda, when applied, does its work too. 

When Beyoncé says, “always stay gracious, best revenge is your paper,” she might as well be saying, “DCSC, breh”, (Dude Comma Security Culture) because of course, money is not the only and best revenge, but what a brilliant table flipping moment it is, to pretend to assimilate yourself into white supremacist popular imagination long enough to make them think they're safe and untouchable, and then to pop out with, “I'M STILL BLACK AND HAVE BLACK POLITICS THO!” 

Unlike many radicals, I do definitively seek an end to capitalism and corporate or government rule, however: I believe the world is big enough for mixed messages, and yes, as participants in and opposers of capitalism, we will contradict ourselves. 

I want to show up accountably for the contradictions. I want to show up with joy for the flipping of and obliteration of the meaning of power.

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Lyric Seal aka Neve Be(ast) is a mixed black, queer, multigender, disabled, porn performing, performance art wreaking femme anarchist with a vengeance. They are a staff writer at HARLOT covering all topics which can vaguely be related to performing arts, love, sex/work, disability justice, policy, and the lush insides of their mind. Neve also has a column in maximumrocknroll called "Totally Lame." They are a contributor to Everyday Feminism and various literary magazines. You can book them to dance, talk, teach, and make you feel good about yourself.