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Photo courtesy of Kemiyondo Coutinho

The Privilege Hustle

Some hustle out of necessity, others out of privilege. Be clear about which one you are.

Two things you should know about me; I work hard and I am privileged.


I received a text from someone recently who remarked "I have never met anyone who hustles more than you! I wish X was like you!" I really wanted to receive that compliment but I was over ridden with guilt. Much like when someone compliments me on Dianne (my name for my very natural looking wig) or worse yet when they ask, "Is that your hair?" Umm, yes this hair is mine I paid a lot of money for it! Then the guilt sinks in. I suddenly feel weird. What was meant to be a successful goal of the night ends up becoming an awkward exchange where I feel obliged to explain that it's a wig.

Transparency is important to me, wigs and hustle alike. So here we go, taking off the wig and daring to show you what my hustle actually looks like. I recently tweeted something that seemed to resonate with my followers;

"I apply for something every week. Yup. Every week. Now think of how many things I actually announce I get. I hustle for more than I receive. As it should be. You never know which one is the door so keep trying that key in all of them"

This is my hustle in a tweet. I am queen of shooting my shot. I will exhaust ALL my options and then some. When I set my mind on doing something I will do it. All these factors are true but one huge factor is left out of that tweet, I am privileged. Without a doubt so. I have never in my life seriously worried about money. Being homeless has never actually been an option neither have I ever been a struggling artist in any shape or form. I can't say that I come from a stinking rich household but between both of my parents' careers in the public health world, lets just say that if all my art projects fail, I know I can move back in with my parents and have a roof over my head. To save me from embarrassment, I can always lean into the old patriarchal notion that a young African maiden's place is in her father's house. Yuk! Privilege can be yuk and still be benefitted from. My hustle has no death or life consequences attached to it so to use it to downplay a 9-5er that is hustling to live really bothers me.

We glorify the hustlers and entrepreneurs and have developed a culture where we look down on the 9-5er. But guess what? Dreams cost money. Ask my parents. They will tell you! Yes, I still receive money from my parents. At my big age sha! This is the sacrifice I made. My dreams don't pay the rent and I am privileged enough to have parents who believe in my dream but even they are privileged enough to believe in my dream because they don't have to rely on their children for finances. All this to say that I have two investors for my dreams that require zero interest. Walk up to any 9-5er and ask "If I were to invest in your dreams, would you chase them?" I would be shocked if they said no. If you take away my investors, would I still chase my dream? It's a question I don't like to think about because I am not sure I am ready to see myself without the wig, I like Dianne and I like how she makes me feel.

Everyone hates talking about privilege. We would rather focus on our oppression, our handicap, our thing that holds us back.

Everyone hates talking about privilege. We would rather focus on our oppression, our handicap, our thing that holds us back. I say NAH! If more people focused on their privilege and hustled from that standpoint to help others we would be in a better place. Shout out to Jessica Chastain hustling to make sure Octavia Spencer got paid her worth. Instead of leaning into being a woman she leaned into her white privilege and made a difference with her hustle.

Hustle with your privilege, that's what I say! In Uganda, I was able to identify that no matter what happened I would have a roof over my head and food on my plate. I used this as a jumping board to start A Ka Dope which allowed me to help other artists at no cost. I never got paid. I made no money and often lost it but I always knew that the repercussions were so low that I could make a difference with my hustle. I directed numerous music videos for free. I taught free acting classes. I worked my privilege to hustle for what I wanted to do. That is the funny thing about privilege; just because you don't acknowledge it doesn't mean it's not there, so you may as well use it to benefit the less privileged. Check your privilege then hustle your way to making sure that the people around you benefit from it.

I remind you again, I work hard and I am privileged. Someone out there is more privileged than I am but I know I can outwork them. Similarly, there is someone less privileged than I am that is willing to work harder than me. Acknowledging this is where the hustle is born.

Kemiyondo Coutinho is a privileged hustler and the creator of the award winning film "Kyenvu." She lives in Los Angeles and is a writer/actor and director.

In April we're exploring "The Hustle"—the things people do to survive and thrive at all costs. Click here for more stories about all the ways people manage, make and squander money.


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