I remember getting a call from the founder of an online women’s magazine who wanted to talk to me about potentially working with them, after a friend of mine had sent examples of my work to her. I walked into their offices and we had a chat about what I was interested in and what they were looking for. The conversation ended with being told that my writing was too ‘intellectual’ and although they would read and enjoy my work they weren’t sure their demographic, young women in country X, would be. They wanted to focus more on snappy love & sex, fashion and celebrity news pieces and not only did I feel some way about the sweeping generalization that their demographic didn’t want susbstance, I was also left conflicted because I needed my foot in the door but felt like I would be doing myself a disservice, not to mention they called me after having seen my work.
This wouldn’t be the last time that I would be made to feel like my work wasn’t good enough or worthy enough. The countless times that a broken feeling would creep over and comfort me on the road to breaking down while whispering doubts in my ear expecting me to give in, because that would be easier right? The validation would help me feel lighter, but every time I thought about opportunities that would go against my instinct, I felt dirty, like I was breaking a holy vow or something. It wasn’t until two lightbulb moments this year that I decided to fully commit to my crafts with no fears. The first one a panel talk with activist and journalist Boniface Mwangi telling the audience to “tell your stories, fight for your space, you have to write your narrative”. The second instance being a close friend who, after one of my rants, simply stated “This is what you do and you’re good at it. If they won’t let you do your thing on your terms, start your own magazine?”.
Getting asked to churn out articles with little to no pay. Getting requests to use my photography or have me capture images for you with payment in photo credit. Getting asked to do campaigns or wear something in an IG post and receiving free merchandise as payment, are just some of the mindboggling solicitations that come across my email or DMs. That I should somehow feel grateful that you would even think to work with me and I should submit to your requests. I’m sure many people will accept these terms and to each their own, however I already write and take photos for free on my blog, so tell me why I would do it for you? I’ve even tried working with friends for free to help them get their ideas off the ground but even that has taught me that friends and business don’t necessarily have to mix. I can love you and not do business with you.
It’s the classic case of mind over matter when you’re a young creative trying to make your mark and establish yourself, it goes a little like this:
Mind: You’re trying to establish yourself and you need to get your name out there, so just do it.
Heart: “I dream it, I work hard, I grind ’til I own it” (le hair flip)
This has slowly become my mantra and now Beyoncé quotables aren’t my thing but damn it this line should be plastered on my ceiling as a reminder every morning. So many of us live on the interwebs and create our own content for free anyway, so why in the world does anyone think that they can profit off us without compensating us. (1) They are coming to you, the creative, because of your mind, ideas, platform because they need you and (2) they can’t come up with these ideas themselves. Creators create and will continue ‘till the end of their days. It didn’t matter if I had deadlines or upcoming exams in grad school, whenever I needed peace or to get away I just had to sit down and write or go for a walk with a camera because it comes naturally.
Crediting someone doesn’t do much unless you’ve got the type of clout that will blow up their career. It doesn’t pay bills and the way the economy is set up right now, millennials already gotta do what they gotta do to make their dreams a reality whilst still earning money. You may read this and say I sound “entitled” and maybe I am, but I am willing to do what I enjoy by myself and not earn a dime for years, knowing that I haven’t sold my soul or lost integrity, rather than selling myself short and being miserable to just earn money or do the ‘in’ thing because I would be miserable knowing that I sold out (we’re not all cut from the same cloth, so do you boo).
DISCLAIMER: That isn’t to say that I don’t have a job that is separate from my creative ventures to keep me afloat. I recognize that I am in a privileged position where I can say no to opportunities that someone else may not be able to, not because they don’t want to but because they aren’t in a position to.
It’s aggravating when the traditional archetype of what is deemed ‘a professional’ blocks a creative’s path. Yes, a lot of the time we don’t have a 9-5, we’re not traditional but our aptitude and work ethic for what we do shouldn’t be regarded as less than a more contemporary employee. So, the underpaid op-eds we write are extortion, our ideas that are hijacked off our social medias by larger corporations is intellectual property theft (shoutout to the meme makers), the constant belittling of our art is not only rude but an oppressive force. We live in an age where the internet has made more careers than a free photo ever did, so it’s a simple math equation, you request someone’s time + their work = you pay them.
University of Toronto Professor Jordan Peterson in a lecture said that everyone can’t turn around and be creative and that “you have to be pretty damn smart to be creative because otherwise you’re just going to get to where other people have already got”. He has been documented explaining that being creative really isn’t all that a great, starting from it being difficult to monetize, to historically creative people not living long lives. He has previously given the following evolutionary example to describe creative individuals: if a predator comes along who gets eaten first, (a) the one who camouflages against the herd or (b) the one “decked out in bright colors”?
Where many people are lucky enough to be multifaceted and can easily do other things, some people are brilliant at one craft, and the type of condescending and repressive attitudes people have will not help nurture a teenager or sustain and adult, and with there having been numerous studies on the link between mental illness and creative minds, it’s no surprise if you take all this into consideration.
So, when I listened to the Joe Budden podcast yesterday and heard his reasons for leaving Everyday Struggle, the culturally acclaimed 1-hour hip hop show that he created and was co-host of with DJ Akademiks, not only did some of it resonate but all I could think of was why the shapers and disruptors of culture are never appreciated or respected as they should be? His reasons basically summed up to not seeing eye-to-eye with Complex and feeling like after them seeing the explosive impact the show had had, with them having spent little to nothing on marketing, he felt unappreciated by the company his show was hosted under. Joe Budden has always spoken candidly about his past and how he is always on the side of the creator with a ‘f**k the establishment’ attitude. If an outside entity wants to use your platform to advertise, they have to pay. How do you think Instagram personalities/bloggers/models etc earn money? SPONSORED POSTS!
This isn’t new, K. Michelle, one of the most incomparable voices of our generations, has time and time again spoken of her label holding her hostage whenever she wants to create music that they regard not being “her”; whenever she wants to venture into other genres of music such as country, she has said that individuals have told her “it doesn’t make sense” because she caters to a more ‘urban’ demographic. K. Michelle is from Tennessee, she’s a country girl who plays the guitar, piano and in the past, has received a yodeling scholarship (YODELING) but of course country music doesn’t make sense because she’s black.
The reason I give these examples is because they, along with many others, have been called “crazy”, “unbalanced” “angry” along with other adjectives that are just as offensive. Why is it that when someone is being honest and vulnerable we only ever listen to their delivery? When an individual knows their worth or wants better for themselves, we call them entitled? Because they’re young, they must be ‘naïve’ or ‘unrealistic’ so we’re going to take advantage of them. This shows that unless you have the sort of power that people are threatened by or aren’t willing to come into conflict with, they will try to screw you.
My 2017 was about learning to say ‘no’ to what does not serve me even if that means I’m not where I want to be because when I get there it’s going to taste that much better. People may doubt you but there is no such thing as wasted work or time, for it will manifest when the time is right. Create your spaces, reclaim your narratives and watch revolutionary movements emerge. You either believe in what you do or you don’t. You are a means to an end for a lot of people and companies, so you must speak up for yourself and be aware. Ultimately the question that always holds is “does this serve me?” and if it doesn’t, have faith in your art and keep grafting.