In the midst of corporations scrambling to paint themselves palatable during civil unrest, I was invited to speak on a panel. If you’ve been here for three seconds, you know I much prefer to write my two cents to the void and then eat three donuts like the ridiculous introvert I am. I do, unfortunately, also need to pay my bills so I scheduled a call for more information. This preliminary call for a panel discussion on what women of color needed in 2020 had three local “change agents”, white men in their 40’s, scheduled to speak.
Initially, this was so jarring I thought for a second I had stumbled onto the wrong Zoom link. When the youngest looking one said I was in the right place, I asked if we were the only panel members. He looked confused at my question and answered yes. Any other year, any other month, I would have taken the time to describe the pointlessness of speaking to life experiences you have never and will never endure. In the year of almost-constant trauma and tragedy, I politely declined, left the call, and laughed until the tears came.
It’s become somewhat of a hobby for many of us to bash social media influencers. People salivate over their followers then call them vapid. Rejoice when they’re knocked off a pedestal. Cheer when their carefully-curated lives erupt in bankruptcy, divorce, or public shaming. This past year, we sat at our messy kitchen tables, piled high with bills instead of kale, and enjoyed some much-needed schadenfreude.
The number of people who told me they were joining me in my annual break from social media skyrocketed this past year. The fact that most people were simmering in their own emotions for the first time in their lives with limited self-awareness was one reason. The “politicizing of everything” was another. The disdain of being sold empty dreams, however, was high and in full effect.
Influencers, self-help gurus, internet witches, you name it. They’ve mastered the art of click-bait and coasted on it. That’s all well and good to take the thoughts of much smarter people, distill them into short, snappy phrases, and sell it back to us in $29.99 courses when the engine of capitalism is quietly chugging in the background. When we can ignore the screams as long as we don’t have an unexpected expense or medical bill. When the beast is loudly and proudly devouring families and livelihoods left and right, however, it’s a different story.
During a global pandemic, national civil unrest, and unlimited time to stare into the dumpster of the internet, it became harder for many people to take those listicles and e-books on good faith anymore. You scoff at their ill-intentioned and unwanted advice.You begin noticing that these people do not understand you or your neighbor’s struggles. The emperor has been wearing no clothes all along, and you sold your last pair of bootstraps to make last month’s rent.
The person telling you to “eat more kale and drink more water” does not live in a food desert or a place with lead-infested water. The person telling you to “wake up at 5 in the morning” does not live with a long-haul trucker or a 6-year-old. The person who wants to tell you how to “speak up in that business meeting” is not treated like the equivalent of a ‘Black Lives Matter’ sign on a business door. The person coaching you to “invest in bitcoin” does not play the bill shuffle game month-to-month trying to keep the lights on.
Those of us who call out influencers on the regular knew it was coming. We winced at the avalance of people peddling their 2020 struggle-porn stories like gold-coated eggs of bullshit. The entreprenuers who run a startup that’s going to implode in 5 years or less. The panelists who sell vulnerability to their audiences then proceed to piss on the concept of authenticity until it gives them money. The coaches. Dear lord. The coaches.
They’re the ones you can trust because their megawatt smile follows you across social media platforms. Honest. They’ve experienced loss and heartbreak, and they can teach you how to come out the other side better than before for the low, low cost of what little financial and mental stability you were able to keep/grow through the dumpster fire of 2020. Every time I see one of these self-conceited ads, I want to grab the face of everyone considering buying their ‘expertise’, and tell them in the most sincerest of terms, that it’s not worth it.
That person did not have an epiphany. The model in that ad is not “living her best life”. They just finished living through 2020, same as you, and got to pay their bills. They’ll share the same-old, same-old glossy version of hustle culture, #girlboss, mangled capitalistic nonsense on a pastel background from Canva or stock photo from Unsplash.
The world sucks and is awesome.
Those two facts coexist and overlap in weird ways daily.
You’re human. You’re okay.
I just saved you $300 on their “coaching”.
Look, I’m a twenty-something black woman with a background in Special Education, community policy, and cooking way too much food. I’ve dipped my feet in the nonprofit field, grew up on the edge of the povery line, grow vegetables in the backyard, and share journal entries on the internet. There are quite a few life experiences I cannot speak to with any authority.
I cannot teach you about stocks, tech, or how to get rich quick. Current pop culture, living for cheap abroad, or making sure you never butt-dial anyone/text the wrong person are not areas I can help you with. You need to create affordable housing that isn’t just a buzzword, teach an adult how to read, or run a food pantry that respects the dignity of others? Let’s do it. You need to analyze disproportionate discipline rates in public schools, hotwire a car, or make a gorgeous coq au vin? I got you. Point is, I know my lane.
There was a split second at the beginning of March 2020, I foolishly thought these self-serving ouroboroses would slither back into their caves and wait until the world was no longer so blatantly on fire. This, I thought, is the time they’ll learn their lane. Hahaha, nope. They doubled down, and soon, I saw influencers asking “Do you need a change in your life?” like the year hadn’t already been a whiplash-inducing series of gut punches we were all too tired and/or terrified to fight anymore.
They looked at a society, broken and in pain, and asked themselves “how can I make money off of this?” Instead of offering compassion, human decency, warmth, they made videos lamenting that they were stuck in giant mansions and mangling beutiful songs. They were born on third and turn around to teach how to hit a home run to those of us in the nosebleed seats. When someone tries to show them their obliviousness through their thick skulls, they respond by deleting comments and making a second post about how people are ‘just so mean to them’.
When a fellow Medium writer told me to title my articles ‘more like an intriguing question and less like a vague, melancholy poem by Kurt Cobain’, I laughed at the advice. I’m not here to be famous, influence anybody, or make tons of money. I’m not even the right demographics to do those things. I do want to ask you to consider a few things the next time you hear a change agent or guru offering you a listicle of tips and tricks while he’s living a digital nomad lifestyle in Timbuktu or wherever.
Whatever you’re dealing with at the moment, I can 88% guarantee you, is meatier and tougher than anything they’ve faced in their lives. Systematic oppression cannot be gamed or growth-hacked. Institutional greed will not be course-corrected by a social media workbook or online course. No wealthy white guy (or girl) has discovered the secret of life. If they had, they wouldn’t be selling shite for $300.
If you’ve survived to this day, this moment, reading a crappy essay on your 5-minute smoke break, you’re going to be just fine. With or without their advice.