The Hustler Glory

When someone with inherited privileged chooses to experience the struggles of those the privileged class looks down upon, it is called class appropriation. Especially if that person proceeds to make that experience part of their public story. They create an imaginary “hustler glory”, and they do so for their own strategic gain.

It is like having a car with a full tank of gas but you choose to walk 10 miles to work with those who can’t afford a car. You choose to do so in order to build character and other good reasons – commendable. But when you later tell the story of how you too have known that struggle of walking 10 miles to work, that is narrative fraud. You create a glorification where none exists for those who had no choice but to walk the 10 miles.

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The inheritors of privilege often steal the story of struggle without ever knowing the struggle. When they choose to experience the struggle without ever being in danger of being consumed, killed, transformed by the fires of that struggle, they must not pretend they “have been there”.

That is what unfolded recently in Kenya when the public personae of the president’s daughter stood up and said, in essence– I too have known your struggle.

The debates and reactions that unfolded struck me with great curiosity, and it occurred to me that Kenyans had felt stung without quite knowing why. The real hustlers did not understand why they felt insulted when an inheritor of wealth and privilege said she sold chips mwitu.. or was it smokie pasua. You’ve got to love the names of these Kenyan street foods.

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You did not shout “Uwongo!” because you thought the president’s daughter lied about doing a “hustler” business in College, but because you felt she lied about becoming a hustler. You know she has a safety net you don’t have, and you know she did not need that hustle to survive – you do. She left out these facts which are central to the truth of the common-person struggle.

It doesn’t matter how hard a child of wealth and privilege struggles to build their smokie mwitu business, she would never understand the fear you carry with you every day when you wake up at 4:30am to go stand by the street for 16 hours, 24-7 and hope that at the end of the month you will have enough for rent and food and fees and soap.

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The son of the Kenya’s first president told the story of how he too hustled hawking vegetables from a pick-up. No reason to disbelieve that he did this. But as an inheritor of wealth and privilege, it is fraudulent for him to claim he knows the struggle. He doesn’t.

To say- “I too have experienced the trenches with you” when you were never in danger of going hungry or becoming homeless as a smokies or vegetable vendor, is to wear the glorified garb of struggle when you never had to walk in its tatteredness.

It is imperative that privileged children who take over the country and whose decisions will affect millions desist from this dangerous and manipulative class appropriation.

If you are lucky to be in this class (I do not begrudge you your fortune) you may have learnt valuable lessons from a tailored hustle, but you never experienced the dreadful fear and callouses of indignity that crown the story of the real hustler who hates being a hustler in the first place. Glorification of the hustle is just but a tool of political manipulation.

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So what does one born into privilege do when they have a sincere heart to learn through experience and give a hand up? What does someone like the president’s daughter do – a young lady who strikes me as one smart grace-and-grit doer – to be the salt of Kenya’s earth that she wants to be?

Simple. Go ahead and learn. I have great respect for parents who teach their privileged kids how to catch their own fish.

But you see, for the privileged child, if she fails to catch fish after a long hard day filled with tears, she will go home and eat cake, and tell of the glory of her struggle. For the fisherman, if he fails to catch fish after a long hard day filled with tears, he will go home, spend a night of anguish as his family goes hungry, and tell of the sorrow of his struggle.

Go ahead, teach them how to work hard and fail and cry and succeed and learn humanity and humility. But you must also teach them to desist from appropriating the struggle and glorifying the trenches for their story. Doing so allows them to continue their parents’ mistakes of maintaining those trenches for political gain.

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And this also goes to Kenya’s up-and-coming middle class parents who fiercely guard their hard-earned wealth and place. Teach your privileged children to be the ones to break the vicious manipulation those in the trenches. Teach them to tell those in the trenches that there is no glory in that place of desperation.

When the hustler in the trenches begins to believe the politician and the preacherman that there is something that creates glorified narratives about their struggle, they have arrived at that place Nietzsche calls “slave morality”. They begin to participate in protecting that place of indignity. The hustler glory must die.

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