By now, everyone on Earth with internet access has seen the clip of Alaskan news reporter Charlo Greene giving notice to her employer in the most epic “I quit” moment since Johnny Paycheck wrote “Take This Job and Shove It.” Overnight she became an icon for every frustrated 9-to-5 wage earner who ever fantasized about telling off their boss and walking out the door, never to return. Most of the attention on her dramatic exit from TV journalism has been focused on her dedication to the cause of marijuana legalization but in my opinion the bigger issue is the fact that she found the courage to declare her independence at all.
For most university-educated American women life follows the tradition of get a degree, get a job, get married, have kids. While women have indeed made great strides when it comes to respect and power in the workplace there are, unfortunately, certain rules that women must abide by to survive in that world. The primary rule is don’t make waves. It was true in the era of Mad Men and if the recent bestselling books by female CEOs are to be believed, it’s still true today. This is especially true for black women. Even more so when you are the only one there. Stories from the first women of color who were admitted into corporate positions are full of them being made painfully aware of having to carry the burden of representing their entire ethnic group, and the rest of that group being judged by others solely on the individual woman’s conduct.
African-Americans, especially African-American women, have been taught that education is the path to success in America. And while that has overwhelmingly been the case, it is not the only way. In the days of Segregation and Jim Crow, most towns had a thriving African-American section full of barbers, tailors, carpenters, grocery store owners and bricklayers who’s success allowed them to send their children to college to become doctors, lawyers or educators. The Civil Rights Act, while dismantling the legal framework of Segregation, also had a negative effect on the Black-owned businesses and neighbourhoods that had thrived for decades. Once Blacks were free to trade, work, and live anywhere they chose, all too often they began to neglect the neighborhoods they were once confined to. Whether from a desire to shake off the past or to assimilate fully into American society is difficult to day, but one unfortunate effect of this cultural shift was a decline in the entrepreneurial spirit that had created so many self-sufficient, profitable areas. The goal became to get a good job, not create a successful business.
The entrepreneurial spirit remained in decline until the birth of hip-hop. The ghetto kids who started Luke Records in Miami, Def Jam in New York, and Ruthless in Los Angeles along with scores of others brought a revolutionary new form of music and expression to the world. Part of that expression was allowing people to break free of the cultural straightjacket imposed by mainstream and corporate America. For the first time, people in lower class areas nationwide had a way to communicate with themselves and the rest of the world that didn’t rely on polished spokesmen or sugarcoating to get their message across. It was raw, abrasive and uncompromising; a way to vent frustration and call out the fakeness and hypocrisy so often hidden behind the façade of polite society that many affluent African Americans bought into. Miss Greene is a college educated, attractive black woman, and nobody has been more horrified by her actions than her fellow college educated sistas. Message boards have been on fire with the scorn many of them have for her and there is a feeling that she set a “bad example” and disrespected herself and other black professional women by breaking the unwritten rule of never “showing out”-meaning behaving in what could be perceived as a “ghetto” way- in front of white people on the job.
Well, Charlo Greene “showed out”, spectacularly. But by doing so, she also declared her independence and reclaimed her heritage as an entrepreneur with a bold, showy display in the finest American tradition. I don’t know if Miss Greene is a hip hop fan (although I have a feeling she’s a fan of The Chronic) but her departure was definitely a hip-hop inspired moment. It remains to be seen whether or not she will sustain a successful business but it won’t be for lack of an explosive debut.