I orginally started out writing about business. It ended up a reflection on my personal privilege as I begin this entrepreneurial journey… Again. Lmao. My family is far from perfect…
For the first 12 or 13 Christmases of my life I have strong memories of the taste of glue in my mouth. Along with memories of my mom’s candied pecans roasting in the oven, Boyz II Men’s staccato Drummer Boy rendition, Elf movies, and umteen trips to see the Nutcracker live; I have powerful recollections of painful tongue paper-cuts, absurdly long post office lines, soaring stamp prices, and the hollow, slightly metallic taste of the yellow adhesive strip on the back of envelopes. Of course my mother and her sensibilities usually arrived with a damp sponge but I was a kid and if I was going to close envelopes, then no shortcuts!
I was born before e-mail was the primary source of communication for businessmen. My father communicated with his clients using the cellular phone attached to car, the extra landline in his office… And the good ole postal mail service.
My dad took the time to sign every card in the early years, even writing messages to well over a hundred of his clients. (All with my unpaid child labor as aid. Lmao.) These people were a huge part of our world. In the early summers of my memories, when school was out, and the Atlanta heat was blazing, my dad and I were working.
I can’t remember my clothes, but my hair was always in ponytails with balls or beads at the ends. I usually carried a book, a snack, and my own set of papers. Shoot, 9 year old me had an important job. Holding the massive Polaroid camera in my lap while we went to visit Mr. Smith or Mrs. Sue to assess their property damage or take photos of their cars or assets.
Dad would blast the Temptations and roll all the windows down. The humid, hot air blowing his tie back and laughter vibrating his ribcage. This was lesson time. He would talk out loud about his day, referencing his rolodex or his planner, always in tow. Or he would sing to me, bellowing Issac Hayes or doing the sprinkler to Diana Ross or Donna Summers.
Little did I know then, my dad’s entire attitude was a life and business lesson. Our 1985 Maxima didn’t have air-conditioning during the height of our car concerts. My being with dad reflected my parents inability to pay for excess childcare. Every single morning, six days a week for those first 10-12 years of my life, my father was in a suit AND tie. In the dead of winter’s coldest breath, in the blazing heat of summer’s wrath– my pops wore a suit when he wasn’t in the gym or in the yard. Huge sweat stains dominated his long-sleeved, Oxford-style shirt by midday on these excursions. But my dad would just smile. Chuckling, winking, and wiping the sweat pouring from his brow:
Hand me my jacket, sweetheart.My dad on every hot day in Atlanta.
He would pull on his matching suit blazer, completely covering the sweatstains, buttoning it quickly before greeting his customers with a wide smile. Sharp. (No worries present-day helicopter parents, he left all the windows down, promising to return. At least I was never worried, my daddy never left me anywhere for long. Sigh. Privilege.) I would slurp whatever icy treat he had placated me with and watch him smile and laugh with new clientele and old; returning to the car to jot notes in his book with the pen constantly in his care.
A Mini-Interlude on the 90s and Television:
Some black men in the early 90s were disgustingly profiled as criminals by their clothing. Like the internet changed my life, and cellphone my little brothers, the proliferation of TV profoundly affected my father. And boy does he love it. As soon as it became feasible, my father filled every room in our home with televisions flashing images from around the world into our consciousness, inadvertently reminding himself and us what he was protecting us from. I can imagine what it must be like for the first time, truly seeing black men represented all over TV and it was a clear message.
Group A — Never mind the fact that millions of law abiding, good brothers dressed like this. Never mind that this is a mixture of music artists and actors all posing for industry purposes and motivated to make money.
Even though these brothers lived in very far away places from my dad in 90s Atlanta, his life was incredibly infringed upon by the proliferation of black ‘gangsters’ in media. Suddenly, wearing clothes a certain way was a cause for alarm. Fashion trends, logical complaints about societal ills, evidence based analysis, popular culture, none of that mattered when it came to young black men dressed like ‘thugs’. The only thing many Americans (white, black, and in-between) appeared to care about was that they were young AND black and dressed similarly to young black people in neighborhoods across America.
Group B — All popular 90s TV shows, regardless of when they were filmed, featuring black people ‘conforming’ in dress and behavior with popular societal ideas about acceptable behavior. Is anger an unacceptable response to being over-policed? Or taxed without representation? Over-worked and institutionally underpaid? When is anger acceptable? Does it create division to look at this group of black people as ‘better’ than the Group A?
To contrast, my father was profiled as the help in just about every high end store we went in. By high-end I mean JcPenny’s. Lol. I remember looking for random things in Big Lots after riding around with Dad and countless elderly, southern white women approaching and drawling respectively:
Do you work here, son?Every super nice white lady ever to my dad.
Or at some Uptons or Sears a younger white man approaching him in anger with a shoe in hand demanding, “do you have my size or not?!?” My dad usually responded to these misunderstandings with a smile; laughing as the young brother in the sweater vest with a name tag and a shoebox jogs to catch up with us. Always a perfect gentleman in public, a businessman.
Back to the Program: On Privilege
My dad was a one-man firm feeding a family of four. He had to navigate the same things that I am going to blog about: Tax structures, copyright laws, business codes, all without the internet. As a child I couldn’t fathom the amount of stress that could cause a black man in the early 1990s. As a matter of fact, if I recall, it all seemed perfectly natural. Ordinary even. As an adult, and the impending owner of my very own one-man firm, I understand the gargantuan task he faced.
These minor recollections play into the privilege I experienced as a youth that continue to feed me today. I recognize that these privileges are not something that is associated with race. A lot of times we get caught up in white privilege and the massive amount of institutional and systemic benefit associated with those realities. However, acknowledging my own personal, micro-entitlements has given me perspective on life that has opened my mind.
Titles on the hotbutton issue of white privilege —
Privilege. It can be hard to identify your own. My dad picked up stray pens, pencils, and change. My friends and I always laughed at him. But the message he made in the car afterwards when we were alone was clear.
Sweetheart, I pay for every pen that I use. No company subsidizes my supplies. These pens I find save me money.My dad, the original scavenger. Lmao.
He would give me and my brother the found change to buy peppermints and candies. When working for yourself, you do not have the privilege of casually opening a box of pens. There wasn’t a company bag of mints or a company water cooler. Everything my father purchased for work had to be painstakingly accounted for at tax time. While my mom brought home bags filled with pens and notebooks with her company’s logo routinely.
Having daily access to a small business owner was a privilege in and of itself; but the most important privilege my father ever gave his children was his choice in my mother. Where his dreams and ambitions could carry us too far afloat, she grounded our family in stone cold reality. My mother kept your feet on the ground. When the family discovered I was coordinated enough for basketball, my dad signed up to coach my local team. On the other hand, my mom spent every Saturday for a month teaching me to run a mile and shoot faster than my taller opponents.
I was a real whiny kid too so imagine, 11 year old me: “I just can’t do it mom. I have a tiny deer heart.”
Also 11 year old me:
I remember thinking as a child that my mother was a human calculator. I was 25 years old before I ever witnessing her buy anything full price without mercilessly appraising it for value. Those first, formative 12 years of my life, she used shopping as way to teach me acumen. We would walk through stores to sales racks and she would pick up a blouse or blazer, “what’s 40% off of 19.99?” I was about 8. Lmao. She didn’t care. If I couldn’t answer she would turn back to the rack and keep shopping. If I could answer with something reasonable she would give me that prized smile with a glint of pride.
I wanted that damn smile. Hahaha. I will never forget when she realized it was too easy. The games started getting harder. They became word problems and equations. I watched her assess products for quality. Not only clothes but groceries. On Saturday mornings in wide Publix aisles we would compare the price per ounce in the 32 oz version versus the 64 oz.
Without knowing it, my mother taught me to defend my thought process. She gave me a solid 5-7 years of rigorous training in critical and analytical thinking just by never believing my initial statement without extensive evidence. In our one-on-one excursions in the innocence of my youth, my mom listened to me. She would ask an array of questions, a mix between thoughtful, right-wrong, yes-or-no. Our car rides were full of spelling bees and songs and stories.
My supermom told me her dreams. She told me about her fears. She relaxed in my innocence and daughterly devotion and became a human being. I found out that sometimes she was sad. And sometimes she was tired. I found out that sometimes she faced setbacks. I learned that my mother set goals for our home, she organized responses to emergencies, and engineered platforms for us all to be successful, including herself. She was available to me my entire childhood. I can’t recall one time my mom was at work, deployed, away, or too busy to come to an important event, game, graduation, or medical procedure. Privilege.
Around 14 or 15, I witnessed my first employment negotiation. My mother convinced my optometrist to hire me to put his files in the computer because I was good with them.
I was sitting on the chair in the doctor’s office looking at A-B-C reading maps and next thing I knew, I had my first job. I’m not sure my mom’s aware of the impact this employment had on me. Furthermore, it was the beginning of a pattern of privilege my mother has been able to provide her children in the employment realm. She established excellent working relationships; providing my brother and I with access to internships, summer jobs, and work-study opportunities leveraged through colleagues, connections and friends. Experience and successs is as much about who you know, and I have had the privilege of minor access.
Back in the 90s, Dr. Ricard was part of a three man entrepreneurial firm himself. He and two of his optometrist buddies had bought a small home near my house and converted it into a popular neighborhood eye doctor’s office. My first recollection of Dr. Ricard was that he was a very nice man with large soft hands and a kind, gentle voice. I later learned to recognize his customer service front but the man behind was an influential part of my adolescence. He hired me to clear out a large room with several 6′ shelves of files that needed sorting and digitizing.
Dr. Ricard turned out to be fascinating and open-minded. In hindsight, it is remarkable the amount of trust he gave me. I screened his clients for him, he taught me the importance of being modest, not for men, but for business. “The highest paying customers in most businesses are older women with traditional values Ms. Herstun. Appease them.” He would say this while straightening his bowtie, glancing disapprovingly at un-stockinged legs of his co-owner’s wife.
I saw firsthand what it meant to envy your friends; I listened to the my older female co-workers gossip about each other. I learned that feigning youth and immaturity meant I was privy to more information than most adults. I learned that most the white adults in the office would not view me like Dr. Ricard. More like a pet, which is convenient for a kid with an affinity for snacks and stories. I learned that the black women that came and went would always see me as more. I’ll never forget the way the company treated the employee that had a problem with alcohol. I recall the way they treated the employee that had five kids and one car to the whole lot. And its truly unforgettable how afraid of OJ Simpson everybody in the office was.
Dr. Ricard paid me minimum wage but, in my circumstance and during the time, it was more than enough. My very own money. In the summers, he let me work extra hours. I would stay late with him and he would show me pictures of his vacations. We vacationed as a family but usually to Florida or basketball tournaments. My dad was especially adverse to traveling for the sake of pleasure. He traveled enough for work he reasoned. And his brothers (my paternal uncles) all live in Georgia.
So, Dr. Ricard was especially exotic from my point of view. A man that wore jeans and traveled? Definitely not related to my pops. These after hour photo excursions and story tellings became my favorite thing. Dr. Ricard traveled with various friends for long swatches of time. He had photographs suntanned in Israel wearing white v-necks and khaki shorts with infinite pockets. I had never even seen my father in jeans. Dr. Ricard had photos in swimming trunks, smiling atop camels. Pictures of him with beautiful women and long wavy hair in front of waterfalls in South American rainforests. He also exposed me to real life book collecting. He kept an extensive library at home that he was always pruning like a chia pet. (He later admitted to being attracted to the first edition Harry Potter book I carried under my arm the day my mom secured my employment.)
I had been an avid reader since I was 8 or 9, but working for Dr. Ricard showed me that the words in books and my magic in my imagination corresponded to accessible places that existed outside of Georgia.
Dr. Ricard showed me real Persian rugs that inspired Aladdin, from the lands of the Ottoman Empire my social studies teacher tried to teach us about. Working for Dr. Ricard also gave me confidence. It made me feel so good about myself, I can never forget it. Pride. Unfortunately, I learned early the corresponding lesson, that pride is a sin. It is a confusing thing to teach a child to work hard as they can then have society punish them for pride. (I remember escorting my friend’s mom excitedly around the shop, only to be told later I was braggadocios and to calm down. Why was I so excitable? I learned early to play it cool. Subdue my emotions. A post for another day.)
[Afterthought: Perhaps, this is my own ignorance. Privilege and ignorance go hand-in-hand. When you are on the recieving end of the privilege it is really hard to identify your own ignorance. It could be that I was a braggart. Man, I was so proud of myself for being good at something, I wanted to feel like it was all on my own. I was euphorically unaware of how much of a beneficiary I was of my situation 99 percent of the time. My parents shielded me from the larger understanding that most black children globally, do not have the many privileges I was afforded.
The result was double-edged. Some black kids definitely did not want me anywhere near them as soon as I opened my mouth or earlier. Most white kids immediately realized I was “too black” to fit in with them too. My upbringing was decidedly steeped in black cultural norms, associations, references, and language. Long story short, I wanted to hang out with kids into similar things.
So, I did not understand privilege. I don’t think the black kids at school that associated me with whiteness understood that it was because of my privilege that they excluded me. Even still, it is a theory. But, I can say, that I know what it is like to converse with white men completely ignorant to their privilege. At times it is nearly insufferable. And I always return to myself in these days, misunderstanding the energy from so many classmates. It was not so much that I was privileged. It was that I claimed the benefits without acknowledgment that they were there.
School is an environment based on the premise that we are all genuinely the same when we enter the building. My teachers interacted with me and graded me based on the privileges my parents afforded me. I never had to babysit. My parents remained healthy and never required me to care for them in any way, shape, or form. I was supplied with EXCESS access to notebooks, paper, and pens. Not to mention the overwhelming food and material security.
My parents did not make it clear, when I was a child, that all children did not have parents with the time to spend with them one-on-one in tutelage and life coaching. I was blissfully unaware that a large reason I found a job was because my parents had insurance and could afford to drive me to the eye doctor. Push it further, we had geographic and socioeconomic stability. It is my fancy way of saying, we stayed in one place, my parents kept reliable transportation, and a schedule so tight that I had the same doctors until I was 17. Pediatrician and all. This afforded my mother the opportunity to make relationships and leverage them to her benefit.
Regardless of their concerns about raising a lazy or entitled child, my parents instilled a work ethic in me that now causes to intimidate most people. My father worked 18 hour days for at least 10 years of his life that I was around for. The only time he wasn’t working was to pick his kids up, or to have dinner with his family, or do some other activity I would deem boring as a parent now. My mother put us to bed most nights, and he would follow later with a scratchy kiss (his mustache). Not to be out worked, my mother wrote down every single thing she purchased on a registrar. She was a mobile bank before Cingular was a company.
I was raised in a family of businessmen — gender neutral on the men. The stakes were always higher in our home. If it could be perfect then we perfected it. Efficiency was key in entrepreneurship. In the early years of my father’s business and my mother relaunching her career after my little brother’s birth, my house was a university in economics I can never forget. I know that my parents did not intend this. I am sure that a lot of their lessons, they assured themselves fell on deaf ears.
But these lessons I reflected on here were too big to articulate until I had my own child, my own home, and dreams of my own firm. They didn’t give their best to work alone. My mother gave her best to our family. She gave her best to our budget, our education. As I got older, she started to give herself the best. Working out, and eating healthy, learning mindfulness and gratitude. She made sure that I learned and applied sense to those lessons, even against my will.
My father gave everything he encountered his best all the time, self-professed. On the summer nights he wasn’t running on appointments, my dad was cleaning his or his wife’s car. When the weather was perfect, inbetween seasons, he was doing major yard projects. Before Angie’s List and google, he bought ladders from Home Depot and cleaned the gutters. When Facebook events wasn’t available , my dad would turn the hose and sprinkler on me and my friends from the neighborhood. With no IG to boomerang the moment, he spent countless evenings throwing a baseball back and forth with his daughter.
To this day, he rakes his small 20 feet of property religiously; always watering his 12 even squares of sod and complaining on the phone,
I gotta get out here and do my yard work, sweetheart.My dad on every nice day ever.
As an entrepreneur and gig economy affecionado, I know that my dad’s company has gone through it’s shares of ups and downs. I remember as a kid thinking he sounded like a broken record, obsessive about lecturing me, “Get up, sweetheart. Never quit. Have an attitude. Fine. But don’t quit.” I understand now the passion and plea was one made to himself simultaneously. He could never allow himself to quit. There was too much at stake. I am already whispering his adages to my daughter.
Get up babygirl, you aight. Brush that off.Me to my 15 month old babygirl every single time she falls.
Sigh. As much as I have resented him for it; it has served me well. One thing that’s hard to know is that he might never fully acknowledge the privilege my mother afforded him in her support. Her ability to balance our family’s budget, maximize our workflow, and discipline the shit out of his children.
My husband and I are constantly traveling and meeting new people because of his job. These interactions show me that my situation is unique. So many young men beginning in life are also planning for their woman, taking care of their partner. So many women are compensating financially and emotionally for an unavailable or immature baby father. Neither of my parents experienced these tribulations.
I can only fully accept and acknowledge my father’s privilege myself as I look out on my husband in the driveway playing with our daughter while I write, write, write, write. I have no clue what the future will hold. We don’t spend our Christmases licking envelopes, or purchasing stamps at the post office. Cell phones have replaced the old lines my family blurred between work and leisure.
My parents no longer live together. In their respective homes, with new partners, I fear that they forget how great we all were together. Some of the greatest hits never need a reunion or a replay. But, that doesnt change the masterpiece of the record when it was hot.
Sometimes I can catch one or the other on their favorite Saturday mornings. They both get up no later than about nine am. They spend some time outside in their respective homes; one in the city on a balcony high in the sky, the other on a small patio or porch in the suburbs. Both of them probably bite back bitter complaints at recent goals they have been lackluster with, instead attempting to reorient themselves towards the positive.
Discipline. With a deep sigh they steady themselves for a fresh week to start again.
The only difference between a winner and a loser; is a winner plays until he wins.Boobie Miles by Big K.R.I.T.
#BehindTheProcess #StartingHerstun #Reflections #LetsGrow
Personal Experiences — All names changed for privacy.
imdb.com — Movie posters and television series stillshots, click captions for details.
YouTube — “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”