Around Christmastime last year, I had a great hour-long chat with Pulitzer-prize winning author and journalist, Karen Hunter of Karen Hunter Publishing. If you watch the video below, the same way she’s talking there is the same way she talked to me: straight up.
She didn’t know me from Adam but was not hesitant to take the time to answer my questions about getting started as a freelance writer, the business of writing and publishing for Blacks in particular. She shared her background and wisdom with me, and many of the things she imparted to me then were also mentioned in this book (which was then unreleased), Stop Being Niggardly: And Nine Other Things Black People Need to Stop Doing. In this post I’ll give you some of the highlights, but in short, this book is a must-read, and more importantly, a must-DO.
If You Can’t Get In Their Door, Start Your Own
When Karen started her own publishing house, she reached out to her contacts for support, but didn’t get it. I was surprised when she mentioned
Earl Graves as one of those people (he is the founder and publisher of Black Enterprise magazine). She talked about how Blacks can be so niggardly (definition: stingy—watch the video above or look it up) and try to hold each other back from progress and success.
Divide and Conquer—It’s the American Way
Karen gives us a brief history lesson in explaining the racial categories we give ourselves here in America. The perceived origins of Latinos, Dominicans, Haitians, Blacks, and Jews have more in common than you might think (certainly more than I knew).
Digging Out of Debt
I can relate all too well to Karen’s story about going broke and having to downsize (for her she had to move back home; for me it was moving from a house to an apartment). The key is the recognize when you’re going too deep in debt and to Stop Digging.
People First, Then Money
How many of you are familiar with Suze Orman’s mantra, “People first, then money, then things”? It’s not just a saying that she closes her show with, it should be a way of life.
In the book, Karen says, “ How you handle your money indicates how your life is going. If you have chaos on your job and in your life, your money is guaranteed to be a mess…. Money is an outward display of the discipline and standards of your life.”
Unfortunately personal finance is not taught in school. The only examples we have to go on as children are what we learn at home and see in our neighborhoods. We have to learn to respect our money if we’re going to be successful in life.
We also need to value ourselves more. Karen talks about asking for what you’re worth when it comes to your rates/prices/salary, but this can also extend to valuing yourself as a person. Don’t put yourself on sale. If you’re good at what you do, you should be compensated for it fairly.
For Us, By Us?
Karen cites Target Market News with the staggering statistic that Blacks in America spend $700 billion (a year?), which is more than several small countries combined, but lag behind other racial groups in income, home ownership, and business ownership. She mentions that Blacks spend money on brand names and liquors but don’t own stock in those companies. Jews and Chinese keep their money in their community, but Blacks don’t. Many prominent businesses that sell very well to the Black community are not Black-owned, and some Black entrepreneurs may be threatened by large firms in the future.
Unlike some movements, Karen doesn’t advocate buying from Black owned businesses just because of race. She says you have to have a quality Black business if you expect support. Unclean establishments, inferior quality of products, and unfriendly/weak customer service are turn-offs for anyone. She talks about the mammy/blackface images we have come out of—or have we (noting the Madea films and other productions that don’t cast Blacks in the best light). She also goes into Bob Johnson’s sale of BET to Viacom and other scenarios. She argues that Blacks who get the coveted positions of working behind the scenes as producers, writers, and so on should represent us better and produce quality work. For many people of other races, what they see of us on BET and film is all they have to go on to make a judgment of what we’re like (right or wrong, like it or not, its the truth Ruth).
This school year is my daughter’s first one in public school. I assumed she would not have to wear uniforms, so I gave them all away before moving to Georgia last month. I asked someone why children had to wear uniforms in public school, and my friend told me it was because of the crazy things they showed up in before the change.
Work It Out
Karen talks about being excellent at work, and showing your worth as a dependable and indispensable person (see Seth Godin’s Linchpin for more on this)—not a slacker. She says that others who goof off at work, come in drunk or high, etc. may not get punished for it, but (as frustrating as that is,) it’s no excuse for you to lower your standards.
We don’t just represent ourselves as individuals, but as a race. Wearing clothes that fit (pull up your pants already!) is just a part of us taking pride in ourselves as we should always strive for excellence. As a people we should know how to speak well and dress well. It DOES matter what others think, especially in the workplace and marketplace. We have to be ready to compete. Who cares if someone thinks you’re “talking proper” or “talking White?” I need to show you that I am intelligent and make sure you can understand me—so my form of communication does that (my language AND my appearance), then mission accomplished. It’s up to US to break down negative stereotypes about our ignorance or stupidity. We don’t have to blast loud music with profanity out of our car windows, post inappropriate pictures on our profiles, or talk loudly on our cell phones in public places. Let’s wake up—when you know better you can do better.
The concepts that Karen discusses in this book are not new. Her inspiration, Nannie Helen Burroughs wrote Twelve Things the Negro Must Do waaaaaaaay back in 1890. That’s over a hundred years ago and we still have to be reminded. In the past two decades, Tavis Smiley has written about it, and so have Bill Cosby and countless others. When are we going to listen?