Published on February 25th, 2020 | by Candace Simpson
Getting What We Are Owed
It’s February. It is also the beginning of what I’ve personally considered “Negro Woman Employment Season.” Starting right around the King holiday in January, this season includes February and ends in March. I have noticed over the last few years that there is an uptick of requests for consulting projects and speaking invitations. It is almost as if people remember that Black people and women exist in February and March. And, if you’re lucky, you might get to double dip and be remembered twice in a year! All to be forgotten the rest of the year and to witness exclusively cishet men on panels and preaching lineups the rest of the year. Hooray! We get two months!
However, if you are in my boat, you might be a little stressed during this season. Because one would think that working harder for Negro Women’s Employment Season means you get more money more frequently. But you don’t. You are not paid every 2 weeks like most of your peers. You are paid when you complete work. If you’re lucky, you might be paid in installments.
But bills do not come in installments. They come once a month. And train fare is due immediately. Health insurance co-pays are due immediately. Groceries are to be paid for immediately, save for the few grapes you taste while shopping. And if you’re a consultant, you will have personal expenses that make your work possible.
When I shifted from a full-time job to working for myself, I started googling videos, blogs, and resources for independent consultants. How do successful Black women contractors negotiate pay? What’s the best way to inquire about honorarium without appearing greedy? What’s the best way to negotiate up? Should I advocate for transportation to and from the event if I’m traveling beyond my train line? Am I exploiting the work? Am I behaving like a diva? And how can I find peace in the midst of all this?
And on and on down the rabbit hole until a message visited me from the Great Beyond… Okay, maybe it was Nicki Minaj’s “pickle juice” speech:
Now, when I come to a photoshoot, let it be of quality. Because I put quality in what I do. I spend time, and I spend energy, and I spend effort, and I spend everything I have—every fiber of my being to give people quality. So, if I turn up to a photoshoot and you had—you got a fifty-dollar clothes budget and some sliced pickles on the board, you wanna know what? No, I am gonna leave. Is that wrong? For wanting more for myself? Wanting people to treat me with respect? But you know what? Next time they know better. But had I accepted the pickle juice, I would be drinking pickle juice right now.
Why was I blaming myself for expecting organizations to hold up their end of the deal? And why was I doing so when the world was so clearly conspiring against my flourishing?
It reminded me of a recent experience. An organization was looking to have me as a panelist. I researched the organization and learned that they had COIN. It would have been my first time speaking at a for-profit, corporate event, as I usually find myself in the non-profit and local faith-based sectors. Surely, this organization that makes and generates millions of dollars a year could sponsor my speaker’s fee, right?
I asked the event coordinator, “Is there any form you need on my end to process an honorarium? If so, please let me know what you need and how much the proposed fee is.” Because I had been trained to ask the question.
I was met with the most baffling response I’d ever received. Someone planning to host an event for a multi-million-dollar organization said to me, “We are an all-volunteer organization. There’s no cost for tickets, we don’t have funds we could put towards an honorarium.” Then they apologized profusely for their miscommunication.
I was upset. I felt exploited. While it’s true the “exposure” could have opened the door for other high-paying opportunities, I’m tired of waiting for that magical “one day” when the work I’ve put in and the debt I owe to two separate institutions of higher learning will pay off. This practice of building platforms and e-mail lists off the backs of unpaid (or underpaid) consultants is absolutely unethical.
As we start a new year and people who call themselves “creatives” have built out their SMART goals, I feel compelled to remind us all that it is not our responsibility to be savvier than the people who exploit us. It is the world’s responsibility to be just. It costs money to travel to gigs. It costs money for chart paper, markers, extension cords, internet service, books. It costs money to eat. It costs money for health insurance. It costs money to live. And sadly, there is no amount of financial literacy seminars that will train exploitative companies/institutions/schools to do right. They’ll just tell us “eat out less” and “give up your daily latte.”
In 2020, I hope that each person who has to have “the money conversation” feels safe, brave, and respected enough to ask for what they need. Whether you are a server trying to organize your schedule at the restaurant this week, a workshop leader negotiating a contract, a babysitter explaining that more children cared for at once means more money, an exotic dancer tired of her tips disappearing, or anybody else having the money conversation, it is my hope that you are met with generosity. You deserve it—just because you exist.
Fannie Lou Hamer is the mind behind the quote “I’m sick and tired of being sick and tired.” And she meant it. Sadly, Hamer died at 60 years old due to complications of hypertension and cancer. She also was victim to an invasive hysterectomy, which she did not consent to, as part of Mississippi’s program to sterilize Black women. It is true that Hamer and I have very different life stories, and yet, something feels familiar about the passion in her speeches and the tiredness in her eyes…
So as we journey through Black History Month and Women’s History Month, let us have the self-reflection to consider when we have been comrades and when we have been adversaries. Throwing the names of revolutionaries on a tee-shirt, their headshot on a flyer, or their face on an inspirational meme means absolutely nothing when we do not care about the material realities of those people.
You deserve care. You deserve love, your bills paid, and rest uninterrupted by financial anxiety nightmares.
The rent is too damn high for this.
Candace Simpson is an educator, minister, and writer. She believes that Heaven is a Revolution that can happen right here on Earth. She invites others into that philosophy at www.fishsandwichheaven.com.