“Yeah, sure there’s an explosion of entrepreneurship happening for people of color, but they aren’t creating the next Facebook -- they’re starting nail salons and hair shops.”
I glared at this woman I used to work with across the small coffee table we shared at our brief and uncomfortable catch-up. I hoped to find some sign of an undiagnosed disease that makes you lose the functions of the brain that filter your words with common sense. Or maybe she spent that past Saturday polling every entrepreneur of color she knew (which I would guess is two and a half people) and 99% said they are hitting the nail business hard and if that doesn’t pan out, hair salon is a go.
I couldn’t understand why this woman would say this to me, after I excitedly explained that there’s an explosion of entrepreneurship for people of color that our society probably isn’t ready for.
She sipped her coffee without a pause, unaware that she uttered one of the most ignorant, limiting things I’d heard in a long time. I didn’t know what to say in response, and wanted to store my precious mental energy for more important things, like walking to the subway train alert enough to ensure I didn’t get run over by a speeding taxi.
I gave her my “Really??” look and a quick reply, “Well, a lot of the businesses being started by this community are sole proprietorships, but hair salons and nail shops aren't the only types of businesses being created, anyways…”
At that moment, I shelved her comments into the furnace of defiance I had already begun fueling for reshaping the discussion around creativity and innovation. It motivated me even more to create a platform that celebrates creativity and innovation for people who aren't typically included in those discussions.
Defiance Is like the Jelly to the Peanut Butter Sandwich of Creativity
This woman I had the meeting with holds various levels of social and financial power and could potentially open doors and catapult careers. Her thinking proved that internal bias can place unnecessary limitations on entire groups of people before they even have the chance to get started.
The good news is some of the greatest moments of creativity and innovation are sparked by defiantly opposing limitations, like:
American slaves creating hymnals as a way to get through adversity, pass on information, and establish identity.
Rosa Parks defiantly sitting on a part of the bus she shouldn’t have and jump starting a movement.
Sidney Poitier being initially rejected from theater school because of his accent, and later landing an Oscar.
Dr. Seuss’s first children's book being rejected by 27 publishers, but is now revered as one of the greatest children's authors of all time.
Defiance has been a great source of power for my own personal journey. When my favorite high school teacher remarked at me being accepted into Cornell University with, “What’s your mom gonna do, rob a bank?,” instead of congratulations, it motivated me to crush every test I took at that damn school and to moonwalk over the graduation line. Someone I dated told a friend of his that my writing isn’t very good, and while his writing isn’t very good either, it's in fact better than mine. I’m here now pounding the keys with my thoughts while giving a symbolic middle finger to him and his homie.
Twyla Tharp, a dancer and choreographer once said, “Creativity is an act of defiance.” When we create, we’re remaking the conventions and limitations around us into slightly better versions of themselves, or maybe entirely new entities that are unrecognizable when the metamorphosis is said and done. Limitations can birth creativity in wild ways that are both shocking and at times admirable.
Charlie Murphy was slapped by Rick James, more than once, in a ruckus time of partying in the late '80s/early '90s. Rick James summed up his actions as, “Cocaine is a hell of a drug” and Charlie stated that “Rick James wanted me to go into the “abyss” but I wasn’t down for that.” Charlie could have been salty and just ended the friendship but used the experiences to create one of the most iconic comedic sketches ever done on the Dave Chappelle Show.
There are probably times in your life when someone told you that you cannot do something or tried to dim your shine. The next time it occurs, think of the ways it can fire up what you want to achieve. Their perceived limitations are like the marinara sauce to your spaghetti, use that shit to enhance what you’re already about to throw down.