What Castro can teach us about business and culture.
While I might not agree with everything Castro did, what I do agree with is his decision to not beg to participate in the oppressor’s system on their terms. He recognized the value of Cuba and its people. While the US may have refused to do business with Cuba, many other nations continued to do so, allowing for Cuba to maintain a grasp on its culture without continued outsider distortion.
Basically what he said and what I say is “F*ck em.” That’s what I say to those who criticize my and others creative work for not making millions or drawing in crowds of thousands yet or winning certain "awards." Here’s why.
When the film Selma, written and directed by Ava Duvernay, did not win awards at the Oscars, Director Spike Lee was quoted as saying “F*ck em.” This same criticism has been directed at the critics and box office response to films like Birth of a Nation, and years of awards being passed on primarily to white casts and directors, despite great content being consistently produced by black and brown cohorts in the film industry.
This issue is not restricted only to Hollywood. The Hollywood reluctance to acknowledge people of color is a reflection of the glass ceiling within the broader culture. Yet, why should receiving those awards be a concern for any artist within the non-white population?
Lee states that results like these are because people in media and “award” circles vote for what’s most comfortable for them, and not those things that make them squirm inside of thoughts about societal issues or cultural realities. Therefore, these awards are not a good judge of quality content or even audience impact.
Bottom line is: What do you call “success?”
No one can define success for you. The root of unhappiness in my opinion is the acceptance of someone else’s or some media contrived definition of success. Seeing millions of followers and dollars and these busted gold statues as the aim first of all, is the murderer and greatest hindrance to progress and achievement.
When we focus on not getting these things, we waste our energy on that lack, instead of focusing our energy and spirit on production and growth. What is YOUR GOAL? Is your goal to reach an audience? To inspire others? To create quality product? Then these so-called awards are meaningless, just as meaningless as a gold star in elementary school. Getting that gold star did not determine whether or not you had completed the work or done something great. All the gold star meant was the teacher saw it and decided to acknowledge it.
We don’t need the acknowledgement or recognition of some small group playing a grown up version of a popularity contest. You are successful when you achieve the goals you have set, no matter who does or does not tell you “good job.”
But that DOES NOT mean we don’t deserve these awards.
Do not get it twisted. If we make great work, like Selma which was heralded as a shoe-in for awards that year, you’re damn right we should get them. But in the fight to gain recognition on all fronts, let’s be sure we remember to not beg or even give credence to these cliques of white dominated parts of our society.
They are not clubs that determine our value or success.
Treat them like the fake cliques that we faced in elementary and middle school. Some kid wants to act like they are the judge of greatness when we realize they are no better than any one else, and really their opinion does not matter UNLESS WE LET IT MATTER.
This is what reminds me of Cuba’s example. The US wanted to control the products coming out of the smaller nations, much the same as other large powers of the time, Russia and China for example. But in order for the US to give recognition, the smaller nations had to acquiesce to US demands and agree to its terms. Any nation that refused to participate as the larger power demanded faced punishment or isolation.
This never changed the demand or quality of Cuban products. So remember that the value of what you produce is not directed by those who horde awards for those who follow the pattern of the “crowd.” Remember where your power is.
Where is the power? There is power in the culture and community we create.
There is a reason why music and culture and even tourism is always chasing after what black and brown people do; because corporate entities see the value and allure of our communities. They see the joy and the passion, and they want to capitalize on it for their own profit.
There is and has long been a large market for cultural products, whether it be a clothing store, restaurant, dance classes, music, and also in other industries such as construction, community development, and any business you can think of.
Your heritage can be a major asset. They obviously realize that and have tried to commodify other cultural products for their own gain. Think of how Bourbon St in New Orleans is tourist alley, selling a watered-down version of what’s supposed to be New Orleans. Meanwhile, if you take a step out to Frenchman, Treme, St. Claude, Algiers, etc, you’ll find the very culture and allure that people desire from a New Orleans experience. You can’t get that in the washed out corporate directed Quarter area.
No matter what these other entities do, here’s the one thing they can never attain: AUTHENTICITY.
We don’t need to get a seat at that table when they are constantly reaching over to take food off of ours and make money on it.
That knowledge is our greatest power to overthrow their control over our greatest commodities: our creativity and our dollar and our ability to direct culture and fun.
So where ever you are, whatever your heritage, remember that what you produce is authentic and original. Set your goals on what matters, and it’s damn sure not begging or even demanding their petty ass recognition at an awards show.
For myself, my goal is to have an impact on whatever audience is present. That keeps my focus on what matters most so that whatever I produce and whoever I connect with, the results are an affirmation of greatness and connection. So long as I achieve these things in all that I do, there is no greater award possible.
In closing, here’s my best advice; flat out, be unbothered. Set your mind and actions on building your brand, on creating, on connecting with ALL POSSIBLE CUSTOMERS and supporters. Do not limit yourself to any particular demographic. Everyone is a possible client or customer or supporter. See every face as an opportunity.
Your future impact is as large as you allow it to be. You can open the door just a crack and let only a few people in, those you’re most comfortable with, or you can open that door wider and let the world know you are here to produce the product they crave.