I binge watched ‘She’s Gotta Have It’ like everyone else on Thanksgiving ’17. The series was so interesting that I repeat binged 4 or 5 times afterward. There were new, and a few problematic, things that I noticed each time, causing my initial perspective of the show to change. One scene, though, no matter how many times I watched it gave me the same uncomfortable pause about how trivial bartering amongst entrepreneurs can be.
In the #LuvIzLuv episode Nola Darling (DeWanda Wise) visited her therapist Dr. Jamison (Heather Headley) for a session. Nola spent the better part of the hour blushing over her girlfriend Opal and how complete she makes her feel. Because Dr. Jamison is a great therapist, she was excited for Nola while also pointing out potential warnings signs for the future. Seeing Black women value their mental health is refreshing. But with everything, things we value come with a cost that must be paid in time, energy, or in this case, money.
Dr. Jamison wrapped up the session with a question familiar to her profession, “How do you want to pay today — cash or check?” Without missing a beat, Nola slyly suggested she open a tab and in exchange for payment, they barter mental health services for art. As a woman entrepreneur and single mom out here busting my ass — and one who was raised by service providers who typically are paid after services rendered — I was furious! I wanted to pop Nola in the neck for wasting doc’s time simply because she knew she didn’t have the money when she went in that office.
Dr. Jamison was rightfully irritated. However by the end of the series, two new pieces of art adorned her walls, making it was obvious that she agreed to the barter. Apparently she became infatuated with Nola (like everyone else) and susceptible to her ways. Fine, I guess.
Anger aside, this scene made me reflect on the importance of setting clear boundaries when working (or entrepreneur-ing) in a non traditional sense. When I first began my journey as a one woman show I was clueless about organizing my income. I knew I wanted to be paid well but the semantics of getting there, and thus, holding patrons accountable for paying me was difficult. At this point, I lead with my end game in mind, which is being paid in full and on time for the quality services I provide. While Dr. Jamison is much further on her boss journey than I am — I mean, she has a New York office for crying out loud! — I found it disappointing that she let Nola get away with that scheme.
I’m not saying working pro bono is a bad thing. Nor are payment plans or extending payment deadlines. I’m also not saying that bartering is a bad thing. In fact, when the exchange is mutually beneficial, great things can happen from there. The difference here is that Nola didn’t schedule any of these arrangements before hand. As stated, she knew she couldn’t afford her appointment but still waltzed in as if she could. Or worse, she waltzed in knowing her doctor would let her off scot-free. Trickery at its best — especially considering that she tore Jamie Overstreet (Lyriq Bent) a $10,000 asshole for defaulting on one of her paintings — I was unimpressed with Nola’s convenient forgetfulness of “the struggle” as she forced Dr. Jamison to watch on the sideline. We shouldn’t do that to each other, fam.
For Black women in particular, talking about money or what we’re actually worth financially isn’t always an easy topic. This scene is a reminder that Black women across various industries are severely underpaid or are an afterthought when it comes to paying us for work we’ve done. We must hold perpetrators accountable and demand our worth at every turn. For my folks surviving on 1099’s one trickster not paying an invoice could easily put your livelihood in jeopardy. As sad as that sounds it is true and not fair for those who want/use our services not to pay for them. I’ve learned that the way we do business, from how we handle “brain pickers” to accurately pricing standalone products to how we categorize payers and non payers, matters.
Almost five years into this path, I’m still evolving and determining the ways to live my best entrepreneurial life. Two things I know for sure are that I deserve all my ends because pretty wall art surely doesn’t stock my fridge or pay my bills.
Ariel C. Williams is the founding editor of Slay Culture and author of The Girl Talk Chronicles (Amazon). Follow her on Instagram + Twitter @Ariel_CWilliams.