Hustling Backwards 101: Trying to 'Fake It Til You Make It'

pretty woman Last week, designer, A-list socialite and girlfriend to Mick Jagger L’Wren Scott committed suicide, hanging herself inside a $5.6 million New York City apartment. “Within hours,” according to the New York Post, “Scott’s life was revealed to have become an elaborate facade.” Her lifestyle—at least the one she showcased on Instagram—included fancy vacations arrived at by private airplanes, plenty of leisure activities and high-end frocks, as well as a company that was $6 million in debt. The Post described her as “just one of countless New Yorkers who secretly fake their fabulous lives.”

But “fronting,” as any black person under the age of 40 would likely describe this phenomenon, isn’t limited to New York City, any more than it’s the sole domain of the upper-echelon (and mostly white) examples the New York Post writer used to back up her assertion. Every black person knows somebody—if you don’t, you might be that somebody—who moves with a “fake it till you make it” or “ride it till the wheels fall off” philosophy. It’s a pervasive mindset: According to a 2013 Prudential survey, African Americans are significantly more likely to have some type of debt (94 percent) than the general population (82 percent).

Writer Jennifer Sanchez captured this mindset in a (hilarious) article last year, “‘25 Sitting on 25 Mill’: Why Rap Culture Is Ruining Our Generation’s Perception of Money”:

Here I am: 25 and employed by a company that pays me pretty well. That’s all well and good, but where the hell is my Lamborghini?! ... This is bulls--t ...

Our generation has grown up thinking that we are young, we are talented, and we deserve boats and hoes …

We have rented limos to drive us around for nights of club hopping, planned weekend trips to Atlantic City to stay in presidential suites, and bought VIP tickets to events that were completely unnecessary. Why? Because Big Sean does it. A$AP Rocky does it. Because Tyga hasn’t had a hit since “Rack City,” and even he does it. So, why don’t we?”

Her story—and the Post’s story on Scott—reminded me of the wise words of an elder I met in Los Angeles. I was in town to promote my book and had stopped by a very fabulous—and free—party. I encountered a man whom I’d met at a prior event and who had identified himself as a veteran talent agent. After a quick round of small talk, he had an observation to share.

“You know what I call the people in here?” he asked rhetorically, looking around the room of very attractive people. “FAB,” he said, answering his own question. “Fabulous and Broke.”

He explained that fronting was more or less the L.A. way, and because he didn’t want to single out his own city, he added that he’d also lived in Washington, D.C., New York City and Atlanta over the past 20 years, and that was “the way” for a lot of people in those places, too. “The problem is, the vast majority of people don’t ever make it,” he explained. “The reality is, you make a show for people you don’t know, who don’t really care about you, and you end up bankrupt by 40.”

His story reminded me of a friend long ago who was trying to break into the New York nightlife business. He was convinced that in order to be taken seriously, he had to look like “the people” who already had what he wanted. It was a classic mistake of trying to have at the beginning what someone else had after years of hard work.

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