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How to Be Upwardly Mobile While Maintaining Your Street Cred

Updated: Aug 22, 2011 13:06
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I went to an underperforming high school with prison bars around it.  I wore secondhand clothes, loitered on corners, witnessed armed robberies at KFC, and earned the nickname “Tasty Vanilla” from my peers.  Please don’t alert the authorities, but I’ve even spray painted on a wall before.  No matter how you cut it, my teen years were somewhat stereotypically “street.”  Since my modest beginnings, I’ve gone to college, gotten a job in the Big City, and traveled to places much more interesting than my hometown– all experiences which have forced me to use the word “fool” less and the vocabulary that I didn’t acquire through expensive SAT prep courses more.  As I continue to live in places like NYC and discover just how preposterously loaded people can be, I believe more and more that the bourgey life is just downright lame.  My ghetto teen years were spent with “real” people– people who didn’t care about name-dropping or clothing brands or brunching while wearing oversized sunglasses and holding French Bulldogs.  But alas, if I wanna be able to take care of my mama in her old age, I gotta make those dollars– and to make those dollars, I sometimes have to rub elbows with the very breed that I so despise (which, as you may know, I have trouble with).  Through my Dickensian (or, Jay-Z-ian?) climb out the ‘hood, I’ve learned that reconciling that sometimes-necessary bourgey facade and a “low income” interior– or, being upwardly mobile without compromising your street cred– can be tough.  Here’s how I walk that fine line:

Speak:  I’ll admit that talking to me can be like talking to a Valley Girl chola after she just studied for her AP Lit test– in short, a mind-boggling experience.  Like Edward James Olmos in Blade Runner, my spoken word is is a mish mash of high and low, street slang and middle school Wordly Wise vocab tests.  Using the occasional “cacophonous” or “portmanteau” lets my hoodrat hometown friends know that I’m an educated lady now, while tossing around “for a minute” and “rich bitch” shows The City wannabes  that I’m a babe who keeps it real, and makes me seem approachable.  Just try to tone it down in the workplace, because I accidentally called my boss “fool” one time and it was supes awkward.

Dress:  To know me is to know that I push the biz cas’ envelope until it’s ready to burst.  No matter how drab your job forces you to dress, I think it’s always possible to squeeze in some subversive edge through accessories.  I put this in action through my personal trifecta of NHR (nails, hoops, rings), but hey, express yourself how you see fit.  Gothic Princess?  Sport some winged eyeliner.  Skater Dude?  Try some sneaks or disheveled hair.  Look clean and put-together, while displaying That One Thing that sets you apart from the normals and shows how gorgeously multifaceted you truly are.

Love:  Don’t date a financier, a WASP-y trust funder, or a combo of the two.  I’m not saying they’re all bad, but wouldn’t you rather have a self-made man or lady without dollar signs in their eyes?  For me, it all comes down to one thing– passion.  I don’t care what you do, just be interested  in something that isn’t money– music, dog grooming, making burritos, whatever.  Be the Gail to my Oprah and want to make an impact upon this world that goes beyond sitting around and looking hot/rich together.  That says “badass power couple” more than anything.

Work:  Don’t be a deadbeat– do what you gotta do to survive.  Be gainfully employed, but also chase those dreams, baby.  Nothing is more street than burning the midnight oil to go after what you love– music, dog grooming, making burritos, whatever.

Feel:  Care about a world that is bigger than you.  I know that sounds like some cheesy self-help mumbo jumbo, but seriously– basic bitches need to realize that there are more important things going on than a sale at J. Crew.  I totes believe that being nice will get you places, so do it.  Please?

Everyone thinks having street cred means wearing baggy pants or using foul language, but it’s actually so much more.  For me, it means balancing casual and professional, crass and class, dreams and obligations.  It means having a broad worldview and recognizing the ridiculousness of that cookie-cutter American Dream that we’re all supposed to want.  I’m personally glad that I grew up without “White Girl Problems,”– because honestly, they make me want to barf.  Brunching, summer-ing Carrie Bradshaw wannabes– get some perspective and stop making me barf!

Image via my bro.

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Carrie Laven - Pretty Penniless

Carrie Laven - Pretty Penniless

Carrie Laven is a natural-born storyteller from California, but she
lives in New York now. She likes dogs, nail art, and Mexican food,
but mostly she likes scoring sweet deals at thrift stores. She tends
to have a flair for the dramatic.