What Grace Jones Taught Me about the Word Entitlement

Grace Jones Livin' It Up Wikimedia Commons: Madinka 22 June 2007
Grace Jones Livin’ It Up
Wikimedia Commons: Madinka
22 June 2007

“I was an outcast because of my funny accent, the color of my skin, a strange-looking face according to the New York fashion world, and because in so many ways I didn’t fit in. Black, but strangely full of myself. Oddly entitled seeming, which the African-Americans weren’t. I was expected as a black model to act a little humble, a little grateful. No way.”

-From Grace Jones biography I’ll Never Write My Memoirs

I always hated the word entitlement. It brought to mind technology crazed millennials who had parents on speed-dial and 7th place soccer trophies. It brought to mind #firstworldproblems and blatant chauvinism.

Entitlement.

Ew.

And then I read this one part in Malcolm Gladwell’s Outliers. The book is all about the why’s of success stories, the social reasons that are often left out of the equation of rags-to-riches legends.

Entitlement was not painted as a four-letter word here. It was one of the many behaviors that separated those who succeeded in life and those who did not. When you are entitled, you expect good service, you expect people to take you seriously, you are not afraid to make choices that benefit Y-O-U. (Stay with me here, I promise this is not Donald Trump speaking.)

BUT. Entitlement can also veer out of course, resulting in everything from grown-up tantrums to chaotic violence.

So what’s a girl to do?

Enter the Empress of Weird. I’ve always admired the craziness of Grace Jones. There aren’t that many courageously zany yet elegant black women who did what she did (and does). She was completely unapologetic in the way she created herself and credits her childhood in Jamaica for instilling this pride,

“…I grew up in a world where our family was at the pinnacle of everything, in religion and politics, so discrimination didn’t mean anything to me. Being black didn’t hold me back in Jamaica, and I rarely thought of it in America.”

I wish I could say I had the same experience, but I myself have been painfully aware of the politics of gender and race for as long as I can remember.

What's in a word?
What’s in a word?

My parents raised me and my siblings to be proud of who we were, but living in this country and being presented with redundant often uninspiring, dangerous, and downright idiotic ideas of blackness is a hard thing to ignore.

Still.

I think I want some Grace-Jones-entitlement in my life.

Even a sprinkle of what she has going on would benefit me.

For way too long in my life, I have expected to be treated in ways that don’t benefit me—or anyone else. I have been hesitant and yielding. Politeness and reservation were also behaviors which my parents taught me. Service above self is a motto that my time in the Coast Guard branded into my consciousness.

And I believe in these messages. I really do.

However comma: I also believe in self-care and self-respect.

And a little bit of entitlement.

My favorite piece within the definition of entitlement is the fact of having a right to something.

I don’t have a right to everything. Like, duh. That’s just bananas. I know there will be experiences I don’t get, places I’ll never venture, prizes I won’t win.

And I am not Grace Jones (insert crying emoji…)

I do have a right to a LOT more happiness, silliness, glamour, and weirdness than I have previously allowed myself. And it’s totally okay to enjoy the fullness of these desires out loud.

Entitlement doesn’t feel like a curse word to me. Not anymore.

Entitlement feels like a life where I take responsibility for my desires as much as I can. Life is short and I am not going to be around forever. So why not enjoy this ride while I can? Why not expect to enjoy life as much as I can?

Entitlement. It’s beginning to have a bit of a ring to it.