On Friday, a Yelp/Eat24 employee wrote a lengthy open letter to her CEO, Jeremy Stoppelman, about her compensation, which she said came out to about $8 an hour after taxes. A few hours later, she said she was fired. It created a hot debate about how expensive the Bay Area is to live in, and whether or not companies should pay entry-level employees more.
On Monday, a 29-year old hero millennial responded in a post on medium. That article was since re-posted on businessinsider.com and has been distributed throughout my facebook feed like a venereal disease for about a week. As long as we are writing open letters, this is an open letter to Stefanie Williams, the second woman in the correspondence.
Dear Stefanie Williams,
After reading your piece detailing the absolute struggle that you dealt with while working as a well-payed bartender in the suburbs of one of the most expensive cities in the world while living rent-free at your parents’ house, I just wanted to say your words are a powerful example for white millennials like me who are sick of other white millennials clambering for handouts . You and me, Stefanie, we get it. Life isn’t about sticking up for yourself in the face of corporate greed, it’s about getting by, hauling yourself up by the bootstraps 1 and getting picked up as a screenwriter while working at a bar. Our parents did it, and we did it. 2
My name is Joey. I’m not much younger than you. I will be turning 25 in a couple of months which puts me around the age of famed millennial cry-baby and likely socialist Bernie Sanders-supporting Talia Jane. It seems like a lifetime ago that I sat in my sophomore year frat house room crying over the curdled milk on my nightstand as I realized I would never again be able to smoke weed in the morning. But here I am, having survived my early 20’s with apparently whatever it is you call humility. 3
I can’t thank you enough Stef for teaching that ungrateful, young snake person Talia the value of a good work ethic. Despite sharing an age with Talia, I too understand the difference that a hypothetical 5 years can make. I imagine those years are incredibly important and I was proud to share in the narrative of your struggle.
You inspired me to put pen to paper to tell my own story of redemption, so it could act as a lesson to those young people who lack the conviction and the work ethic to succeed in the world our parent’s created for us – a world where we must rely on our wits, industriousness and privilege to attain respectably middling positions at semi-impressive sounding institutions, all so we can rub it in the faces of people we went to high school with. 4
When I was 21, I had just graduated College. I was sent into the employment-seeking world in the wake of one of the worst economic recessions in recent memory. In the middle of summer, young and (I guess?) scared about my future, I was deposited from the bosom of the liberal arts and welcomed to the “real world.” 5
I too, like both of you lovely young women, was an English major 6 and I also wasn’t sure what employment options my degree left me, having spent the majority of college just generally not thinking about what came next.
Like you, Stefanie, and fellow white people nationwide, my knee-jerk reaction to the fear of unemployment was to get drunk. Having set my mind to this noble task, I proceeded in getting a bit hammered outside of a bar in Seattle with some of my friends about a week after graduation. It was early in the day. A former professor of mine walked down the street and asked me if I was interested in getting into consulting. Not having a job, and with the accumulated angst of multiple days of unemployment threatening to dim the fire of my capitalist spirit – I said yes without thinking. I accepted reality and sold out to pay my bills, biding my time until I could, in your words:
“[find] another job that was more my speed, something my mother could be proud of, something worthy of my English Language and Literature degree and my Chaucer reciting mind.” 7
Little did I know that jobs pandering to creatives were few and far between. The experience I was getting was all geared towards business consulting and while it is hardly a bad industry, it didn’t play to the strengths or ideals that I held for myself. Like you, I struggled through the hardship of living with my parents in a beautiful white suburban home while commuting 2 hours to work each day. At times, I would reach into the pantry and find peanut butter captain crunch, when I had hoped for crunchberries. I again see in your words expression for that feeling of quiet desperation I experienced in moments like this. I passed by the parents of my high school classmates in the grocery store and using my stern power of discernment, I determined these looks were probably pitying and probably condescending accusations of how I had moved back in with my parents. Again, I turn to you:
“[I dealt with the pitying looks by ] laughing to myself knowing their child was addicted to coke and hating their ‘amazing’ job. I paid my dues. I did what I had to do in order to survive, with the help of my family. I was gracious and thankful and worked as hard as I could even if it was a job that sometimes made me question my worth. And I was successful because of that.”
There is nothing like a parent’s ignorance of a child’s drug addiction to brighten one’s thoughts in a gloomy time. This was my comfort as I spent years 8 charting the rickety path from middle-class white suburbia to middle-class white suburbia. 9
Again, I need to turn to your post. As usual, Stefanie, I call on your considerable mental firepower to put this millennial in her place. Prepare to be re-post-slammed, Talia!
“To [Talia], that is more acceptable than taking a job in a restaurant, or a coffee shop, or a fast food place. And that’s the trouble with not just your outlook, but the outlook of so many people your age. You think it is somehow more impressive to ask strangers for money by writing some “witty” open letter than it is to put on your big girl pants and take a job you might be embarrassed by in order to make ends meet. And as someone who not only took the “embarrassing job,” but thrived at it, made bank from it and found a career path through it, I am utterly disgusted by your attitude.”
We sure did slam that Talia girl, huh Stefanie? If she had just quietly put up with her perceived injustices and followed our trail-blazing example, perhaps she too would have found herself re-posted by businessinsider.com! Her little girl pants clearly didn’t have the perspective afforded by a couple years in the service industry or an entry-level office position.
I am tired of doing this so I will steal your conclusion.
Darling, darling, darling. Consider yourself double-condescended, darling! Memes!
Let us adopt real-person speak for a second. The original poster, Talia, was making a statement against a perceived injustice. Her employer denied employees full benefits and didn’t provide a great wages. That sort of injustice exists, she was just not the perfect person to represent that experience. It is true that struggling is a part of life, it is also true that neither I, nor Talia, nor Stefanie are the people doing the struggling.
Stefanie, you can’t just take a moment of personal strife and pretend that strife is somehow universal. There are serious socioeconomic issues in this country that are exacerbated by all of these bootstrap narratives that make it seem as though everybody can just move their way up the ladder with hard work as though the opportunity for economic advancement is universal. Not everyone has a family they can stay with while they save money. Not everyone has a college degree to fall back on. The narrative of overcoming socioeconomic strife is not ours to tell and, for all 3 of the speakers in this exchange (though I really doubt anyone will read this so probably just two speakers), I think it is damaging and embarrassing for our stories to fill this space while the narratives of those who actually struggle are buried.
This is not a “get-em girl” moment. There are injustices that are perpetrated every day in corporate America. Talia, yours is not a great example. There are people who overcome struggle every day to make a better place in this world which is sadly defined by earning potential. Stefanie, yours is not really one of them (and neither is mine). The decision to put Talia down while humble-bragging about a life story that is rank with your own privilege doesn’t help anything.
The people who are reporting and liking this article are the same people who will use your story as an excuse to deny opportunities to those that don’t have them. The same people who could not only benefit from an improved minimum wage (or better healthcare) but may stake their survival on it are the ones hurt when Talia’s example can be brought up as fuel for an argument that says: “these young people are just asking for free stuff.” It is our job to deny the fuel that feeds the fire of socioeconomic injustice. The best way for us to do that is to shut the hell up and let people who actually have something interesting to say actually say it. I am sorry I had to be a condescending dick for like 3 pages to prove this point. It was really fun to do. Bye!