How does one survive in a jungle? How does one survive in an environment where volatility is the norm and there’s no observed rule of law outside of one’s own self-interest?
The characters in The Chi have had to figure that out for more than a season and especially after the vicious assault on 73-year-old Ms. Ethel in the Season Two premiere. Detective Toussaint (Crystal Dickinson), the new detective investigating the assault, described Chicago as “a f**king jungle.” The new episode, entitled “Every Day I’m Hustlin,’” made the primary survival tactic in this jungle clear: You must hustle your humanity.
Out of all of the nefarious characters in The Chi universe, it’s Brandon’s girlfriend Jerrika Little (Tiffany Boone) who employs that tactic the clearest in this episode. She does so in pristine offices, decadent fundraisers in expensive courtyards and her fancy apartment. In The Chi, a jungle can take many shapes, but the hustle remains essential.
Jerrika comes from affluent parents who are real estate developers and judge people’s value by what they do for a living. Her father, while disparaging her choice to date Brandon, says he didn’t “spend 100 grand on Spelman for [her] to marry a cook,” as if his daughter’s life is a property he’s added improvements to in hopes of a large return on his investment. Even though Jerrika is displeased with her parent’s emotionless pragmatism, the episode shows how she’s internalized their worldview and it is that view that is the impetus of her hustle.
As a real estate agent of her own, Jerrika abandons her blackness in order to land a six-figure deal for a housing property funded by black business woman Harriet Brown (Jacqueline Williams). Sitting in her office, with her degrees and achievements decking the walls behind her, Brown rejects Jerrika’s proposal for the inclusion of low-income housing and pejoratively refers to black people seeking low-income housing as “those people” that will ruin your property. You can almost see the battle between Jerrika’s blackness and her career aspirations waged in her head as she twitches in her seat, rattles her fingers on the desk and leaves an uncomfortably long pause between Brown’s dismissal and her response.
But, Jerrika changes her stance and even says she personally wouldn’t recommend low-income housing because, for her, upward social mobility is tantamount to survival, and not that easy to vilify. This idea of feeling forced to abandon your blackness in the pursuit of mobility in business is an obstacle millions of black women face in their respective fields. In 2010, Chasity Jones had a customer service representative job offer rescinded from Catastrophe Management Solutions due to her having dreadlocks; a decision the 11th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals deemed legal in 2016. When the law of the land doesn’t protect you, then jungle rules apply, and sometimes that involves camouflaging.
Young Money APAA sports agent Nicole Lynn is one of the few black women certified to be a sports agent. She’s made it to a rarified space partly by not fully being herself. “I still have never worn braids at the NFL Combine. I’m not there yet. I still have an act of ‘covering.’ Covering is when you hide something about yourself to conform to dominant culture,” Lynn said in a recent interview. Realities such as these show how dismissing Jerrika’s decisions as simply bad belies the difficulty of being black in a world where advancement is harder for you than for anyone else.
Jerrika isn’t the only one in the episode with their humanity and their hustle at odds. At a mediation between Emmett and the mother of his son, Tiffany (Hannah Hall), to establish financial support for the child, Emmett learns he’ll have to hustle to get a piece of his humanity back. The normally boisterous Emmett whimpers to almost a despondent whisper when he rhetorically asks the mediator, “I got to pay for my son, but I can’t see him?” Emmett’s situation evokes similar emotional conflicts as Jerrika as the cards seem to be stacked against Emmett, but it’s largely due to his own personal faults.
The most vicious example of the battle between hustle and humanity occurs following the passing of Junie, a friend to Reg (Barton Fitzpatrick) and the gang he leads. For a few minutes, as the young black men that are part of the gang watch social media videos of their fallen friend in their dilapidated trap house, you can see the compassion in those young men who, more than likely, have had to do inhumane acts for their gang. But, in less than a minute, Reg convinces his group to abandon any emotional mourning of their lost friend and instead honor his legacy by hustling more to get money to pay to the leadership of the 63rd St Mob to avoid being murdered.
In The Chi, emotions can be hindrances to survival, leaving a chasm between one’s hustle and one’s humanity that, for some, is irreparable. It’ll be interesting to see what’s left of the people in The Chi after they’ve given away pieces of their humanity to survive.