Swimming As A Clever Black Is Giving Me Ashy Skin
I remember, before I started drinking, exiting my angry adolescence, Kendrick Lamar Duckworth asked me:
“Nigga why you babysitting only two or 3 shots I’ma show you how to turn it up a notch First you get a swimming pool full of liquor then you dive in it."
At first blush, this was a song about peer pressure in the contextual report of alcoholism, something that brings the black community a severe dose of peril. However, the past few days have given me insight into how we can stretch this into an allegory that Kendrick Lamar did not intend for us. The beauty of art is that while the artist embodies their own experience in the message of their art, how you relate and find favor in the craft is derived from your own experience that makes you engage with a critical appreciation or disputation.
On dry land or the not so dry astral plane with ether and all things spiritual, I have come to find that there is nothing as fluid as influence. The most significant swimming pool of them all is where one can quite literally be drunk off perception. Those who know me personally know how I have fallen victim to the perpetual cycle of peer pressure. It is all a matter of difference about whether they have benefited from my naivete or they have shared their disappointments of it.
Either way, my ego has taken a dose, more than 2 or 3 shots of wanting something that someone else has. Lusting magic which works for my peers but will not work out for me because I am made in the image of a path less traveled. Granted, I have not figured out my story, and I am swimming with the fish to pass the time productively until my calling aligns with my wallet. However, I have started to drown, to choke on the excessive role play that fills the souls of those around me while my little well runs dry.
Anchored in being the clever black, anchored in being the reasonable friend, the skeptic who is not brave enough to call bullshit on anything that waivers from his purpose and subsequently walk away from it, I swim. I swim aimlessly in pools of opportunities that do not cater to my dreams, in empty promises that can only be filled with a full day of work that leaves me with less room to be myself, in placing my environment before me because fear precedes the favor commanded by my melanin.
I have an intense fear of these water[s] (sorry Mick Jenkins); these pools have a habit of mutating into a lake or a sea. And this sea is the hand that feeds, and the only thing worse than biting the hand that feeds is saying No thank you bass, ek is nie honger nie. How do you turn down good food? Especially when you can’t afford a seat at the table? When I try to rise to the surface, I am anchored back into wading by recusant questions: who do you think you are to not take the bare minimum like the rest of us?
Us, The Clever Blacks, Us, your fellow blacks who need you for free labor, Us, who wish to own half of your potential, Us, Who thank God you don't know your own strength; otherwise, we'd be in trouble. Us, who need you to swim this way so you can enjoy success on our terms. I down those shots, drowning in bottles of abantu bazothini. Often, those bantu are not strangers. They are your own family, those bantu are the disciples in your Jesus walk, and you have no clue that there are no Peter's or Simons.
The 48 laws of power stipulate (contextually) that everyone has a judas in them, and we have to live with that (in short, fear your friends more than your enemies because friends can be roused by jealousy). In these swimming pools, in the two or three shots that have stained my skin and rendered me ashy in front of the mirror, I have often concealed my own brand of Big Judas Energy. At first, my jealousy was based on what my friends had that I did not; over time, this changed.
Over time, I envied how my friends or the people I looked up to were living their truths, I envied that they did not settle as much as I have, that I am not as brave as they are, that I squirm my no's out and I am quick to say yes at the face of people-pleasing, and just when I am about to swim to shore, to catch the Vaseline vacation that will give my ashy skin a break. I am anchored into my group identity, shaping my individual identity on social conventions and expectations.
Keeping up with the Joneses has left my lineage in shambles. I have neglected to ask what do the Dladla’s want. Forget the cheque, forget the pretty girls and smartphones, forget embodying my friends’ ambitions as my modus operandi matching my timeline with those who do not share my path. What do I want? What cuddles me to sleep? What keeps my spirit intact when the world is falling apart? Why not give more time and energy to that which gives my life amplified purpose? Why bend my will to the status quo?
If you are like me, reading this, here is a challenge. Let us swim against the current, let us find our way to the shore, and let us find a place to vomit. To cleanse, shed our skins of all that is not on our calling’s speed dial even at the risk of being called snakes. Let us be black mambas for all I care. I imagine our first salary from our calling will feel 10 times better than a phat salary from doing what we have to do.
I get it, I am an idealist, and you know what? I’ll drink to that.