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"Incorporating your vices" into your art and your public image was something I was talking about with my friend recently. I think "incorporating" could easily be replaced with the word "admit" and it would work out just the same. It really comes down to encouraging people to find a truer and more clear knowledge of who they are, IN TOTAL. That is how you encourage healthy humans and healthy human communities. Just as Askia Muhammad said recently (link), Mr. [Elijah] Muhammad taught him the six most important words in the English language: "Accept your own and be yourself." I take "yourself" to be "your entire self".
After Erykah Badu came out and hit mainstream America with the headwrap in 1997, some folks swore she was on to the way to uplift the people. Righteousness -- whether actual or romantic -- was what was up. Dead Prez dropped they album some time later and it seemed like it was fresh for thugs to be on some deep shit.
The only question in my mind at the time was: are we on this deep shit because we really understand it? Or are we on this "deep shit" because it's what's poppin right now. Like "the force" in Star Wars, Dead Prez's track "Mind Sex" was a tool used by brothers both for good and for "the dark side".
In other words, there were many brothers smart enough to know that playing that track's lyrics for a girl -- "before we make love, let's have a good conversation" -- was the guaranteed way to get in bed with her. Sell her an image of yourself that is righteous and caring, and if you're a good enough salesman, she'll surrender.
As I mentioned in response to Askia Muhammad's essay about his anger that the Nation Of Islam is excluded from conversations on Black Power (link) -- even the Nation Of Islam, FOR SOME, can look like one thing from afar and a totally different thing from up close. The value of the Nation Of Islam for many who are not in it, is that historically it gives us a great example of what to be AND what not to be. As with our parents, this is how we learn from our ancestors -- both individuals and collectives.
In my high-school/early college days, more and more, folks' light started to look like it was a bit more dim than everyone was being led to believe. And that's nothing against these people, it just speaks to the nature of humanity in my opinion. We are humans -- imperfect, fallible at every turn. The greatest of humanity has historically devised systems of community in order to help humanity live sustainably and in harmony with their imperfections and their perfections.
So for me, when I started to realize that my teenage heroes -- the Mos Defs, the Talib Kwelis, the Commons -- were human and had their own failures and were not to be my idols, I had a shock. I had to reexamine every ideal that I'd been encouraged to strive for. I had to ask myself what was more important, the ideals or the people?
And that's okay. Knowing that I am who I am, I'm so very glad that I see the world as needing balance over righteous-perfection. In fact, I see balance as the perfect nature of the universe, not purity. The only question is, for those who continue to promote this righteous-perfection, do they continue to try and use this mode of change-motivation on me and my peers even though most are now sophisticated and experienced enough to realize that the world doesn't exist like this?
My friend and I discussed artists who are still trying to sell the world their brand of righteous-perfection. For some it's still the headwraps, for others it's the perfect diet, or the perfect overcoming of some other temptation -- lust, envy, etc. But we also discussed how we know firsthand that many of these artists, like all of us, have flaws that make them regular ass people with headwraps on -- just as fallible, if not sometimes more, than us.
So why would we respect that message? Why would one continue to try and spread that message, when they've already been discovered as being, like most of us, hypocritical in some way -- a contradiction.
One solution we discussed: just go ahead and "incorporate your vices". Be your complete self to us and we'll respect that, and once we respect you, you have our eyes and ears and minds. We want to learn from humanity's flaws. And as long as humans hide their flaws, that learning can't take place. Once that learning fails to take place, there's no more wisdom to be learned.
I love how one Liberator reader, "isabella mori", put it, in another discussion about Alice Walker and her daughter (link). She said:
"Rather than implying that we must all be perfect mommies, I propose that as a community of parents and children, we need to look at what can be done. Birth control and sex education are still in a sorry shape in most places of the world. Adequate, culturally sensitive daycare, parenting education and parenting support are sadly lacking. Most mothers, Alice Walker including, I am sure, would rather reach out for good and easily given help than neglecting their children. I am a big fan of Alice Walker, and this [article by her daughter] will not diminish my admiration for her books. It just underscores the human imperfection in everyone. Alice Walker does not hide this imperfection in her books, so I don't feel "betrayed". I had never put her on a pedestal, so she can't fall off it."
I couldn't agree more. At the end of the day I think my conversation with my friend is saying the exact same thing. We can learn more from you if you show us your complete vulnerable self -- the beauty and the ugly -- rather than trying to mold your public image into what you think the people need you to be.
At the end of the day, I think the whole point of this life thing is for the one living it to find their path. And when we sell public images of ourselves that don't completely match us inside, we support the idea that paternalism and maternalism are the way to go even if they create dependent and weak people who don't truly know themselves because they've been so busy following someone who they think has all the answers.
The goal isn't to create followers, it's to foster and encourage humble self-confidence and purpose -- which in turn foster and encourage sustainable collective peace.
I say "humble" very consciously because prideful self-confidence can often lead to a full embrace of inadequacy. And that is NOT my point. I would never encourage someone to be stagnant on self-improvement merely because they are confident with their imperfect self. Self-confidence is the foundation. But a foundation ain't shit without vigilant work.
Everyone has a path and a purpose, I believe. If you've found yours, your next mission is to help someone else find theirs -- to inspire others.
Your mission is not to allow people to think that your path is their path. However comforting it may be to have a group of dependents, even a parent must realize that at some point you can't allow people to forever be merely your company on your path to your purpose -- you've got to push them to pursue a path of their own. In observing how my own parents had to let go of me in some ways, I think this is the greatest lesson of parenthood -- perhaps life's greatest lesson too.