So April 1st was a personal legend of mine, and the godfather of rap music, Gil Scott-Heron’s birthday. April 4th was the 50th anniversary of the assassination of the Reverend-Doctor Martin Luther King Jr. I’m failing the class I took thinking it would elevate my writing game and instead I can’t get out of bed and am failing to make up for time I lost in Black History Month.
I just need to clear my mind now,
That’s a pretty fuckin’ fast year flew by.
I tend to gauge my moods and stages via music, more specifically, rap lyrics. Sometimes Radiohead lyrics but I don’t really know what the fuck Thom Yorke is ever saying, but then again I never know what the fuck MC Ride is saying and I Want I Need It (Death Heated) is the soundtrack to my life right now, so what really is a word, sentence, bar, whatever.
Whatever is literally the best superlative I can come up with to describe my last nine months. It started with Claremont, California PD sending six officers each with their guns drawn at me and the big homie for a BBWAPWI (Being Black While at a PWI). Then an unnamed administrator at this institution (the institution that called the police on me for existing after sunset) suggested that I file a police report… to the police. Snitch on 12 to 12? Genius.Then I failed the class I took to challenge myself and advance my marketable skills, partly cuz I’m straight up bad at digital art, mostly because I was/still am trapped in a violent cycle of self doubt and crippling fear of failure, which is of course resulting in failure, causing me to doubt myself further. My best niggas are all going through it. My partner is going through it. I would imagine my parents are going through it, but I don’t call home enough.
But I’m not resigned to this shit or anything, I ain’t folding. A wise man once said; “I can’t go in, I ain’t ready.” I’ve been convinced Pomona is fucking with me since I got my acceptance letter and they didn’t say shit about the 4 C’s I got second semester senior year of high school, then when I somehow salvaged my first flunk of college into a cumulative 3.1, I got put on academic probation (given, they give you 4 semesters to get off of it, but that’s still a little much you think?) and then had to spend a month freezing my ass off, trying desperately to convince myself that I both like and am good at school.
That was a fucking dub, but I’ve been listening to some incredible music, and feel truly inspired to write –consistently– for the first time in a while. Small victories. I’ve found that in this time in which I cannot find inspiration in myself, the first time i’ve been scared of school, that I actually, truly believe that I have a talent. Yes, it’s quite disheartening that I’m failing the whole fuck out of the class about creative nonfiction I took this year, but in finding solace in writing again I have found the ability to blame myself without hating myself. I failed that class because I didn’t care about myself enough to do my best, and I know that. I been known that, I’ve just refused to tell myself that. The idea of a black body in this space knowingly admitting they aren’t being twice as good just felt like such a vulgar insult. Not to me, but to my mother, and father, and their ancestors and kin that fought and died for me to suffer in this white ass place.The same reason Gil Scott left every drop of his soul on every notepad and in every studio. The same reason Dr. King went to Memphis to fight for the rights of the poor and abused, and lost his life for it. Please don’t get it twisted. My bougie, $70k a year suffering does not equate to inventing rap music or leading a social revolution, but there is this very comforting connection in the permanent relationship between suffering and change. Gil Scott-Heron was an addict for nearly his entire creative career. It derailed his life, fucked up his money, but inspired art that would go on to create an artistic and cultural movement. Gil was given the honor he deserved of dying an icon, months after releasing new music for the first time in decades, and sounding the sharpest he had since The Revolution Will Not Be Televised, forty years and one revolution later. A revolution he started.
Dr. King did not die because he was shot. He did not die because of white supremacy alone. He died because he had the courage to recognize injustice in every form, not just those convenient to his cause. They murdered Martin because he opposed the unjust murder of poor Vietnamese a world away from the unjust murders of his brothers and sisters. They murdered martin because he marched with the sanitation workers and demanded a living wage, demanded deliverance from the coded bondage AmeriKKKa prefers. And both Scott-Heron and King suffered long before their final breath. But they would have prefered to be in those caskets a whole lot earlier than let that suffering stop their revolutions.And I am prepared to take these L’s because i can comfortably, honestly say that i’ve learned something from this.
Life is stupid, cruel and senseless. But it is my personal responsibility to take take limes, and make lemonade. Regardless of the score I gave it, people have received my Weeknd review really well, and I also recently published the most ambitious piece of writing I’ve ever composed, and I’m proud of it. It’s occurred to me that I came here expecting, maybe not to fail, but to suffer, yet I was not prepared to, because of the incredible privilege I have lived with to this point.
For a long time, my favorite literary quote was “We burn the fat off our souls”, from Ernest Hemingway’s The Snows of Kilimanjaro. It felt like such a perfect, concise explanation of my coping process. That the pain I felt and would feel was spiritual exercise, the kind of work you have to put in to be great. I thought of suffering like Kobe’s 250 shots; a routine that must be done to perfect my art. I thought of suffering as going to the dentist, or taking a pill. But it’s more than that. It’s learning how to bail right when you’re falling off of a skateboard. It’s knowing to pull your hair back when you throw up, or to never leave your inhaler at home because of that time that White Owl almost killed you at Josh’s crib and your parents had to bring you your nebulizer. I think I’m ready to learn and not just hurt. I think I;m getting to the maturity level, the independence I assumed I had when I got here.
I am still burning the fat off of my soul, but there’s a quote that means more to me now, one that gives me both perspective and direction Adulthood is knowing that I have to be okay with being unhappy most of the time. But now, more than ever, I am in control of my ability to make myself happy. First semester, I was listening to Earl Sweatshirt’s I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside almost exclusively. The overwhelming anguish, the ominence, the disdain for police and outsiders and overall intention of collapsing into itself really resonated with me, with the pain and violation I felt at the hands of the police and the school for failing to protect or defend me. That chapter was defined by this:
I was fucked up. I was fucked up in a way that I was nowhere near prepared for at that time. I don’t think I knew how to process trauma and when it came, it felt like it just kept coming. Every week, another bad grade, another missed alarm, another missed call, a new argument. I felt like the worst version of myself not because of what the police and Pomona did, but because I let them damage me. I reaped what I sowed and I let it sit on my conscious for too long. I didn’t want to write, I didn’t want to eat, I didn’t even wanna see my friends, but that’s hard to do when you live in a suite. I was scared to tell my parents because it would scare them. I couldn’t connect to ChungHwa because she’s not black and I felt guilty that I couldn’t share that with her. It fucked me up.
But real niggas don’t die; we just multiply. So I’m working my way out of it. I’m not better, I’m not whole, I’m not half of what I should be, let alone what I can be. But I know enough to never let these crackers take my joy from me again. This new phase, this understanding phase has another refrain stuck in my head. I feel like the phoenix.
And here I am in April, approaching the twilight of a wasted year. But it doesn’t really feel like that. This has been the worst year of my academic career by none. The hardest year of my fresh two decades on this rock. But I sit here approaching the end, content. Not with what I’ve done to this point, but with how I have allowed myself to grow, and find the peace that was stolen from me. I’m not proud of my missteps, but no longer am I ashamed to have lost my footing along the way. In all the time I spent ashamed, afraid of disappointing my ancestors and my heros, I neglected the fact there is not one trail to be blazed. To be black in this world is to exist in beta, to have to remap the field, and find a way to stay ahead of the world’s revolutions. Black is expected to live in past and future; we do not give ourselves the luxury of pondering the present. But that’s what Martin was doing on his final day. He was acting for past, present, and future, fighting an intersectional war, unafraid of the powers that were, are, and will continue to be. That’s not what Gil was doing either. He was well aware of the life he lived, of the movement he created, and of this that cat named Kanye that lent him the Flashing Lights beat to write his own eulogy.
I’m always on CPT Ima keep it a stack, and I’m sorry I didn’t give this to you on your day, Gil. But you are showing me the way today, and the path to tomorrow.
Today I’m calling on you, Gil. And Earl. And Ye, and Rico Nasty and JPEGMAFIA and Maxo Kream and Vince Staples and all these supremely talented, young, black people that allow me to write about what I love.
They’ll wash your troubles away.
(Songs referenced in order: Blood on The Leaves- Kanye West (Yeezus 2013), Skyline T0- Frank Ocean (Blonde 2016) Grief- Earl Sweatshirt (I Don’t Like Shit, I Don’t Go Outside 2015) Gorgeous- Kanye West, Kid Cudi & Raekwon (My Beautiful Dark Twisted Fantasy 2010, Lady Day and John Coltrane- Gil Scott Heron (Pieces of a Man 1971)