I do what I wanna do, I say what I wanna say
When I feel, and I look in the mirror and know I’m there
With my hands in the air, I’m proud to say yeah
I’m real, I’m real, I’m really really real – Kendrick Lamar
Being real is always something I’ve held in high regard. This was largely the same for my friends and larger peer group. We all felt like we were experiencing life in the most intimate ways which, therefore, made us “real.” You can still witness this legacy when we talk to each other: we say things like “that’s real,” or “this is real life” or “where they do that at?” It seems our lives are marked by a sense of being real. It seems we believe there are certain experiences that expose the grit and funk and beauty and pain and joy of life; these things, then, make life real. I like to think it is this sense of realness that Cornel West is referencing when he talks about not deodorizing the funk.
For many of us this realness boils down to, as Kendrick Lamar points out, saying and doing what we wanna. This is how we know we are alive. It is how we demonstrate autonomy. Ironically, it is what we care about when we say “we don’t give a f#@k!” For better or worse, being real is life. Many look down on this realness, it is too rugged for them, to raw and unfiltered. It has too much life. Others, though, are feinds for this realness. For many, life is so sanitized, so superficial and shallow that the funk, passion, pain, and grit of being what they perceive as real seem like gifts from god.
How telling is that?
We live in a society where certain segments of our population actually search out meaning in the struggle. This is not to say there is not meaning in struggle, there is, lord knows there is. But, I don’t know one person in the struggle that ain’t trying to get out. And, sadly, I know plenty of folks who are so dependent on the struggle for meaning that they would be lost without it. It is almost as if without “the struggle,” they fear they would fade away: cease to be real, literally. That’s ironic because for those that are living in the struggle being real often has everything to do with literally still existing. So, what do these people do, those that live so removed from “realness?” They appropriate the shit out of other peoples “realness.” They get on MTV and twerk, they dred up their blonde hair, they Harlem Shake down their cul-de-sac.
The reaction is then polarizing and unproductive. Folks like me start talking about the privilege and arrogance that makes this appropriation possible, often times leaving out the quite obviously desperate pleas for meaning- for realness- being displayed. Others get defensive and talk about how its all in good fun or its not specific to a certain culture. This group leaves out the very real privilage and arrogance that makes their “good times” possible. The result is an un-ending headache.
This is not sustainable. Realness cannot be demarcated by our “don’t give a f#$k level,” it can no longer be measured by our ability to turn up, or our ability to escape. Realness can no longer be measured by leaving your upper class lily white neighborhood and dressing up in poverty. Realness can’t be borrowed from others lived experiences. It has to be more than that. I don’t even know what the more looks like. I know it has something to do with growing our own food, educating our own, taking care of our own and no longer selling our time for a paycheck just to receive the necessities in life.
The thing is: we know this already. We already know we need more. That’s why we struggle: to change our reality and that’s why folks are attracted to it: to change their reality. Maybe Kendrick said it best
Hate knowin’ the fact none of that shit make me real