Mariam Ali: Black 20 somethings should be encouraged to be audacious

Immersed in conversation with my friend, we were talking about adulting, but with a twist. Feeling stuck in them twenty somethings (SZA:2017); our conversation started by what 20 somethings are forced to worry about in this hyper capitalist system: stability. From the increasing trend of gentrification within inner city London and the effects of unaffordable housing, hitting hardest working class people, particularly people of colour. It is an actual scandal to know how people have to live sacrificing their well-being and health just to be able to live, in many cases without a guarantee of  this illusion of ‘stability’. To carrying the burden of the generation that will make our parents’ sacrifice worth it.

All pretentious nobility aside, it is a burden. With this very real responsibility comes being stuck in a binary of, you will either seek ‘stability’ and make choices that mirrors this, or you are a failure and a disappointment. Why do we pretend to be champions of ‘positive’ thinking and ‘happiness’ when every chance we get ( whether we realise or not) we kill each other with this non-existent dichotomy? The illusion of stability and the so called benefits this brings versus every other pathway (failure). The desire towards stability will be the death of us all; particularly if you were born a creative or an artist. There is absolutely nothing wrong with wanting to provide for yourself and your loved ones and not worry about tomorrow’s bill. In fact, this should all be an aim of ours. But the question is, according to which blueprint(s)? The fact is that if one takes on the economic trajectory laid out by society, one will pay a price that is too heavy. They’ll probably work a 40 hour week job, have no time for essential quality self care, spending close to no time with loved ones, lack spiritual and intellectual growth, internal stagnation, high stress levels, plummeting self esteem, going to bed depleted after a day spent with narcissistic energy vampires and a patronising bully of a manager. Working away, often without meaning, till you are sixty five only to retire if you are fortunate enough financially, with maybe another old partner, having dinner with adult children once or twice a year, wondering where all your years have gone.

All in exchange for a mediocre salary and 28 days annual leave. Of course, people will jump at this description as the worst case scenario, and protest that ‘passion’ withstands all. ( I digress- this is in fact a very ordinary description of what the future of stability looks like for a 20 something year old in 2019, based on those living it now and those who have come before them). Passion is too temporary, unreliable and easily extinguishable. Over-using passion to compensate for lack of purpose, meaning and grounding will lead to burnouts and illnesses. What use will passion serve, when conformity is rewarded and the desire to truly express is tamed and even punished? My aim here isn’t to offer critique of the 9-5 working system, as that is a huge and important topic inside of itself. I wanted to offer a quick snapshot of the word ‘grown ups’ i.e. the word society loves to throw around and what looks like (stability).

As spirits and conscious beings, we thrive in contrasts and opposition. There is much beauty and soul lessons to be found in the opposing sides within us. After all, life is short, quick and in nature non-linear, which means that ‘dreams’ can and should have a seat at the table. Einstein did say that ‘imagination is more important than knowledge. For knowledge is limited, whereas imagination embraces the entire world, stimulating progress, giving birth to evolution’. This is easier said than done. As the conversation progressed, we were once again reminded of the Marxian doom of class struggle, with a sprinkle of intersectional layers, will we ( Black, working class, disabled, Muslim, women), ever get to taste our dreams? What does it mean to have a dream? Are dreams real? Why are they so ridiculed? Is it a thing reserved for the privileged? How does it feel to have a dream? Should I have one? Once you realise you have one, what do you do?

As we pondered over what it means to dream as twenty something year old black women, and how embodying the multiplicities and facets of identity layers would mean probably having to run a very long race, I had a moment where two nuggets of wisdom struck me together, in union (just one of those cool ADHD superpowers). First I remembered fellow poet Nayyirah Waheed’s poem in Nejma “do not choose the lesser life. do you hear me. do you hear me. choose the life that is. yours. the life that is seducing your lungs. that is dripping down your chin (Waheed: 2014).” Then I remembered a passage from Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s way “very often, it is audacity, not talent that makes one person an artist and the other a shadow artist (Cameron, 2016,pg 27).” I then realised and blurted something along the lines of our inner most desires and hopes being very subtle and quiet somewhere humming quietly and patiently in the background. A major step- that often starts as an internal wondering and serves to bring out that shadow figure and give it a voice and declare it. That needs, however, what I have been trying to grasp in this piece: audacity.

Its very interesting to note that the Oxford Dictionary has two sets of definitions for this word. The first definition is the willingness to take bold risks, and the second is rude or disrespectful behaviour; impudence and is likened to words such as presumptuousness, forwardness and cheek (Oxford Dictionaries | English, 2019). What is interesting here isn’t only the stark contrast between the two definitions, but rather how the word is never used by people to mean what is laid out in the first definition. You will often hear people refer to someone’s audacity as their nerve to do something that the second party often does not like or in many cases does not know how to handle. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with the individual’s outward expression of their inner most desires, but rather the social programming the receiver is operating under, which is that something that does not conform to what is observable in the immediate five senses, represents uncertainty in which the linear brain can’t process, leading to the projection of fear or even hostility.

Perceiving our dreams or our calling as practicable, and possible is even more difficult for us black women. As we move through our lives we often have to observe our internal dialogue more acutely, because we will experience various forms of misogynoir. Our expressions of truth being subjected to tone policing and microaggressions such as ‘can you not be grateful to even have a job?’ or ‘ do you know the low rates of black youth that have pursued higher education?’. Or the negativity that we might experience from our immediate cultural surroundings such as ‘ your parents did not go through all that hardship, for you to not make use of all the opportunities you have’ or the marriage and children story. The list goes on. I do not mean to minimise the concerns of our communities, as the truth is that they have fought life and death for us to be able to walk this earth in the manner we do. Facing overt racism, Islamophobia and sexism and the pressures of their peers to conform to communal notions of ‘respectability’.

How can we ensure our authentic voice remains strong or even live with all these forces throwing sharp arrows its way? This is purely rhetorical, but I think a good place to start is the openness (as risky as it may feel) that despite our concepts of spirituality, our true essence is not rooted in the physical; life energy, comes from the ultimate Source. The illusion of stability or the matrix, will fool us to believe that what is simply supposed to be a means to an end, is the goal. When in reality our true essence supersedes all forms of materialism, and is interested in synthesising with our hearts curiosities and possibilities. That way it can seek out experiences in the physical world, that matches the vibrational energy of authenticity and seeking to synthesise with the Oneness of Source.

This probably all sounds airy fairy, or even painstakingly abstract (I’m an Aquarius; what do you expect?), but it is only fair that while performing our roles in the matrix, we take seriously this openness to experience our own voices, and audaciously champion our dreams, even if no other physical being recognises it. Aunty Toni Morrison said in a beautiful passage from her novel Sula,

“Had she anything to engage her tremendous curiosity and her gift for metaphor, she might have exchanged the restlessness and preoccupation with whim for an activity that provided her with all she yearned for. And like an artist with no art form, she became dangerous.” (Morrison:2002)

That was the strange way in which our twenty something year old conversation about adulting and stability over coffee turned into a mini episode of Oprah’s Super Soul Sunday. All humour aside, I will leave you with a prayer. Let us be what we always wanted to be and take the fear of others as an indication, that we are on the right path as there are no wrong paths. We all simply have a different calling, that will knock at the door of our consciousness everyday, until the day we choose to open the door. Please guide us to hear this knocking so that we can open the door with grace and dream audaciously.


Cameron, J. (2016). Page 26 Artist’s way. [Place of publication not identified]: Macmillan.

Morrison, T. (2002). Sula. New York: Random House Audio.

Waheed, N. (2014). Nejma.

SZA song ‘20 something’ from album Ctrl released 2017.


About the writer:

Mariam is a freelance writer, poet and an overall creative Spirit. Her day time job is working as a Student mentor supporting university students across London who are on the Autism Spectrum, and is involved in other grassroots work noting the experiences of marginalised groups who identify as neurodivergent. She has a  B.A.(Hons.) in International Relations from SOAS University of London, as well as currently completing an Msc in Psychology. Her main goal within the next couple of years is to write full-time, whilst travelling. You can follow her writing/poetry page on instagram at: i_mariam_ali, and email her on


You are also welcome to check out the article she wrote for BMF last year May 25th, on the link below:

Mariam Ali: Black 20 somethings should be encouraged to be audacious

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