Reading Race in the US of A: Introducing Kiese Laymon

Race in america. Writing is sometimes our greatest ally in reading what’s really happening with race in the United States, not in Columbia or in Brazil, but in the “home of the free, land of the brave” as the story goes.

This is a short post and a share from Gawker’s True Stories. It’s not mine. But it is about us. It’s innovative writing and social analysis about race and black boys. This is a TED moment for me in great literature. And I’d nominate this guy to speak at a TED Conference without seeing him speak based on this writing.

Gave you some excerpts of the larger work below.

 Jul 28, 2012 12:30 PM

How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America: A Remembrance

I’ve had guns pulled on me by four people under Central Mississippi skies — once by a white undercover cop, once by a young brother trying to rob me for the leftovers of a weak work-study check, once by my mother and twice by myself. Not sure how or if I’ve helped many folks say yes to life but I’ve definitely aided in few folks dying slowly in America, all without the aid of a gun.


I’m 17, five years younger than Rekia Boyd will be when she is shot in the head by an off duty police officer in Chicago. It’s the summer after I graduated high school and

Mama’s antidote to being born a black boy on parole in Central Mississippi is not for us to seek freedom; it’s to insist on excellence at all times. Mama takes it personal when she realizes that I realize she is wrong. There ain’t no antidote to life, I tell her. How free can you be if you really accept that white folks are the traffic cops of your life? Mama tells me that she is not talking about freedom. She says that she is talking about survival.

I drop the gun to my chest. I’m so sad and I can’t really see a way out of what I’m feeling but I’m leaning on memory for help.

I’m a walking regret, a truth-teller, a liar, a survivor, a frowning ellipsis, a witness, a dreamer, a teacher, a student, a joker, a writer whose eyes stay red, and I’m a child of this nation.

I know that as I’ve gotten deeper into my late twenties and thirties, I have managed to continue killing myself and other folks who loved me in spite of me. I know that I’ve been slowly killed by folks who were as feverishly in need of life and death as I am. The really confusing part is that a few of those folk who have nudged me closer to slow death have also helped me say yes to life when I most needed it. Usually, I didn’t accept it. Lots of times, we’ve taken turns killing ourselves slowly, before trying to bring each other back to life. Maybe that’s the necessary stank of love, or maybe — like Frank Ocean says — it’s all just bad religion, just tasty watered down cyanide in a styrofoam cup.

I don’t even know. [there’s much more.]


Kiese Laymon is currently an Associate Professor of English and the co-director of Africana Studies at Vassar College. This essay was originally published on his blog, Cold Drank, and was republished with permission. It is an excerpt from Laymon’s forthcoming book, On Parole: An Autobiographical Antidote to Post-Blackness. Laymon is also the author of the forthcoming novel, Long Division, which will be released in early 2013.


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