Tuesday, October 8, 2013

The Power of Vulnerability: "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America"

Professor Kiese Laymon (oblongbooks.com)
Professor Kiese Laymon is a man of many talents. He is frequently described by his former students as someone who changed their worldview or even their life. He is a brilliant writer, on topics ranging from his loving correspondence with a diverse group of black male friends to presidential campaign politics to Kanye's genius and misogyny. He is a fierce advocate for students. And what cuts across all of his educator, writer and activist roles is his incredible ability to be vulnerable and ask the same of you.

I started reading Kiese's newly published collection of essays, "How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America" in bed before I went to sleep. My nightly routine is to read just 15-20 pages of a book before sleep crashes in. But this night was different. I blazed through 75 pages and then could not fall asleep because Kiese's work was demanding something particular of me. It insisted--'I am putting my whole self out there. Are you? Are you as authentic as you could be?'

His honesty blisters and soothes at the same time. Blisters because it indirectly calls you out, soothes because thank god somebody is willing to step up and be fully vulnerable, say those unpretty truths. On using feminism as a tool in "Kanye West and HaLester Myers Are Better at Their Jobs...":
"I couldn't wait to tell some men--but only when in the presence of women--how sexism, like racism and that annoying American inclination to cling to innocence, was as present in our blood as oxygen. ...[But] I never said that I've used black feminism as a convenient shield, as a wonderful sleep aid, and as a rusted shank to damage others who would do everything to avoid damaging me."
On what he regrets never telling his late uncle in "We Will Never Ever Know: Letters to Uncle Jimmy":
"I needed you, Uncle Jimmy. I needed you the day of your funeral. And when we were both alive, I needed you to be better than you were, but I never loved you enough to tell you."
And the opening words of the title essay:
"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."

Get reading people!

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