Kiese Laymon’s debut novel, Long Division has just been published and I can’t wait to read it. Laymon is an incredibly perceptive writer (I’ve talked about him before here) and I don’t want to fangirl him too much but even his Facebook messages make for thoughtful reading.
Here’s an essay from last year by Laymon in Gawker – “Kanye West is better at his job than I am at mine (but I’m way better at being a fake-ass feminist)” that reminds me that if we aren’t finding our social justice politics a struggle then we probably aren’t really living them and that our personal relationships are usually where our most brutal hypocrisies present themselves. I wish we talked more about that part of our lives.
A month or so later, I sat in front of a computer screen in New York and wrote a piece critiquing Les for reducing my Grandma to a cat and Kanye for the destructive gender politics in his art. I ended the piece with what I thought was a harpoon to Les’s gizzard: “I should have asked Les if he deserved to ever have his hand held by a woman.”
The essay generally, and that sentence specifically, helped me run away from truth, reckoning and meaningful change. I don’t want to run any more.
I am better at fucking up the lives of women who have unconditionally loved me than Les is at lying and Kanye West is at making brilliant American music. And even worse than the bruising parts of Kanye’s art, the paranoid femiphobia of HaLester Myers, or the pimpish persona of Stevie J, the abusive gender politics of Paul Ryan and Todd Akin, the thousands of confused brothers out there who think “misogyny” is the newest Italian dish at Olive Garden, I have intimately fucked up women’s lives while congratulating myself for not being Kanye West, Les Myers, Stevie J, Paul Ryan, Todd Akin or the brothers who like that misogyny with a few breadsticks.
Even before the essay, I wanted the fact that I’ve read, and taken notes, on everything ever published by Audre Lorde, bell hooks, Imani Perry, dream hampton and Rebecca Walker to prove to everyone — especially women I’m interested in — that I’m way too thoughtful to be a dickhead. I wanted folks to know I’ve made my male students reckon with being born potential rapists, that I have defended black girls in need of abortions from rabid pro-lifers at abortion clinics in Mississippi. I wanted women to know I was a man who would always ask, “Are you okay? Are you sure you want to do this?”
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. When asked to prove it, I’d dutifully spit some sorry-sounding mash up of Michael Eric Dyson, Cornel West and Mark Anthony Neal. But just like them, I never said that I know I’m sexist, misogynist and typical because I routinely fuck up the lives of women in ways that they can rarely fuck up my life. I never said that I’ve used black feminism as a convenient shield, a wonderful sleep aid, and a rusted shank to emotionally injure human beings who would do everything to avoid emotionally injuring me.
Of course, it’s more complicated than that. And of course there are all kinds of qualifications and conditions I want to explore, but beneath all of that conditional bullshit lies a lot truth, a bit of reckoning and the possibility of change.