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 my teammate, Troy, is back in Jackson, Mississippi. Troy, who plays college ball in Florida, asks me if I want to go to McDonald’s on I-55.

As Troy, Cleta, Leighton and I walk out of McDonald’s, I hold the door for open for a tiny, scruffy-faced white man with a green John Deere hat on.

“Thanks, partner,” he says.

A few minutes later, we’re driving down I-55 when John Deere drives up and rolls his window down. I figure that he wants to say something funny since we’d had a cordial moment at McDonald’s. As soon as I roll my window down, the man screams, “Nigger lovers!” and speeds off.

On I-55, we pull up beside John Deere and I’m throwing finger-signs, calling John Deere all kinds of clever “motherfuckers.” The dude slows down and gets behind us. I turn around, hoping he pulls over.

Nope.

John Deere pulls out a police siren and places it on top of his car. Troy is cussing my ass out and frantically trying to drive his Mama’s Lincoln away from John Deere. My heart is pounding out of my chest, not out of fear, but because I want a chance to choke the shit out of John Deere. I can’t think of any other way of making him feel what we felt.

Troy drives into his apartment complex and parks his Mama’s long Lincoln under some kind of shed. Everyone in the car is slumped down at this point. Around 20 seconds after we park, here comes the red, white and blue of the siren.

We hear a car door slam, then a loud knock on the back window. John Deere has a gun in one hand and a badge in the other. He’s telling me to get out of the car. My lips still smell like Filet-o-Fish.

“Only you,” he says to me. “You going to jail tonight.” He’s got the gun to my chest.

“Fuck you,” I tell him and suck my teeth. “I ain’t going nowhere.” I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

Cleta is up front trying to reason with the man through her window when all of a sudden, in a scene straight out of Boyz n the Hood, a black cop approaches the car and accuses us of doing something wrong. Minutes later, a white cop tells us that John Deere has been drinking too much and he lets us go.

16 months later, I’m 18, three years older than Edward Evans will be when he is shot in the head behind an abandoned home in Jackson.

Shonda and I are walking from Subway back to Millsaps College with two of her white friends. It’s nighttime. We turn off of North State Street and walk halfway past the cemetery when a red Corolla filled with brothers stops in front of us. All of the brothers have blue rags covering their noses and mouths. One of the brothers, a kid at least two years younger than me with the birdest of bird chests, gets out of the car clutching a shiny silver gun.

He comes towards Shonda and me.

“Me,” I say to him. “Me. Me.” I hold my hands up encouraging him to do whatever he needs to do. If he shoots me, well, I guess bullets enter and hopefully exit my chest, but if the young brother thinks I’m getting pistol whupped in front of a cemetery and my girlfriend off of State Street, I’m convinced I’m going to take the gun and beat him into a burnt cinnamon roll.

The boy places his gun on my chest and keeps looking back and forth to the car.

I feel a strange calm, an uncanny resolve. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. He’s patting me down for money that I don’t have since we hadn’t gotten our work-study checks yet and I just spent my last little money on two veggie subs from Subway and two of those large Chocolate Chip cookies.

The young brother keeps looking back to the car, unsure what he’s supposed to do. Shonda and her friends are screaming when he takes the gun off my chest and trots goofily back to the car.

I don’t know what’s wrong with him but a few months later, I have a gun.

A partner of mine hooks me up with a partner of his who lets me hold something. I get the gun not only to defend myself from goofy brothers in red Corollas trying to rob folks for work-study money. I guess I’m working on becoming a black writer in Mississippi and some folks around Millsaps College don’t like the essays I’m writing in the school newspaper.

A few weeks earlier, George Harmon, the President of Millsaps, shuts down the campus paper in response to a satirical essay I wrote on communal masturbation and sends a letter to over 12,000 overwhelmingly white Millsaps students, friends and alumnae. The letter states that the “Key Essay in question was written by Kiese Laymon, a controversial writer who consistently editorializes on race issues.”

After the President’s letter goes out, my life kinda hurts.

I receive a sweet letter in the mail with the burnt up ashes of my essays. The letter says that if I don’t stop writing and give myself “over to right,” my life would end up like the ashes of my writing.

The tires of my Mama’s car are slashed when her car was left on campus. I’m given a single room after the Dean of Students thinks it’s too dangerous for me to have a roommate. Finally, Greg Miller, an English Professor, writes an essay about how and why a student in his Liberal Studies class says, “Kiese should be killed for what he’s writing.” I feel a lot when I read those words, but mainly I wonder what’s wrong with me.

It’s bid day at Millsaps.

Shonda and I are headed to our jobs at Ton-o-Fun, a fake ass Chuck E. Cheese behind Northpark Mall. We’re wearing royal blue shirts with a strange smiling animal and Ton-o-Fun on the left titty. The shirts of the other boy workers at Ton-o-Fun fit them better than mine. My shirt is tight in the wrong places and slightly less royal blue. I like to add a taste of bleach so I don’t stank.

As we walk out to the parking lot of my dorm, the Kappa Alpha and Kappa Sigma fraternities are in front of our dorm receiving their new members. They’ve been up drinking all night. Some of them have on black face and others have on Afro wigs and Confederate capes.

We get close to Shonda’s Saturn and one of the men says, “Kiese, write about this!” Then another voice calls me a “Nigger” and Shonda, a “Nigger bitch.” I think and feel a lot but mostly I feel that I can’t do anything to make the boys feel like they’ve made us feel right there, so I go back to my dorm room to get something.

On the way there, Shonda picks up a glass bottle out of the trash. I tell her to wait outside the room. I open the bottom drawer and look at the hoodies balled up on the top of my gun. I pick up my gun and think about my Grandma. I think not only about what she’d feel if I went back out there with a gun. I think about how if Grandma walked out of that room with a gun in hand, she’d use it. No question.

I am her grandson.

I throw the gun back on top of the clothes, close the drawer, go in my closet and pick up a wooden T-ball bat.

Some of the KA’s and Sigs keep calling us names as we approach them. I step, throw down the bat and tell them I don’t need a bat to fuck them up. I don’t know what’s wrong with me. My fists are balled up and the only thing I want in the world is to swing back over and over again. Shonda feels the same, I think. She’s right in the mix, yelling, crying, fighting as best she can. After security and a Dean break up the mess, the frats go back to receiving their new pledges and Shonda and I go to work at Ton-o-Fun in our dirty blue shirts.

I stank.

On our first break at work, we decide that we should call a local news station so the rest of Jackson can see what’s happening at Millsaps on a Saturday morning. We meet the camera crew at school. Some of boys go after the reporter and cameraman. The camera gets a few students in Afros, black face and Confederate capes. They also get footage of “another altercation.”

A few weeks pass and George Harmon, the President of the college, doesn’t like that footage of his college is now on television and in newspapers all across the country. The college decides that two individual fraternity members, Shonda and I will be put on disciplinary probation for using “racially insensitive language” and the two fraternities involved get their party privileges taken away for a semester. If there was racially insensitive language Shonda and I could have used to make those boys feel like we felt, we would have never stepped to them in the first place. Millsaps is trying to prove to the nation that it is post-race(ist) institution and to its alums that all the Bid Day stuff is the work of an “adroit entrepreneur of racial conflict.”

A few month later, Mama and I sit in President George Harmon’s office. The table is an oblong mix of mahogany and ice water. All the men at the table are smiling, flipping through papers and twirling pens in their hands except for me. I am still 19, two years older than Trayvon Martin will be when he swings back.

President Harmon and his lawyers don’t look me in the eye. They zero in on the eyes of Mama, as Harmon tells her that I am being suspended from Millsaps for at least a year for taking and returning Red Badge of Courage from the library without formally checking it out.

He ain’t lying.

I took the book out of the library for Shonda’s brother without checking it out and returned the book the next day. I looked right at the camera when I did it, too. I did all of this knowing I was on parole, but not believing any college in America, even one in Mississippi, would kick a student out for a year, for taking and returning a library book without properly checking it out.

I should have believed.

George Harmon tells me, while looking at my mother, that I will be allowed to come back to Millsaps College in a year only after having attended therapy sessions for racial insensitivity. We are told he has given my writing to a local psychologist and the shrink believes I need help. Even if I am admitted back as a student, I will remain formally on parole for the rest of my undergrad career, which means that I will be expelled from Millsaps College unless I’m perfect.

19-year-old black boys can not be perfect in America. Neither can 61-year-old white boys named George.

Before going on the ride home with Mama, I go to my room, put the gun in my backpack and get in her car.

On the way home, Mama stops by the zoo to talk about what just happened in George Harmon’s office. She’s crying and asking me over and over again why I took and returned the gotdamn book knowing they were watching me. Like a black mother of black boy, Mama starts blaming Shonda for asking me to check the book out in the first place. I don’t know what to say other than I know it wasn’t Shonda’s fault and I left my ID and I wanted to swing back, so I keep walking and say nothing. She says that Grandma is going to be so disappointed in me.

“Heartbroken,” is the word she uses. There.

I feel this toxic miasma unlike anything I’ve ever felt not just in my body but in my blood. I remember the wobbly way my Grandma twitches her eyes at my Uncle Jimmy and I imagine being at the end of that twitch for the rest of my life. For the first time in almost two years, I hide my face, grit my crooked teeth and sob.

I don’t stop for weeks.

The NAACP and lawyers get involved in filing a lawsuit against Millsaps on my behalf. Whenever the NAACP folks talk to me or the paper, they talk about how ironic it is that a black boy who is trying to read a book gets kicked out of college. I appreciate their work but I don’t think the irony lies where they think it does. If I’d never read a book in my life, I shouldn’t have been punished for taking and bringing back a library book, not when kids are smoking that good stuff, drinking themselves unconsious and doing some of everything imaginable to nonconsenting bodies.

That’s what I tell all the newspapers and television reporters who ask. To my friends, I say that after stealing all those Lucky Charms, Funyons, loaves of light bread and over a hundred cold dranks out of the cafeteria in two years, how in the fuck do I get suspended for taking and returning the gotdamn Red Badge of Courage.

The day that I’m awarded the Benjamin Brown award, named after a 21-year-old truck driver shot in the back by police officers during a student protest near Jackson State in 1967, I take the bullets out of my gun, throw it in the Ross Barnett Reservoir and avoid my Grandma for a long, long time.

I enroll at Jackson State University in the Spring semester, where my mother teaches Political Science. Even though, I’m not really living at home, everyday Mama and I fight over my job at Cutco and her staying with her boyfriend and her not letting me use the car to get to my second job at an HIV hospice since my license is suspended. Really, we’re fighting because she raised me to never ever forget I was on parole, which means no black hoodies in wrong neighborhoods, no jogging at night, hands in plain sight at all times in public, no intimate relationships with white women, never driving over the speed limit or doing those rolling stops at stop signs, always speaking the king’s English in the presence of white folks, never being outperformed in school or in public by white students and most importantly, always remembering that no matter what, white folks will do anything to get you.

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.

One blue night my mother tells me that I need to type the rest of my application to Oberlin College after I’ve already hand-written the personal essay. I tell her that it doesn’t matter whether I type it or not since Millsaps is sending a Dean’s report attached to my transcript. I say some other truthful things I should never say to my mother. Mama goes into her room, lifts up her pillow and comes out with her gun.

It’s raggedy, small, heavy and black. I always imagine the gun as an old dead crow. I’d held it a few times before with Mama hiding behind me.

Mama points the gun at me and tells me to get the fuck out of her house. I look right at the muzzle pointed at my face and smile the same way I did at the library camera at Millsaps. I don’t know what’s wrong with me.

“You gonna pull a gun on me over some college application?” I ask her.

“You don’t listen until it’s too late,” she tells me. “Get out of my house and don’t ever come back.”

I leave the house, chuckling, shaking my head, cussing under my breath. I go sit in a shallow ditch. Outside, I wander in the topsy turvy understanding that Mama’s life does not revolve around me and I’m not doing anything to make her life more joyful, spacious or happy. I’m an ungrateful burden, an obese weight on her already terrifying life. I sit there in the ditch, knowing that other things are happening in my mother’s life but I also know that Mama never imagined needing to pull a gun on the child she carried on her back as a sophomore at Jackson State University. I’m playing with pine needles, wishing I had headphones—but I’m mostly regretting throwing my gun into the reservoir.

When Mama leaves for work in the morning, I break back in her house, go under her pillow and get her gun. Mama and I haven’t paid the phone or the light bill so it’s dark, hot and lonely in that house, even in the morning. I lie in a bathtub of cold water, still sweating and singing love songs to myself. I put the gun to my head and cock it.

I think of my Grandma and remember that old feeling of being so in love that nothing matters except seeing and being seen by her. 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. Faster. Slower. I think I want to hurt myself more than I’m already hurting. I’m not the smartest boy in the world by a long shot, but even in my funk I know that easy remedies like eating your way out of sad, or fucking your way out of sad, or drinking your way out of sad, or smoking your way out of sad, or lying your way out of sad, or slanging your way out of sad, or robbing your way out of sad, or gambling your way out of sad, or shooting your way out of sad, are just slower, more acceptable ways for desperate folks, and especially paroled black boys in our country, to kill slowly ourselves and others close to us in America.

I start to spend more time at home over the next few weeks since Mama is out of town with her boyfriend. Mama and I still haven’t paid the phone bill so I’m running down to the pay phone everyday, calling one of the admissions counselors at Oberlin College. He won’t tell me whether they’ll accept me or not, but he does say that Oberlin might want me because of, not in spite of, what happened at Millsaps.

A month passes and I haven’t heard from Oberlin. I’m eating too much and dry humping a woman just as desperate as me and lying like its my first job and daring people to fuck with me more than I have in a long time. I’m writing lots of words, too, but I’m not reckoning. I’m wasting ink on bullshit political analysis and short stories and vacant poems that I never imagine being read or felt by anyone like me. I’m a waste of writing’s time.

The only really joyful times in life come from playing basketball and talking shit with O.G. Raymond “Gunn” Murph, my best friend. Gunn is trying to stop himself from slowly killing himself and others, after a smoldering break up with V., his girlfriend of eight years. Some days, Gunn and I save each other’s lives just by telling and listening to each other’s odd-shaped truth.

One black night, Ray is destroying me in Madden and talking all that shit when we hear a woman moaning for help outside of his apartment on Capitol Street. We go downstairs and find a naked woman with open wounds, blood and bruises all over her black body. She can barely walk or talk through shivering teeth but we ask her if she wants to come upstairs while we call the ambulance. Gunn and I have taken no Sexual Assault classes and we listen to way too muchThe Diary and Ready to Die, but right there, we know not to get too close to the woman and just let her know we’re there to do whatever she needs.

She slowly makes her way into the apartment because she’s afraid the men might come back. Blood is gushing down the back of her thighs and her scalp. She tells us the three men had one gun. When she makes it up to the apartment, we give the woman a brown towel to sit on and something to wrap herself in. Blood seeps through both and even though she looks so scared and hurt, she also looks so embarrassed. Gunn keeps saying things like, “It’s gonna be okay, sweetheart,” and I just sit there weakly nodding my head, running from her eyes and getting her more glasses of water. When Gunn goes in his room to take his gun in his waistband, I look at her and know that no one man could have done this much damage to another human being. That’s what I need to tell myself.

Eventually, the ambulance and police arrive. They ask her a lot of questions and keep looking at us. She tells them that we helped her after she was beaten and raped by a three black men in a Monte Carlo. One of the men, she tells the police, was her boyfriend. She refuses to say his name to the police. Gunn looks at me and drops his head. Without saying anything, we know that whatever is in the boys in that car, has to also be in us. We know that whatever is encouraging them to kill themselves slowly by knowingly mangling the body and spirit of this shivering black girl, is probably the most powerful thing in our lives. We also know that whatever is in us that has been slowly encouraging us to kill ourselves and those around us slowly, is also in the heart and mind of this black girl on the couch.

A few weeks later, I get a letter saying I’ve been accepted to Oberlin College and they’re giving me a boatload of financial aid. Gunn agrees to drive me up to Oberlin and I feel like the luckiest boy on earth, not because I got into Oberlin, but because I survived long enough to remember saying yes to life and “no” or at least “slow down” to a slow death.

My saying yes to life meant accepting the beauty of growing up black, on parole, surrounded a family of weird women warriors in Mississippi. It also meant accepting that George Harmon, parts of Millsaps College, parts of my state, much of my country, my heart and mostly my own reflection, had beaten the dog shit out of me. I still don’t know what all this means but I know it’s true.

This isn’t an essay or simply a woe-is-we narrative about how hard it is to be a black boy in America. This is a lame attempt at remembering the contours of slow death and life in America for one black American teenager under Central Mississippi skies. I wish I could get my Yoda on right now and surmise all this shit into a clean sociopolitical pull-quote that shows supreme knowledge and absolute emotional transformation, but I don’t want to lie.

I want to say and mean that remembering starts not with predictable punditry, or bullshit blogs, or slick art that really ask nothing of us; I want to say that it starts with all of us willing ourselves to remember, tell and accept those complicated, muffled truths of our lives and deaths, and the lives and deaths of folks all around us over and over again.

Then I want to say and mean that I am who my Grandma thinks I am.

I am not.

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. For real.

I know that by the time I left Mississippi, I was 20 years old, three years older than Trayvon Martin will be when he is murdered for wearing a hoodie and swinging back in the wrong American neighborhood. Four months after I leave Mississippi, San Berry, a 20-year-old partner of mine who went to Millsaps College with Gunn and me, will be convicted for taking Pam McGill, a incredible social worker, in the woods and shooting her in the head.

San confesses to kidnapping Ms. McGill, driving her to some woods, making her fall to her knees and pulling the trigger while a 17-year-old black boy named Azikiwe waits for him in the car. San will eventually say that Azikiwe encouraged him to do it. Even today, journalists, activists and folks in Mississippi wonder what really happen with San, Azikiwe and Pam McGill that day. Was San trying to swing back? Swinging back at what? Were there mental health issues left unattended? Had Ms. McGill, San and Azikiwe talked to each other before the day? Why was Azikiwe left in the car when the murder took place? How could someone as committed to people as Pam McGill suffer such a fate?

I can’t front, though. I don’t wonder about any of that terrible shit. Not today.

I wonder what all three of those children of our nation really remember about how to slowly kill themselves and other folks in America the day before parts of them died under the blue-black sky in Central Mississippi.

About Kiese

Kiese Laymon is a fiction writer and essayist who writes frequently on pop culture, hip hop and politics. He is currently teaches English, Africana Studies and Creative Writing at Vassar College.
This entry was posted in 710,006 Cold Dranks Delivered, ETHER?, Uncategorized. Bookmark the permalink.

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

  1. L. Zavier says:

    this is the kind of writing that changes lives. real talk.

  2. Molly says:

    You threw away your gun and showed us your piece. Still just as loaded as that weapon, but so very much more YOU. Thank you for who you become in these moments, who you step into; such a personal thing and yet your impact spreads into crevices and lives you couldn’t possibly see. Thank you for what you have chosen to show us.

  3. marykate says:

    Read this on Gawker. This is ridiculously high-quality, important writing for that normally quite shitty blog. One of the best things I’ve read in a while. Will be buying whatever you get published, sir. Thank you.

  4. Simone Davis says:

    Thank you for writing this. Really. Truly. Thank you.

    There is a reason you are here today. Your story is America, broken but alive.

  5. WOW, just WOW. That was an amazing piece of writing. Thank you for sharing.

  6. R says:

    “Who, what, why and how have you been slowly killing yourself and others in America? This might be the only question that matters, the only question that catches up with us all before we have no more breath to breathe, no more American memory to remember.”

    I’m going to be doing a lot of thinking about this question. Thank you.

  7. Archamedes says:

    You bored the fuck out of me.

  8. Balminder Singh mangat says:

    Any deficiency in mental capability to understand, what is expressed….. or just uneducated….

  9. What an incredible insight into the spirit of not only a young black person growing up in America, but the similar inner struggle of many, many young people of either gender and any colour, rebelling and trying to sort out all of the good and evil within themselves, and find their place in a society that is so, so very far from perfect or fair. I am sure you will have a profound influence on thinking people, with your unique ability to articulate finding your way through the woods (for want of a better way to say it). You sound like a leader for today.

  10. F H Monberg says:

    Please make an effort to learn about Dr. Ede Warner. The two of you would be an incredible team which could move America.

  11. Victoria says:

    As a black female from England I am humbled and horrified by the truths your piece tells. There is racism everywhere; black people from particularly poor neighbourhoods in London will attest to that. This being said I don’t think that anywhere in England do black people suffer as much as they do in the States. This is such a poignant piece of writing, I was moved to tears. Upon discovering you were a professor at Vassar College I couldn’t help but feel all the more impressed by your perseverance and ultimately, your successes. Thank you, thank you for this powerful piece of writing. On top of being honest and frank, it was beautiful too and your resilience was inspiring.

  12. Jonah says:

    “bullets enter and hopefully exist my chest” (exit?)

  13. Erin says:

    I lived not too far from Millsaps. I wonder if anything has changed in the last 15 years. Is it still the same? Are we doomed to repeat this horrible cycle?

  14. Kiese says:

    I don’t think we’re doomed at, Erin. And that’s what scary. There’s something terrible and inevitable in doom, but something bone chilling in accepting responsibility for the well-being of people of a country and a region.

    Again, I’m so thankful that yall read that piece. I hope it will make even more sense when you read the two other essays that frame it.

  15. Souleye says:

    I appreciate the authentic voice and expression. This piece grapples with achievement, oppression, survival, love, loathing and identity.
    It is difficult to understand suicide, it seems easier to understand when anger and rage result in murder. Once my 22 yr. old nephew committed suicide I completely understood how that rage and isolation manifested itself into the bullet he unloaded into his head. The understanding came a little too late. I now focus on those who are here and struggling.

    Much success to you in reaching those spirits who need this message.
    I truly thank you for this.

  16. Bec says:

    I’m a 48 year old African-American male who grew up in an extremely segregated city-state Boston, Mass. This could be my story or Diamonds who.was shot and killed over a nickel bag or Scooby’s story who has popolated Boston by at least 10 children who dont now him because most of his time is spent in jail for not paying child support and beating his baby momma’s on the regular. I was killing myself slowly until my.Mother and aunt shipped me to DC which gave me another chance at life once I.stopped killing myself slowly at 21. I now hv 3 degrees a Bachelors and.Dual Masters. As fate would have it I had a.spinal injury which slowed me to.the point that I cannot kill myself slow, fast etc. This Author is REAL. Bec

  17. Jo says:

    This moved me. The message of self growth is intense and powerful for me. Even though I have no idea what it means to be a black male since I am a white female, the struggle for perfection based on societal norms is familiar to me. I respect and honor this blog more than words can explain. Thank you for sharing such an amazing and personal story. I have posted this on my Facebook page encouraging people to read it. It truly moved me!

    Much respect!

  18. Clint Womack says:

    This is a wonderful piece. I’m a southern boy and fellow writer who grew up in West Jackson, rural Arkansas, South Jackson, high school at Murrah, with a family that finally made our way to the affluent neighborhood of Belhaven right beside Milsaps and eventually I took myself to a mid-west liberal arts school (Macalester) like Kiese where I was pleased to get good financial aid. This piece of writing is unflinchingly honest and truthful. Being a writer, I’m sure you understand that what is true and false rarely matters, but what feels truthful and rings with honesty is the type of writing one ceaselessly seeks to produce. This essay has achieved that mark and beyond. Kudos.

  19. Shawn Bell says:

    It’s more than powerful…. I dont have the word(s) to resolve right now … but the emotions and understanding are present… It’s uncanny… as a young black guy from Jackson, Mississippi currently residing in NYC… I know this story so well…. it is as though we’re having dinner at the same table… It is more than amazing how your truth, your conversation is a balm my friend… THANK YOU SIR…

  20. tanisha says:

    thank you. so much. i can’t remember the last time i read anything that made me feel as much as this did.

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  22. Michael says:

    Fantastic read, excellent writing, and sobering. A dozen quotable lines I wish I had written here but never could.

  23. Michael says:

    Thought provoking writing. I’m a white South African watching as our country comes to grips with its racially-charged past. Some days I think to myself we’re all the same, just fighting the daily fight to find some semblance of joy in a rather miserable world. Poverty, unemployment, AIDS, death…so much death. As a journalist I see more death than people normally do and kill myself slowly by drinking too much and telling myself there is no such thing as one too many. I unleash my strange sense of humour on my blog (www.themikeappel.wordpress.com) and simply dream. Thanks for a good read

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  27. Ananda says:

    That’s Mississippi for you. My family had to run away from the state because of race-related crimes. The South is a hard place. Thank you for telling the truth. Nothing helps heal better than that.

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  30. Aanya Niaz says:

    Your writing instills an urgent need for human beings to seek the truth: vulnerability and exposure. Exposing who we are to ourselves; to translate that into a life. You have saved lives by writing this, I am sure.

    Wish you the best, today and forever.

  31. Devyn says:

    I, like Kiese’s mom, don’t know anything but to raise them on parole. I understand her desire for excellence at all times as well as the impossibility of perfection. I want more for them than survival. I want life, liberty, the pursuit and apprehension of happiness. But I know, in the pit of my stomach……I know……. I keep praying and hoping and trying to believe different and better for them but I know…… in the pit of my stomach……. I know. So tell me then, how do you raise kids to enjoy their childhood yet at the same time prepare them for a very lonely silent pain that they largely will not be able to talk about? That no one but each other will understand and even then have no remedy for? When everything in you wants to swing back but you cannot unless you are ready to die? The problem with having so much love is understanding that while God is able, He is sovereign. That He gives and He takes away and blessed be His name. My mama would say I’m buying worry but I can’t help it because I know. In the pit of my stomach I know….

  32. Anna says:

    This is the best piece of writing I have read in modern times. I can not tell you how much I enjoyed your blog. It’s like a breath of fresh air. All I want to hear is the truth because the lies make me tired.

    Thank you.

  33. Ed says:

    Kiese,
    We up here, in an Ontario landscape of snow and granite, are insulated from these razor-sharp divisions. The human toll of these divisions was wrought in the lack of eye-contact I received in South Carolina cotton country. Why do black people reject me with a mixed drink (drank) of simmering hatred and a shot of fear? I guess, at first glance they think I’m a local. These are two powerful solitudes. My education will continue in February when we return to st.. Augustine Fl- a town that is unable to acknowledge its final, crucial role in Dr. King’s swing back.
    At this time, in late December 2012, I can’t help but think of how much a gun- saturated society requires of its citizens: it requires them to make careful and restrained choices, choices you were equipped to manoeuvre, but so many others, aren’t.
    Ed

  34. Anonymous says:

    I’m a 22 year old white college Senior from a suburban town in Northern Massachusetts. Despite having no experiences even remotely similar to the author, I somehow found myself relating to many of the feelings he expressed. I applaud the author for being able to sum up his own experiences, along with other psychological issues that we all face, in such a simple yet eloquent manner.

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  36. Hi there! I realize this is kind of off-topic however I needed to ask.

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  39. Calvin Johnson says:

    This was amazing writing. I loved it from begining to end.

  40. My brother recommended I might like this blog. He was totally right.
    This publish actually made my day. You cann’t believe simply how a lot time I had spent for this info! Thanks!

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  42. David says:

    Thank you man. You write well. I get the sense you find solace in it, but you’ve given me some too; appreciate it.

    Regards from Sydney

  43. David says:

    *I appreciate it

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  45. lisa hammons says:

    I have read this 5 times so far. I’ve made sure that my son has read it as well…..

  46. LJ Simmons says:

    On my way to a hair appointment today, I took How to Slowly Kill Yourself and finished it in the 3 1/2 hours it took me to get my hair braided. I just felt the urge to write and thank you for writing such a beautiful book. I had almost given up on reading modern black authors, but your book has shown me that there are modern authors like you out there that bring beautiful words to the page.

    I hope that you continue writing and you can be sure that I will continue reading your wonderful work.

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