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.
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.
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.
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.