Greetings from Vanderbilt. It is too hot here. The Magnolia trees are in bloom all over campus though, making me infinitely less cranky about the stifling heat (I think it's possible that I'd never seen a Magnolia tree in bloom before today). I finished Kiese Laymon's memoir last week and immediately recommended it to half my friends on goodreads. Kiese's mother, a black woman with a PhD who taught Political Science at Jackson State for years, is a central figure in this memoir. She taught Kiese how to write thoughtfully and think critically. He credits her with providing the foundation for his academic success. Kiese's mother also beat her son regularly (with shoes, belts, hands, etc). To this day, he has physical scars from the beatings. In a CNN interview after his book was published, Kiese explains that his mother beat him in fear of what white folks would do to him if he didn't learn to be submissive:
"We grew up in a part of this country where parents, black parents especially, taught their children that whatever they did to our bodies was going to be less harmful than what the police might do to you, what the teachers might do to you, what white mobs might do to you. My mom was very physically aggressive, trying to discipline my body in anticipation of what white supremacy and white people will do...She really believed that she could protect my body by beating my body...She did exactly what culture taught her to do. Discipline her son into submission so that he is not killed by white people...I never got a beating in my life when my mother didn't talk to me about what white people were going to do. I never just got a beating. The beatings came along with a critique of the nation, with a critique of white supremacy...Like, 'what I'm doing to you is nothing compared to what they will do.'"
This was perhaps the most important part of this book for me: understanding the cultural connection between these beatings and white supremacy. Obviously, this is an intense read, with detailed descriptions of physical and sexual abuse. It's an important book. Kiese Laymon is a talented writer. I'd love to meet him someday.