— November 6, 2012 11:15 p.m.
I'm black-folks-blushing at Rove, Limbaugh, O'Reilly and the FOXy crew lamenting the supposed loss of their country to lazy black and brown Americans in search of free "stuff." But in an hour or so, I assume these American patriots will be driven to their million-dollar homes to check on their stock shares and make sure the trust funds of their children's children's children are nice and supple, in this, the second reign of that racist, socialist, leftist revolutionary, President Barack Hussein Obama. When the wealthiest, most despicable Americans among us, lose, don't they always still find a way to win? Isn't the answer to that question what makes them (and us) so emotionally and morally sick? What would happen if we changed the questions we asked these Americans, our Presidential candidates, and ourselves? Might honest, probing, imaginative questions and memories nudge all of us to reckon with our painfully dishonest, unimaginative, socially unjust American lives?
— November 7, 2012 2:15 a.m.
An emotion resembling prides leaps through my blood as I watch my President, in his second Presidential acceptance speech, lie to us. "We are greater than the sum of our individual ambitions," he says. "And we remain more than a collection of red states and blue states. We are and forever will be the United States of America."
Like you, I love being lied to late at night.
But beyond the pride in winning and the happiness that they lost, I can't shake the question James Baldwin asked some fifty-one years ago.
"What really exercises my mind," Baldwin said, "is not this hypothetical day on which some other ‘first' will become the first [Black] President. What I am really curious about is just what kind of country he'll be President of."
— October 29, 2008 2:15 a.m.
"I'm not wearing anything with Barack Obama's name on it," my mother tells me over the phone tonight.
I'm at work in upstate New York. Mama is at home in Central Mississippi.
"I'm serious," she says. "I'm not trying to have some redneck knock me upside my head, or run my car off in the Pearl River over a damn Obama bumper sticker." Mama wants me to say something. "And you shouldn't either, Kie."
I make myself laugh until my throat burns but Mama doesn't even chuckle.
"I know you," she says. "And I know you'll do whatever I tell you not to do, but a hardhead makes a soft behind when you're dealing with entitled folks who never learned how to lose."
My mother is simply being my mother.
As long as I can remember, Mama has slept with a .22 under her pillow, closed her blinds at 6 p.m. and refused to answer the door unless she has invited you a day in advance.
But that's just a millimeter of my Mama's story.
One expects to hear this kind of stilted racial paranoia over Obama shirts and bumper stickers from a typical American voter, not a woman who has been a political analyst and a professor of Political Science for almost 30 years.
Tomorrow, on November 4, 2008, Mama will be on some local station in Jackson, Miss., prognosticating her ass off. Mama won't lie to Mississippians watching her on election night, but she damn sure won't tell them the truth either.
Whether it was Brown v. Board, the Montgomery Bus Boycott, Meredith enrolling in Ole Miss in 1962, Freedom Summer, the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party's bum-rush in 1964, the Civil Rights Act in the same year, the Voting Rights Act of 1965, the Swann decision in 1971, the Civil Rights Restoration Act of 1988, Mama taught me that black Americans have always born the brunt of domestic, economic terrorism after supposed monumental policy and political wins.
As Mama talks to me on the speaker phone from about how resentment and backlash will find a way to shrink blurry exits of poverty for black and brown Americans during an Obama Presidency, I'm mmhmm-ing her to death and looking for a t-shirt in my closet.
Hanging next to the 15-year-old brown polyester suit she bought for my high school graduation and a sky blue Jackson State hoodie is the sickest Obama shirt you've ever seen in your life. It's a black pre-washed cotton tee with a huge red, black and green picture of Obama's face on it. Obama's face is liquid aluminum, like a contemplative red, black and green Terminator 4. On the bottom, in that played out Times New Roman are the words, "Yes We Can."
Mama doesn't know about my RBG T4 Obama shirt.
Anyway, I wear the shirt three times a week and I'll definitely rock it tomorrow morning when I vote. Tonight, I'm imagining wearing the shirt while driving home to Mississippi for Christmas. RBG T4 Obama shirt and I are hauling ass through Pennsylvania, Virginia, West Virginia, Tennessee and Alabama, in late December, our back seat covered with more than fifteen folded RBG T4 Obama shirts I plan on giving away to my family and friends in Jackson.
I'm bumping this Mahalia Jackson/Andre 3000 duet as I pull up to a dusty gas Amoco in Northern Alabama. I open the door of my truck as fourteen white locals look at me and Obama shirt with hate in their mind, envy in their hearts and "Niggers these days" on the tips of their wet thin lips. Within seconds, the locals are wearing my Obama shirts, sipping on Faygos and talking that good shit with some other black Alabamans and me about the underrated importance of moral imagination and local activism in carving the policies that will mitigate the economic and social problems of our region.
I hardly sleep, but love to dream.
When I was younger, Mama said that lack of moral imagination on the part of most white folks was exactly why black girls and boys needed to be twice as good to get half as much of white Americans in our country. She said you have to pity an entitled group of people who believe black and brown folks are getting more than they deserve when they themselves have twenty times more wealth, better access to quality health care, are far less likely to go to prison or grow up in poverty, and are five times more likely to go to college. "Don't ever let them beat you," Mama and Grandma repeated with their daily, "I love you's." Both neglected to tell me there was also a bruising, bloody price to pay for being better than white folks drunk off of American entitlement.
I learned that shit on my own, way up in Poughkeepsie, New York.
"Mama," I say over the phone. "I gotta go but I hear you."
I hang in the grainy silence, hoping that Mama will change the subject to Serena Williams, or my insomnia, or her recent surgery. I'm hoping Mama will tell me that God won't give us anything we can't handle or some other bloated cliché'.
Instead, Mama eventually sighs and says again, "Kie, people who never learned to lose will do anything to see us not win. When they lose to Obama, they'll figure out a way to win anyway. It's just too much."
"You way too cynical, Mama" I tell her. "We got this."
"I love you, Kie," she says. "Stay safe, and pray for Michelle, Barack and those kids."
"Mama, I thought you were saying that we should pray for us."
"It's just too much," Mama says. "This has nothing to do with Politics. Goodnight, Kie."
Mama hangs up the phone and I pull the RBG T4 t-shirt out of my closest put it next to my red Pumas, an army green sweatshirt and some baggy black shorts I'll wear early tomorrow morning when I go to vote.
I'm playing it off, imagining the celebrations that will follow the election of our first black President. But not even deep down, though, I know Mama is right.
We know Mama is right.
Obama will win. We will win. Then we will continue to lose. And the right questions will never be honestly asked or answered, and it's all just too much.
— November 5th, 2008 2:15 a.m.
Earlier tonight, I wore my RBG T4 Obama shirt as Barack Obama beat John McCain into a pile of All-American dust. Hundreds of Vassar College students celebrated in front of my apartment on campus. Some kids streaked, while others unknowingly remixed a traditional lynch scene by hoisting up a life-size cardboard Barack Obama into the moon lit sky. Joyful sounds echoed for hours as young Americans who would never call themselves hipsters, rich or racist morphed into patriots with chants of USA! USA!
One of my wonderful first-year white students walked up to me in the midst of the celebration and said, "Congratulations," like he knew I just hit the Mega Millions or paid off my student loans.
I had done neither.
"Oh," I said. "Congratulations to you, too."
Really, I just registered it as one of those slick things "good" white folks do when confronted with splendid black American achievement. Honestly, I didn't know what the victory, the celebration in that space or the congratulations of black Americans meant. Didn't know if we were celebrating Obama's victory, McCain's defeat, the end of Bush's regime, our deliverance, the possibility of a post-racist America, triumph for African Americans or a little bit of it all.
When the dry pulpy feeling got too much to bear, I got in my car to drive downtown where most of the black and brown folks in Poughkeepsie live, and where a good number of folks live in poverty.
The mile and a half drive from the corner of Main and Raymond to the waterfront was as quiet a drive as I'd ever experienced. No human beings were outside. There were no signs, sounds of shared celebrations. There was no echo.
I wondered if the Poughkeepsie police would have stood for that.
Inside those apartments, houses and buildings, I assumed folks were smiling from the inside out. I also assumed most of those folks were wondering how retribution for this splendid black American achievement would be played out on their bodies, pockets, spirits and minds. I wondered if the right questions could ever really change anything.
— October 29, 2012 2:15 a.m.
I'd like to thank President Obama and Governor Romney for giving us 20 minutes in this last/lost debate of 2012. Thank both of you for agreeing to release this transcript after November 6th. If I ask a question you don't want to answer, you can say, "That's that shit I don't like," and I will do my best to move on to another question. You have two "That's that shit I don't likes" at your disposal. Instead of a coin toss, whoever best answers our first question will have the option of going first or second. Our first question comes from a young woman from Brooklyn. "How would you describe the color of Donald Trump's face?"
GOVERNOR ROMNEY – I'd have to say he's just tan. Maybe I'm missing something but I'd call it a supple kind of pink.
PRESIDENT OBAMA – Listen, I've gotta go with the color of watered down Tang.
Damn. That's good, man. Really good. Would you like to go first or second, President Obama?
OBAMA – First.
President Obama, you signed The Fair Sentencing Act, a historic piece of legislation that narrows the crack and powder cocaine sentencing disparity from 100:1 to 18:1, and for the first time eliminates the mandatory minimum sentence for simple possession of crack cocaine. While this was long overdue, wouldn't a real Fair Sentencing Act also ensure that elite American colleges, universities and gated communities are policed for drug use, drug abuse and drug distribution as much as urban areas currently are, especially since most incarcerated Americans are poor black and brown non-violent drug offenders?
OBAMA - Listen, while I agree that we need to think about how we police particular groups of Americans more than others, I'm not sure it's the role of the President to tinker with policing practices, especially ones that substantially impact the prison industrial complex. We wanted to make the sentencing guidelines fair and we did.
Is 18:1 fair?
OBAMA – It's fairer than it was.
True, but is it fair that not one drug user, abuser or seller at the college where I teach has gone to prison in the ten years I've been there, yet I personally know at least 20 brothers in Poughkeepsie from the same neighborhood who have been incarcerated in that same time?
ROMNEY – I don't understand the question. Those black and brown non-violent drug offenders would have a better chance at the American dream if there was a father in their house. If I am elected President, I plan on creating civic organizations that go door to door in urban neighborhoods with binders of eligible, hard working, clean Black and Latino men. Prison reform and fair sentencing starts with the family, and the new American family start with reforming fathers and families, not the government.
OBAMA – Governor Romney loves him some binders, doesn't he?
You ain't lying about that. President Obama, we incarcerate more people than any other country in the world. Why?
OBAMA - See. That's that shit I don't like. How can I answer that question. Listen, while we need to look at our incarceration practices, we also need to look at the communities we are trying to protect when we incarcerate these brothers and sisters. We've got to think of the victims, too.
President Obama: You are a black man. There are more black men in prison than any other group in the nation, and black women are the fastest growing group of incarcerated folks in the United States. Why?
OBAMA - I think I've answered the question. I told you that was that shit I don't like.
Word? Okay then.
OBAMA - Does that count as my second "That's that shit I don't like?"
It does not. Governor Romney, how does the Republican party, the self-proclaimed party of personal responsibility never, ever, ever, ever take any responsibility for the state of the nation or the world?
ROMNEY - I don't understand the question.
Are you and your party responsible for any of the problems in the United States?
ROMNEY - I don't understand the question. That's that shit I don't like.
This is a two-part question from a woman in Forest Mississippi. Governor Romney, how can the people with the most stuff in the nation complain so much about other people with so little wanting more stuff?
ROMNEY - That's the shit I don't like.
Cool. That's your last "That's the shit I don't like." Governor Romney, would President Obama, the first standing President to have his citizenship questioned, have been granted the same generosity afforded George Bush if his failure led to the deaths of over 3000 Americans?
ROMNEY – I think I've answered this question. The President has the responsibility to call terrorism what it is and to do everything in his power to stop it before it starts.
OBAMA – Listen, no sitting President wants to find himself in the position that President Bush found himself on the morning of 9/11. Listen, Americans are by and large a forgiving people and I have done everything in my power to keep this exceptional country, the best country on the face of the earth, safe from terrorism. I take responsibilities for mistakes made along the way but our record is strong in the area of defense, especially compared to my predecessor.
President Obama, you've talked extensively in previous debates about the incredible work of the soldiers who have lost their lives fighting for the freedom of others around the globe. It's obvious that this tragedy hurts you. Does it also hurt when you received reports of drones murdering civilians around the world?
OBAMA – Yes, it does.
ROMNEY – This is exactly the kind of apologizing the President of the United States does not need to be doing.
OBAMA – The question was does it hurt, not was I apologizing.
President Obama, would you like to apologize to the families of the civilians our drones have murdered?
OBAMA – Listen, we have tried to be as responsible as possible. Have we made some mistakes? Yes. But as commander-in-chief, I take responsibility for all those mistakes.
Would you like to apologize?
OBAMA - That's too simplistic. A lot of you work in the world of words. I respect that, but I also have to deal in reality of action.
Oh, okay then. Can you commit to doing everything in your power to halt these morally unimaginative drone attacks?
OBAMA - That's that shit I don't like.
Governor Romney, I can't even spell Cosmopolitan without spell-check and I just got a passport yesterday, so please help me out. How does the only country in the world to actually use nuclear weapons to kill tens of thousands of people have the moral authority to tell other countries not to develop nuclear weapons?
ROMNEY – Yes.
ROMNEY - Yes. We are the greatest country in the world and we must do everything in our power to free people from dictators?
OBAMA – I can say it makes sense that the current President of the United States keeps nuclear weaponry out of the hands of reckless leaders.
Wait. What question are y'all answering? Listen, by the time this election is over, you both will have spent over 6 billion dollars on your elections. The talking heads on Fox, CNN and MSNBC will have been paid hundreds of millions of dollars to root for team Elephant or team Donkey, while millions of Americans are poor, homeless, hungry. Is this ethical economic behavior from the supposed best country on the face of the earth?
ROMNEY – Yes.
OBAMA – Yes.
Thank both of your for your time. Y'all some funny motherfuckers. For real! How come yall are never self-critical? Like, never. It's us, right? The voters, I mean. President Obama, I don't know how you carry all this shit on your back. I'm so sincere. It's beyond impressive and it's all too much, but seriously, I can't wait to see all the things you do for the betterment of our people and the world when you're out of office in 2016. If these heartbroken fucks don't find a way to hurt you and your family, you're going to do so much when you're free. Thanks for putting the country on your back and taking up the national slack. I know we're going to do more to help you out this time around. I think you know the areas where you've failed to ethically lead even if you can't admit it. But the truth is that our unethical, morally suspect nation doesn't deserve an ethical or moral President. That's that shit I don't like. Thank you anyway for being a better President than we deserve.
ROMNEY - What about me? I'd like equal time.
You? You were born rich. You will die rich. But you're about to have your little golden heart broken next week because y'all always underestimate and devalue us. Always. When the rules are fair, we're better than you because we have to be. Close your binders and hear what I'm saying. When the rules are fair, Mitty Mittens, we're better than you because we have to be.
ROMNEY - I want to apologize for going over my allotment but with all due respect, that's that shit I don't like.
Yeah. Me either. All this feels like too much, Mittens, and four more years doesn't seem long enough to make right what we, and mainly y'all, have made wrong. But it will be. Americans gutted the moral imagination of our country, and Americans will fill and feel that wound with our bodies, hearts, imaginations and pockets. Will you? Actually, I don't even give a fuck. Voting was the easy part. Y'all were shocked we voted, but your head is about to explode at what we do next. These next four years, it really is all on us to earn the country and President we want. It really is up to us to compassionately and fairly claim this country as ours, too. And part of sharing is learning how to lose, Mittens. Honestly, the past and future of our country have depended on it. It's time for more Americans to win so we can re-imagine the game. Our country and the people inhabiting it have got to get better from the inside out. Help the country by teaching your people how to be thoughtful, just losers. Sadly, it's one of our only hopes. And that that shit I really don't like.
Kiese Laymon is the author of the forthcoming novel, Long Division, and a book of essays called, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. He is an associate professor of English at Vassar College and blogs at Cold Drank. He is a contributing editor to Gawker, overseeing the weekend personal essay series. Send your suggestions to firstname.lastname@example.org.