We continue our “Emotional Justice” conversation inspired by the rift between Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson. Today is Part 2, a conversation with writer, editor, scholar, author Kiese Laymon, Assistant Professor of English and Africana Studies at Vassar, and author of ‘Long Division’ and ‘How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America’. This is a partial transcript of a conversation from a special recorded by Esther Armah for her globally syndicated radio talk show, THE SPIN.
EA=Esther Armah KL=Kiese Laymon
EA: I want to set a context for this conversation. I’ve interviewed both Cornell West and Michael Eric Dyson about their work, books, and the work I do: ‘emotional justice.’ Emotional justice is about identifying, owning, and dealing with the way emotionality manifests: too often derailing, paralyzing, painfully toxic in our politics, activism, feminism, academia – in our movements – too often wrapped in other things. Emotional justice is a part of our movement – not a separate thing, but a call to recognize that structural change means paying attention to what is emotional and not calling it by another name, not justifying, defending, accusing, but sitting in that truth, telling the truth, owning it, in order to move and do the kind of structural work, make the kind of change that is such a crucial part of our movement. Kiese what did this TNR article look like for you?
KL: It looked catastrophic because these are two people who have influenced a lot of people in the academy; they’ve influenced a lot of folks outside the academy. I’ve learned so much from Cornell West, I’ve learned a little bit from Dyson. I don’t know these men personally, but it spoke about the inability of those of us who read for a living to still reckon with what we’ve read. And I think that’s something that we need to think a lot about. Your emotional justice work encourages us to deal with the ways our emotionality is not just destructive to ourselves and destructive to others – but we need other people to have to clean that mess up. And it just seems like that wasn’t contended with well enough. I don’t know that there’s many active models for how men and black men particularly begin to really do the hard work of not allowing what you call emotionality and toxic masculinity to destroy us and people close to us. I don’t know that we have many models of that and I think that is the problem because I think a lot of people look to those two men for models of how to be better men.
EA: What is the conversation that we’re not having? What is it about this toxic masculinity that silences the pain in particular ways and allows us to privilege the aggression or wrap it in his kind of wonderfully eloquent rhetoric?
KL: Right! I think one of the things we have to consider is the way that the structure, the market encourages spectacular emotional car crashes. What happens if Dyson writes a letter to Cornell West and it could be public that answers this question- Professor West, Brother West, this is how I want to be loved today? Another question: brother West I am hurt and this is how I’m willing to love tomorrow or this is how I’m unwilling to hurt. But the thing about those letters is they are not spectacular, they’re not going to be trending on twitter, they’re not going to be passed around the internet. They’re not going to make the The New Republic a lot of – possibly money – and definitely clicks, but they might be more important. I think with those kinds of letters to people who we’ve harmed, there is still a collision but it’s not a spectacular collision. This seems like this was intended to be spectacular. But again, the question is often who has to clean up that mess? And I’m not speaking as someone who’s above spectacular collision, because when I read that piece you know I wanted to initially write a spectacular, critical, condemning piece. I just think we have to reckon with that impulse that we’ve been conditioned to initially try to destroy ourselves and other people particularly black folk, and usually – particularly – black women and men, when they do things that we don’t like. There a lot feeding the spectacle, there’s a lot encouraging the car crash.
EA: And the car crash is profitable! We cannot create an alternative that would ever measure to the spectacularness of the crash, or the recognition as a result of the crash. That is not what any kind of emotional justice or emotional healing does. What we also can’t do is the thing where we are kind of dismissive of the emotionality and think what that means is somebody saying to somebody else: okay well, my feelings have been hurt and this needs to change. Emotionality is actually much more spectacular than that, when it shape-shifts and morphs into what we are working with, looking at, and talking about right now. It turns into something, unchecked.
This is a partial transcript of a special episode of THE SPIN. Listen to the full conversation here: soundcloud.com/thespin1/the-spin-special-with-kiese-laymon-4-23-2015
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