Today we conclude part 3 of our ‘emotional justice’ conversation, inspired by the rift between Cornel West and Michael Eric Dyson, as well as the current climate of social justice movements. Today at 4:30 EST, EBONY will host a Twitter chat between myself and 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.’ The Twitter chat will focus on issues raised in our conversation from the special I recorded for my globally syndicated radio talk show, THE SPIN: what does the division of emotional labor between men and women in healthy movements look like? What have we been afraid to risk to build those movements? What work are we willing to do to change that? Below is an excerpt of our recent conversation about the subject that sets the tone for today’s chat.
Esther Armah: So often the casualties in black men’s manner of reckoning are black women. So often the emotional casualties are the health of the movements that we claim we want to transform in order to create the kind of progress that would make our lives better. When you have that kind of mix; of power and pain and ego and audience – how do you not turn something like this into an intellectual car crash? What would that be? What would that look like for you?
Kiese Laymon: I think to myself what would we have to give up? And I think what we would have to give up is this notion that actively regretting what you’ve done is a sign of weakness. So you hear a lot of men saying ‘I don’t regret such and such because if I hadn’t done that I wouldn’t be the person I am today’ without taking into account inventory of who we actually are today. Often who we are today is someone who was vulnerable and hurt and pained. And more specifically when you don’t regret what you’ve done in the past, you’re saying to yourself – and other people – I don’t regret the way I’ve hurt other people in the past – because we’re not autonomous. So I think one way is to embrace this idea of active regret – sometimes public regret – but that’s not the work.
This is the thing in our American culture where so much dishonesty is thrown around, and we are all dishonest people, I think sometimes we think being honest is the work. Being honest about how you think and feel and what you’ve done to people is not the work; it’s the beginning of the work. And I’m not judging Michael Eric Dyson or Cornel West about this; I’m saying that this is something that I have problems with. At my worst when I want to supposedly ‘reckon’, I say I’m just going to tell the truth – but telling the truth about what you’ve done wrong to yourself and other people is not remedying it but you cannot even get to a real remedy until we accept that.
EA: What for you has been the biggest challenge in reckoning or grappling with those moments where you feel the kind of righteous rage based on what you believe is betrayal and you make a decision to find another way?
KL: That’s the question. And I have not made the right decision all the time, and I have hurt myself when I haven’t made those decisions and I have hurt people close to me. And the reason I have done it is because I’m afraid. I’ve been afraid of doing it another way. Literally, I’ve been afraid of stepping in another direction, a direction that I know is more just and I know is healthier. I’ve been afraid to take care of myself and the people closest to me. I’ve been afraid to live with love guiding me, I’ve been afraid and part of the work that you do that has been so helpful for me has allowed me to say that: ‘I have been afraid and the fear has left craters in my body and my heart, and sadly has left some people real hurt. I have been afraid the risk of being honest about being in pain has been too high. So I want to start by saying that: I’ve been afraid to not hurt myself and to not hurt other people and to not hurt other black folk particularly – the risk has been too high to take care of us. So if I start by saying that: how do I move forward?
LISTEN TO THE FULL CONVERSATION HERE
JOIN US AT 4.30PM FOR THE TWITTER CHAT BY FOLLOWING @EBONYmag
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NYC Radio Host and Playwright