Call for Papers

The White Feminists Redux and Niggardly Hotep Affiliate Coalition have joined forces, putting their differences aside in order to vie for the joint individual rights of their respective subject positions through the explicit exploitation of particular pre-interpolated bodies manifest through late capitalist neoliberal hand-me-downs from Jim Crow and Bobby Brown, while reserving a seat for Carolyn Bryant’s ghost. T’Challa will be a guest speaker, and it is estimated that seven to ten or thirty-five Dora Milaje will die guarding the building. There will be no mass grave; the corpses will be resurrected to carry pyramids and give birth simultaneously. Winston Duke and Idris Elba will be lusted after and scolded in reference to said lust by Amy Schumer and Lena Dunham whose subsequent lawsuits are pending. Katy Perry and R. Kelly will lead a roundtable discussion on the benefits of youth engagement with Miss Grundy as a guest speaker. The panel: My Black Queens and Bean Pies requests abstracts on entrepreneurial property management after a reading by Iceberg Slim. There will be six panels on Gal Gadot’s intersectionality. Twenty-six panels on “Jessica Jones,” one for each Black body obliterated to unanimous applause toward the proliferation of white womanhood. Dr. Umar and Steve Harvey will be printing degrees for fifteen-thousand dollars each at an offsite event in the Chocolate Factory night club, ladies free after midnight. Separate registration fees required for the special conversation between Meryl Streep and Caitlyn Jenner on how universal trauma can bring us all together. The event is sponsored by Dove, Benetton and Apple.

Please send proposals of no more than 300 words to

There is no deadline.

Grill & Chill

I’ve been trying to nail down, more succinctly at least, why I have beef with Dairy Queen; it’s not their actual cow product because I’ve never tried it and probably never will, but something about the slogan “Grill & Chill” that I find so readily detestable in its presumed innocuousness, pre-packaged as it is to loathe, that it might as well be synonymous with terms like “great books,” or “classic” in the academy, whereby the bland allusion of positivity conceals Satan himself, behind the scenes strumming an out of tune guitar with the pick of destiny. Maybe it’s the language that bothers me. It’s gotta be deeper than how John Stuart felt about Arby’s. The term “Grill & Chill” supplants any thoughts of hunger I might have had with cold hamburgers sans cheese, dressed in Black face too, wearing the brown on the outside but still cold and pink in the middle. But with no mayonnaise, or ketchup. The bun of course, in this scenario would still be thawing. Not long ago I was stuck in an airport terminal at that point where hunger evolves into frustration and bad decision making. The only thing in the terminal was “Grill & Chill.” I walked almost forty minutes to the Popeyes. The thought of Dairy Queen doesn’t keep me up at night, but it certainly doesn’t help me sleep.

In waking dreams I find myself trapped in a “Grill & Chill” hell, this nightmarish land sandwiched between a white boy pulling a Gamecube and Miller Lite from his Jansport and the associative chill of the postmortem, watching anime reruns on Netflix with an ex before crossing the threshold of that inevitable mistake of all mistakes. What I really want, I think, is for “Grill & Chill” to no longer exist, for it to fall off the side of the turtle that this flat planet lays down on. Maybe the slogan can find a better way to express what it truly means: burgers and sundaes. Maybe we all can, but until then I continue to drive past “Grill & Chill” each day with my eyes glued to the road, trying not to inhale too deeply.

In The Morning (Shrug)

Some mornings the temptation to encourage people to go and fuck themselves is so seductive that I cannot muster up any clever ways of saying it which might be nearly as satisfying. In these states it is difficult to write, and they are intensified usually by the cesspool of reality that comes after say, a great writing workshop like the one I just left with Winter Tangerine. I’m trying to work through this. First, with India Arie, (last week it was Maxwell) and then by engaging with the constant dialogue taking place in my head instead of pretending I can focus on some other shit while riddled with anxiety. So I’ve been sitting down in the little brain interrogation room, the reality marble where I’m constantly re-playing and imagining every conversation I’ve ever had or might have with everyone I’ve ever known. The whole room is blue. I think because somewhere I might have read that it’s a soothing color, or I’m always thinking about drowning. Who knows. In it, the people who converse: old friends, family members, ex-lovers, acquaintances and the like, and even I, can only be our best selves. It’s like a rule. We are honest, and humble and all that, which is why I never forget that it’s a fantasy. We all speak plainly, succinctly.

There, I tell my mother that I love her without flinching at the qualifications. The white girl from Arcadia tells me that she only accused me because she was afraid, embarrassed about what she did to a Black body. I tell the woman who flew from Europe for me that I was not at all ready to receive her. I admit to teenage friends that I was passive aggressive because I was jealous they had parents. I call my dad’s phone number more than once. An ex admits that her abuse had little to do with me or the kids. I discover the real reason why someone I trusted decided I was no longer worth their breath. I shake Robby’s hand in the barbershop, I don’t laugh when I find out what happened to him.

And nothing is fine there, of course, and I know it’s not real because I can understand it. It’s too fair, too tangible and sometimes logical. There is something like reconciliation.

And after the moment, I get around to finishing Two Serious Ladies (see: any two European White ladies) at the airport where the flight was delayed. Well, cancelled till the next day. A widely grinning white man walks up to me while I’m reading, and somehow he pinpoints exactly where I’m at on the page.

“Are they in Panama yet,” he asks, so excitable that the only word I can think of to describe him is guffawing, even though I find the word hideous.

“Yes,” I say.

And he tells me it’s the best part, but he doesn’t leave. He says it’s the best part again, so I compare the book to a few Wes Anderson films, because judging by his appearance I could tell he loves Wes Anderson films. He says again that it’s the best part. In it, a big Black magical negress “does its jig on the page” as Mat Johnson might say, as a big, scary, Black plot device for one of the protagonists, Mrs. Copperfield to measure her humanity against, begin her process of transformation, and then discard said nameless negress. Very second wave feminist. Then Mrs. Copperfield meets another woman, a beautiful Spanish prostitute named Pacifica, who she fetishizes damn near off the mufucking page before refusing to leave her side like a child. She decides that she and Pacifica are friends. She sits downstairs with another woman, Mrs. Quill, while Pacifica is upstairs being raped by a sailor. Mrs. Quill and Mrs. Copperfield feel bad at first, then they have drinks, decide she can take care of herself, and ponder life.

The white man still standing in front of me winks hard before walking away.

In my head I have interesting conversations with my classmates about the book, ones that include history and accountability, literary theory and feminism, realism and craft, Playing in the Dark and The Gilda Stories (especially Jewelle Gomez’s interview where she describes the impetus for writing it and the scene where Gilda sets a trap for their abuser). In my reading response I stick as closely as I can to pontificating Eurocentric aesthetic value. I remember that Citizen is on every syllabus, so it’s all good. During workshop I nod and say thank you. 

Weeks ago I let slip in class that gendered and racialized descriptions of characters in fiction can never equal mere descriptors, environmental placeholders or what have you, but carry weight in regards to ideological critique, history, place, socio-cultural contexts and several other things, in frustration, the exact phraseology and context of which I cannot repeat here. It was probably like my fifth slip-up in my graduate career. It was exhausting. I remembered Aisha cursing me out because a character in a story I’d written was racially problematic, and I told her I was going for something like that, but trying to be more subtle. She said that was stupid. She was right. In class I stopped talking–after a few choice words…

I smiled and nodded.

A woman in administration asked me why I wrote “Black” in my author bio. She seemed concerned. Instead of suggesting that it clearly mattered to her, and therefore she was answering her own question, I started with like Audre Lorde and went all the way to Wilderson. She asked me again, and wanted to know why Jake didn’t write anything like that in his bio. I smiled and nodded.

At the cafe where my friend Chamara and I often work, I see the person I trusted. We were standing closely, so they turn their back and laugh about some other stuff with a friend. I shrug, it’s their right. When I sit down to work, an Asian woman sitting behind Chamara complains that she is afraid because there are too many Black people around these days. We are two, actually. In the cafe at least, like 2.4 in the whole Graduate English department. In my head, I embarrass the woman by asking her–in my Samuel Jackson cooning on a commercial voice–why she is so worried about the flood of niggers around here, and how she thinks we might all best protect ourselves. I ask her if we need anti-nigger highwaters and umbrellas and galoshes and if she has any leftover coupons for them. I smile and nod. Then I go back to writing.

I text Young Taylo to say that the way she handles white girls can be a form of self-care.

Then I go back to writing.

Antigua: The Snug

To say that I wouldn’t have fucked her under the right circumstances would have been a complete lie, though it’s certainly not beside the point. The first five minutes of our conversation shown a sense of humor so dark and lovely that it actually made me uncomfortable; I almost sobered up when she said “yeah, I can think of several easier ways to kill them. Here, let me write them down for you.” She was from Spain originally, and went to school for biology at Johns Hopkins, but she wasn’t annoying about it at all. Even though I couldn’t get a direct lead on her family background, I was comfortable talking to her in a way that typically unfolds between two kids who grew up in ghettos and ran away to a succession of private colleges and juxtaposing disenchantments. Now she worked in ecology. She was doing research in Costa Rica but traveling around Latin America whenever she had time off. That’s how I met Paola and her friend at The Snug in Antigua. It was cozy. The name of the bar was fitting, since you were essentially touching whoever you spoke to, which, especially in this context, I didn’t mind. I had already done the mental calculations of me and Paola’s life together: the one story house in Manuel Antonio with three baby goats, like one pig, three dogs and a little plot out front for the lazy ass kids to work the land. And while I couldn’t figure out if she was interested, her friend clearly was. Fucking dilemmas. The friend, whose name I now can’t remember was taller, and thinner, and direct. As soon as Paola went to the bathroom, her friend slid up right next to me like she didn’t see nothing wrong with a little bump and grind. Then as other people squeezed past us into the bathroom, she got beside me and put her arm around my waist. To be clear, she wasn’t making me uncomfortable, and she was definitely cute as hell, and I was drunk, and lonely. Conditions were tilted towards certain probabilities. But. She was just boring. Like super regular. Not a bad person or anything, just super regular. That didn’t matter for long though, because when she noticed how I looked at her friend returning from the bathroom, she hit me with a chuckle and a long “oh,” before moving her arm from around me and leaning on a stool.

Her friend Paola never made it back over to us though because she was stopped by two guys in the opposite corner of The Snug. Two became three, and then four. She had her foot up against the wall near the bar and some of the men were about half an arm’s length away from her. They were smiling and laughing; she was smiling and laughing, but from where I was, and having just met her, I couldn’t tell if hers was the fake safety smile and laugh or something genuine. So I asked her friend.

“I feel like we should–”

“No, no, don’t worry about her, she’s fine,” her friend said. “That girl can really fucking handle herself.”

So I said okay and just got another beer for me and the friend. Paola’s friend was being genuine and didn’t think it would be appropriate to say anything or break it up, so she and I kept chatting, mostly making the kind of beautiful political jokes about American hypocrisy and elitism you can only get from people who’ve never lived there. I was anxious though and I kept looking over at Paola, but each time I was told to just stop worrying about her. And maybe I should have. And maybe–and this is the part that made me feel kind of sticky–maybe I was worried about intervening so much because there might have been something physical in it for me. Clearly, my interrupting the situation would have appeared to be out of some degrading sense of jealousy, especially after Paola’s friend who knew her far better than I, assured me she was okay. I might have just been another dickhead getting violent over a woman I barely even knew because of how I might want to use her body, her potential to be my property rather than someone else’s. Admitting that to myself, I suppose, accepting that my motivation for doing something uncomfortable–though very often necessary, might be shit–wasn’t as hard as I thought. Since my motivation was probably trash I decided I would just trust her friend, and so we laughed and joked over a few more drinks.

Still, the guys huddled around Paola seemed to me, to be getting a little more excited. Her friend caught me watching them again and side-eyed me for it, but I couldn’t help considering that for the past few nights the women who worked at The Snug had asked me to stay around after closing for safety reasons, citing instances of men waiting to harass them after things shut down. But, again, homegirl kept saying, “she’s fine, and grown and will get out if she wants to.”

But she looked uncomfortable. And the situation only seemed to be growing more tense. I was frustrated. There were a few reaches from the men and a hand or two slapped away, a hug averted, a kiss dodged. It started to make me angry. I tried to suppress it. One of the men clenched Paola’s bicep and she shrugged him off and leaned back against the wall calmly. At some point though, my anger began to overshadow any attraction I previously had to her. It was more akin to the kind of anger I felt whenever my mother was grabbed by her arm and thrown to the ground, in that kind of casual manner orchestrated by men who clearly do it all the time. I looked at Paola’s friend and she just shrugged. So I turned to the table behind us and put down my drink. When I turned around though, Paola was already walking towards us, being trailed by three of the men.

“Hey, you guys want to go somewhere else?” She suggested. She was telling us more than asking.

The men were still standing behind her, and up close I could see how small they were, which, unfortunately, emboldened me a little more. Paola never turned to look at them and when I asked if they needed something they pointed to her. Her friend shoved one of the men’s pointer fingers away and told them we were leaving before ushering me and Paola out the door. I felt guilt though before going and tried to ask one of the bartenders if she still wanted me to stay, but she said she was fine. I don’t know how many times I tried to verify this, since I was officially no longer sober. The men followed us all the way to the door and one of them blew a kiss as we walked down the street away from them. I was still angry, but also mollified by the liquor and I considered that a physical confrontation, no matter how much I wanted one and whether I’d won the fight or not, would probably not have been in anyone’s best interest. And my doing so might have had little to do with Paola anyway.

Me, Paola and her friend spent the rest of the night at this rooftop bar that was kind of cute but empty, just talking shit about the dudes and the United States until every drop of my meager Spanish, and the pool of both their academic English ran dry. I walked them back to where they were staying and I must have looked dumb sauced because they offered to let me sleep there, but I wanted to be alone. I never got to ask the kinds of questions I wanted to ask back then, and I never saw either one of them again. Back in my hostel that night, I considered calling my mother, but I thought better of it, and read some of “Bluets” instead, before passing out completely.

Unconditional Love is Trash

Due to a series of events–or rather a series of jokes I’ve made–it’s become abundantly clear that my son’s potential sexuality would draw a definitive line in the concrete, foreclosing some of the familial, suggestively unconditional love for which he would have otherwise been privy to. That is, he’s a Black boy and if he didn’t turn out to proudly fuck women frequently that might not be approved of. Nothing new, per se, but I’d been thinking a lot about the conditions of unconditional love lately, those both oblique and, with instances few and far between, clearly stated. More so than my own family hating me because they thought I was gay, long before I evolved into a hyper-sensitive nuisance with intellectual curiosity, I grow more certain by the day that I don’t believe in unconditional love. Not the fact of its existence, just that the idea that it’s something we should aspire to, or be proud of, feels more than mildly ridiculous. That might initially sound cruel, but fuck it, it’s a blog.    

For years, I took my feelings towards unconditional love as an immature jealousy of something I’ve never felt personally privy to, and that’s probably where the skepticism began. But lately I’ve begun to feel that it’s more socially problematic than just personal. Questions like “What Happens When the Rapist is Your Family Member?” aren’t really questions as much as they are excuses. This particular article was talking about Nicki Minaj’s brother, and her supporting him through rape accusations. But I care much less about her own politics than I do the polite consideration we seem to give those who don’t hold triflin’ ass family members and loved ones accountable. I dry heaved a little when Brock Turner’s daddy, in the rapist’s defense, read an entire letter in open court about how his son would “never be his happy go lucky self again,” amongst so much of the usual fuckery that I couldn’t ascribe enough fuck outta here’s to.

Sinking into the vampire infested lemon grove that is the comments section for such instances would, at first glance, trick you into thinking there is lively debate about the complications of dealing with unsavory loved ones. Not really. Most people, in lieu of evidence, defend blood and family and love and the need to protect each other, condemning the rapists as lone wolves…

Few sought to condemn both, and when I flippantly suggested to a friend that they’re all trash, said friend of mine asked what I would do if my son grew up to be a rapist.

Easy. Disown him, support his punishment, maybe accept short phone calls from a prison industrial complex that I don’t even believe should exist? All of the above? For some reason this seems like it shouldn’t be an easy thing to say, but it is. I’ve been told that this makes me a diabolical human being, and parent. I’ll admit it’s easier to jump to conclusions when considering worst-case scenarios; not every friend or family member or loved one is as horrible as a rapist, though there are subtle ways they can come close. But then I also have to admit that I was never conflicted over an R. Kelly, a Bill Cosby, a Chris Brown or a Louis C.K. This belies the fact that even though I’ve come to terms with my own grandfather, it doesn’t always feel like I have. I’m for complications and contradictions in personal politics, but I guess I feel like the excuse of unconditional love, like most empty words (patriotism, heroism, honor, justice, etc.) gets in the way of useful dialogue by conflating what we don’t know shit about into absolute, yet completely unregulated truths consisting of absolutely nothing. Group-thinking social pressure degrades these “truths” even further as they continue to be deployed as argument stoppers, slamming the gavel down just before we can honestly reckon with ourselves, each other, or anything useful.

The older I get though, the more often I’m confronted with aggressive protestations by people who are also grossly enabling the antithesis of their cause in every other context. Looking at you white liberals with the racist family members making all these violent ass decisions, all you married niggas cheating with everything that moves, hugging your wife and daughter on Instagram talking about “I got love for my queens.” There are frustrations. And I’m not convinced that direct confrontation is always the best answer, so while it does help thin out my friends list, I’m not always sure to what end.


Certified Philly Nigga

A few weeks ago, there was this meme going around in the form of a three question survey that asked: “A bus full of children ride by you on a Philly street, what are they saying? Wheels on the bus? Prayer? Or, Calling you a Dickhead?” To which Philadelphia residents overwhelmingly proved their Philadelphia-ness by choosing, “Calling you a dickhead” by a whopping 93%. You know who else reminded me of their unrelenting Philadelphia-ness beyond a reasonable doubt recently? Will Smith, in Bright. Here are at least ten times where it happened.

  1. In the scene where one of the stock jock cops steps up to Ward in the initial fight over the wand, he bumps chests with the man, looks him up and down slowly and says “Fuck is you squarin’ off on Bitch?” Crescendoing up to that first “B” so strongly that it requires a contortion of facial muscles unique to scoring a touchdown while playing tackle football with a huggie juice bottle in the middle of a concrete street in the summertime.
  2. When Ward is driving to work with Jakoby, who’s trying to make jovial chatter, he slides  into the conversation with a tone one might use to suggest a good mood to their dog and says “What face does an orc make who just shuts the fuck up and drives to work?” After which he immediately straightens his composure into more of a that’s what the fuck I thought mode. The “Toasty!” dude from Mortal Kombat may as well have jumped on screen in that moment, in all his 2-D spectacularness and been like “got eeeeem.”
  3. When threatened by internal affairs, under serious risk of losing his job or being ostracized by the rest of the police force, the most important consideration Ward has is to tell the Yosemite Sam looking boul: “Shave your mustache bitch!” in a manner so harsh that he is no longer even an agent, just some “boul,” so it’s the only term I can use to describe him after the verbal assault.
  4. When arguing with Jakoby about letting a suspect get away, Ward simultaneously escalates and deescelates the argument, going from: “Fucked my life over some stupid Orc knucklehead” to, only one sentence later, “I will fuck you up in a gun fight,” relegating gun fights to the same linguistic realm in which niggas argue over both Street Fighter and NBA2K.
  5. When a gang shows up to claim the wand that Ward obviously has in his possession, he deflects with the gem “Ghetto rumors homie, you don’t wanna get shot in your face over a rumor, do you?”
  6. After said gangsters give up trying to negotiate with Ward, he skirts off in the cop car, and when someone fails at shooting through the window at him he yells, most aggressively, “Bullterpfoof dickead!” and here, the “D” is so strong he might as well have been a nigga half your height dribbling through your whole team and laying you up on a basketball court with no net after he made you jump like ten seconds before the ball even left his hand.
  7. In Ward’s attempt to negotiate with the magic feds over the fellow cops he’s killed, his entire suggestive demand is laid out with the sentence: “A man like you could dead that noise right?”
  8. When surrounded by Orcs, outnumbered and outgunned, Ward’s only plan is to become more aggressive, and demand that Jakoby “Tell these dickheads in orcish to get the fuck back in their vehicles and drive home, or they’re all going to jail.” In true Philly nigga fashion, the masculinity is so damn much that it erases all reasonable options, replacing everything except the word dickhead, with delusions of grandeur.
  9. Not only does Ward omit the ending “g” from every “ng” word in the script, written as such, but when he and Jakoby are captured by an Orc gang and soon to be executed, he denies their alliance by simply saying “I’m stuck with this mufucker,” and when Jakoby probes him he elaborates only by saying “Well, it ain’t like we stompin’ through the club together.”
  10. When all is lost, after Jakoby gets shot and dropped into the always excused indoor bad guy hole that somehow extends into the pits of hell, the only thing that Ward can think to do is yell “You motherfucking dickhead!” at the Orc wielding the rifle, as if the only reason the word “dickhead” hasn’t dramatically enhanced his own position so far, is because he hasn’t said it enough.


Fifteen Trash Things That People Keep Ardently Defending Despite Increasingly Anemic Evidence for their Efficacy

1. Guns

2. “Dubbed” Anime

3. The Western Literary Cannon

4. Opioids

5. Lil Uzi

6. The New Thor Movie

7. “Working Class White People”

8. Religion

9. Butter Scotch Ice Cream

10. The Right to Life, and Consequently, Life Itself

11. Patriotism

12. Rapists Who Made Some Shit You Liked Before

13. Winter

14. White feminism

15. Bachelor Parties

Patriotism is for White Dudes

“I pledge to never be passive, patriotic, or grateful in the face of American abuse. I pledge to always thoughtfully bite the self-righteous American hand that thinks it’s feeding us. I pledge to perpetually reckon with the possibility that there will never be any liberty, peace, and justice for all unless we accept that America, like Mississippi, is not clean. Nor is it great. Nor is it innocent.”  -Kiese Laymon, “What I Pledge Allegiance To”

White people, you can have patriotism. Take it. It’s yours. I would say I’m done with it, but I never really began so it’s more a forfeiture of something icky stuck to the bottom of my shoe than a desirable, potential ideology. Problematic to begin with. I was searching for a polite way to say this, something that could legally and acceptably be communicated in a public venue, something that takes into account all the sides and provides equal time, but I’m starting to wish I could reclaim every second I spent considering something so preposterous. And I’m seeing more and more polite conversations where Black people try and reach across the aisle to their white compatriots. An enterprise which, of course, is destined to fail, with no small amount of anguish along the way. More dubious even, are the premises most often used to ground this polite conversation.

Take for example, the essay: “I’m A Black Veteran. Why is Trump Making me Feel Unpatriotic?” written by Theodore R. Johnson. The title is an obvious rhetorical question–for Black people at least–and one that the author spends considerable time answering, but for who I’m not quite sure. He is well aware of our country’s social, historical, cultural and structurally racist under and over pinnings, citing as proof, up to docket number 64,398 out of 180,245 in America’s anti-Blackness archives before fatigue sets in (as it always does with these things) and he continues the essay; so why would he hope, against all logic that he himself has demonstrated, that the architects of such a ridiculously capitalist white hegemonic false-meritocracy would heed his warning? What motive could they possibly have to adjoin with his hope? Besides of course, a sense of white physical safety reliant upon the docility of polite hope itself. I won’t draw the obvious parallels to Obama.

Johnson’s argument seems to hinge on the empty meaning of the word patriotism. That is, by citing the gross maltreatment of Black Americans who have fought and died in the grand narrative of previous wars–for freedoms they could enjoy neither before or after their sacrifices–Johnson says that it has always been Black Americans who were the most patriotic. Therefore, he argues, it is a ridiculous and clearly polarizing claim to suggest that we are unpatriotic now, for say, protesting injustice. Johnson believes that Black Americans are being labeled as unpatriotic, because “unpatriotic ingrates are worse than racists could ever be.” This then, permits further exclusion and disregard for Black Americans under the excuse that we are unpatriotic, traitorous expendables.

And some of us are unpatriotic. So the fuck what? Is that not considered a form of freedom?

I just want to hug Johnson, really; though for reasons I’ll get to later, I doubt he would allow it. I can’t help but point out that before we were unpatriotic, we were already Black, and therefore not human through a white racial lens. The word unpatriotic in this sense remains empty still, analogous to any number of animalistic, fear inspiring, terrorizing, unclean, lazy, predatory, exclusionary and baseless phraseologies pulled from the depths of the limited white imaginary to excuse the unlimited, gratuitous destruction of Black bodies and the Black social death required to spin the hamster wheel of white civil society.

And we have to encounter the intellectual sloth of word patriotism itself, a rarely contextualized buzz word that, as I said earlier, white people can keep. What the fuck does it even mean? I started to title this rambling “What Patriotism Means to Me,” in the way Sherman Alexie sarcastically problematizes the broadly sweeping, unthought interpretations Sacagawea. Instead, I couldn’t help thinking of the constant dick measuring comparisons of who in what country is more patriotic. Apparently, Canadians are more patriotic than us. Good. Because here, The Huffington Post and The University of Chicago at least contextualize and compare the popular, concrete reasons why some people love their country. Apparently, Canadians are patriotic because of their social security system and how they treat different people within their society. Americans, unsurprisingly, are proud patriots because of our democratic system and our economic and political influence around the world. I would list this country’s imperialistic tourettes, its selfish impulses toward growth and power, among the the worst aspects of this nation, not the best. And on the prospect of democratic systems, of which we are not an island of one, well, they sometimes fail. And I’m not the first or last person to say any of that; the issue is how closely related to patriotism these problematic practices are, entangled as such with hero worship and heteropatriarchal white supremacy. This brings me to another point about Johnson’s essay.

Each time I encounter the words “fought” and “war” in the same sentence as justification for anything, I think of the Sylvia Plath poem, “Daddy;” though here, the writer’s conceptual framework seems “Scraped flat by the roller of wars, wars, wars” in a desolate town of ideas. The historical leap, uncontextualized as they must be into war and honor, inherently privileges war as just or noble. Good guys, vs. bad guys, where, under a mandatory American Exceptionalism we are always the good guys, always the innocent, defending the innocent through grotesque displays of violence that somehow leave us all–by some previously unstretched imaginary musculature–innocent. Especially our white compatriots. The other problem with this foundation is how we define fighting and war to begin with.

While think pieces abound on America’s longest war, referring to the broad conflict taking place primarily in the Middle East, I would argue that our longest, most fraught struggle has been, and continues to be for Civil Rights. It’s no accident that a conflict, a war, if you will, fought most vigilantly by Black women is constantly disregarded beneath large scale conflicts of the male ego, greed and exploitation. Kiese Laymon pulls few punches when extrapolating this hypocrisy in his essay “What I Pledge Allegiance To,” where he begins with the empty symbolism of the flag itself. Fighting, and its grand apex of war, have always been associated with the worst parts of maleness, that toxic, blinding masculinity that prioritizes violence and forecloses all productive avenues in which male subjectivity is not at the forefront. When Johnson relies on the wars in which Black Americans have fought to garner support, all I see is the circular reiteration of the master’s tools.

And here, I get tired again. Picturing Johnson’s essay in the hands of a Jeff Sessions or some other political buffoon who thinks that Black Lives Matter is a hate group, but ignores the Klan just makes me sad. Not because I think they will completely discard his argument, but the opposite. His essay will likely be taken seriously by most people, though not because the country wants to redeem itself, or see Black Americans as human, but because of our lust for easy symbolic victory. Because it doesn’t require a serious interrogation into historical truth or contemporary epistemological blind spots. Because it provides a structural and linguistic map of where next to shift the sturdy goal posts of subjugation, while ensuring that the racial fault line persists.

I Just Can’t Fuck With the Piled Up Dishes (from Sink)

Sometimes I imagined that if I dug deeply enough into the Muk of our kitchen sink I would finally find whatever I was supposed to, some sacred artifact that longed for me as much as I, it. Maybe Excalibur was stuck in the drain, the One Ring or Philosopher’s Stone, something to catalyze an alchemy I was longing to perform, but never bold enough to try. In reality, I would slump into the kitchen, glare into the sink and think, who the fuck threw whole chicken bones in here? It was like the sink existed in lieu of a trash can whenever the plastic save a lot bag on the patio door was full. The sink, perpetually clogged, became the global repository for all things bad. There was no garbage disposal, so I spent much of my time confuzzled around what combination of gluttony and sloth would drive an individual–or several since there were multiple plates–to dump their entire dish, food scraps and all, into a pile of lumpy green water, instead of disposing of the detritus properly.

As I sank my hands into the sink, baked beans squashed under my fingertips, macaroni noodles wriggled alive in the depths, animal cartilage slipped out of my grasp, knives got tangled in the mouths of forks, slicing my hands. The stuff in the water burned. Did they not see? Could they not tell that the sink could not absorb all of the trash indefinitely? That the sink had never existed for that purpose? That they took advantage of its openness, its willingness to accept all their trash and never say no.

With my hands cut, I grew even more certain that things grew inside that sink. Not just flesh eating bacteria either. I was always just a prick away from starring on “Monsters Inside Me.” I’d seen creatures. Like those little red worms you could see whipping around violently in stagnant water on the street, mosquito larvae or even crabs might be lurking at the bottom. Nematodes, all kinds of flatworms that live just beneath human skin, all of them were lying in wait, ready to slip into an open cut and multiply inside me, leeching off my internal organs and slithering up into my brain. I just wanted that damn sink to drain. But in order for that to happen, I had to plunge my hands into the deep unknown. And every time it made me feel sick.

Once the dishes were ostensibly clean and out of the way I could remove the goop: hair, cheese, laffy taffy, non identifiables. And it would slowly begin to drain. Spurred on by the progress and receding water  I’d snatch more dirt from the drain with paper towels, wrap the hair around my fingers haphazardly, tossing it all in a bag, cherishing the victory in-progress. And then someone else would drop off a plate in the sink, the skeleton of a whole mini chicken clinging to the damn porcelain.

In this way, over a series of transformative years, the sink became my very own Colossus Titan, my Dark Souls boss fight, my Archer in the Holy Grail War in which I was barely a contender. The sink taught me that even if I did learn to swim one day, it’d be more like wading through the density of perpetually building Muk, so why even bother?


When I moved on to Harding Middle school I had hope because there were new kids. They seemed old though, like too old to be in middle school, and aside from that I wanted to know why we were sharing a field with the projects next door. At least we had metal detectors. There was a nervousness I’d developed by then. One I knew would never leave me, because I knew that any time I met new people it would turn out poorly. I wanted to see a new school as a chance to start over, no longer be the pissy kid with the crackhead mom and the bad haircuts, but my body wouldn’t allow it. From the time I left in the morning till the time I got home I was trembling and struggling to hide it. My underarms were soaked through all the time and I’d go to the bathroom to reapply deodorant, since I’d learned about the onion arms thing already.

I was terribly anxious, and any time it looked like someone was about to speak to me I’d recoil. But I also genuinely wanted friends and by observation, could tell already who the cooler kids were. There was a black and white kid named Terrell who was their leader. A pretty boy, sort of. Long hair that was sometimes braided, sometimes not. If it wasn’t there would be some girl braiding it during classes while he interrupted the teacher (when there was one) and shot spitballs at people. There was also a rumor that he was sixteen, which wasn’t hard to believe. He’d walk around slapping and grabbing the girl’s asses in the halls all the time, like the older drug dealers always did.

Terrell also had a sister, Tyesha, and she was fine as shit. I would have done anything to touch her ass. I had to be about six feet tall by then and she was almost as tall as me. And thick. All long thick legs in those khaki uniform pants with no back pockets. It was torture to have her walk by me. Her smell was sweet, but subtle like some expensive soaps I couldn’t have named. When her hair slid across my arm I just imagined her lotioning up her whole body after the shower before putting any clothes on like grown women did. Not only was she fine, but I also got the sense that she wasn’t as hood as her brother and therefore safer. I mostly believed that because I didn’t see her talk much. We never had a class together, but of course, I was wrong.

So many times Tyesha passed in the hall and I would open my mouth, starting to speak and she’d keep walking, giggling with her friends. One of those times, her brother noticed and approached me.

“Hey wassup young boul,” he said, and reached out to shake my hand. I returned the gesture. “Syke!” he shouted, pulling his hand back quick to his long hair. The goons around him all laughed. And that’s when I knew I fucked up.

Later that same day, I was sitting in the cafeteria eating my lunch at a table alone. It was one of those boat shaped pizza things, stiff, unseasoned green beans on the side. We had long lunch tables and I was facing away from the lunch line in my seat when a smack came across the back of my head.

“Open neck no respec bitch nigga!” yelled one of Terrell’s goons, Rob a tall dark skin one.

It was everything I feared would happen. I was used to it though; I had practice from Stearne. I’d known I would respond differently though, that I would take a stand. Any plan different from elementary school would have been fine. I took as deep a breath as I could and closed my eyes. I wanted to silence the roars of laughter from the cafeteria. But I couldn’t. I kept my eyes closed because I couldn’t stand to look at any of their faces. But I felt them. The heat of all the kids hovering and moving around me and pointing and laughing and I couldn’t keep it in. Tears squeezed out of my closed eyes as I strained, balling up my face trying to keep them in. And so, the tone was set for my middle school career.

There was a bright side to middle school though; as the kids got older, the bullying became less physical and more verbal. Still, it took me a while long to learn how to take advantage of it. Even though I’d think of witty retorts to all the comments about my lankyness and even the gay jokes, I never said them. I was already boxed in. I thought that keeping quiet and to myself would be most useful, even though it had failed all this time. Talking shit, or bussin, became the ladder one could use to climb the social hierarchy. Even these two fat white kids, the only two I remember being in middle school, Anthony and Billy, rose to excellence by virtue of their diss game.

Anthony, the blonde one who I think was a little fatter, came up with the nickname I would carry all the way to ninth grade: Shitmouth. I had this pitch black cavity right in front of my left canine. I’d never been to a dentist before, nor did I really consider it a thing. No one in the house brushed their teeth or talked about it so it was foreign to me, unlike sweets. I did my best to hide it and keep my mouth closed, but every time I’d talk, there it was. I refused to answer questions in class even when I knew the answers; even adopted a way to say small things with my mouth completely closed. When I smiled though, the tooth was most obvious. So I never did. But Anthony caught me slipping regularly.

We were in gym class and I’d just realized I could dunk. It was pretty monumental, and the other kids seemed impressed, especially the gym teacher. By then I’d started to enjoy sports but I avoided playing most of the time because I hated all the kids. It was gym though, we had to participate. I slammed the ball through the hoop and hung on the rim, triumphant. When I let go I landed on both feet, knees bent, and rose slowly, watching all the proud faces around me, reveling in the “ooooh” and “oh shit”s coming from the crowd. I had never been looked at like that before, I couldn’t help but smile. And Anthony caught me.

“Ill, what the fuck is that, Shitmouth!”

The other kids groaned in disgust, twisting their faces at me.

“Shit look like a black hole!” another kid said.

“Back up, I don’t want to get sucked in!” said Anthony.

They all laughed, wrenching and bending over until our gym teacher had us all go back to our spots. I didn’t cry though. I was done with that. I was so used to shit at home and at school that I assumed I had no tears left. In gym class, we sat on these little colored dots on the floor. We were all maybe five feet away from each other, and I could hear the whispers all around me, the kids continuing to make jokes and point. And I didn’t cry, but I grew hot. Anthony was sitting on the dot in front of mine.

“What the fuck is that? Shit is nasty right?” he said to another kid.

He was not gonna let it go. It made me tremble. But I kept quiet and tried to stay calm. The gym teacher was in the closet getting dodgeballs when Anthony turned back to look at me.

“You know that shit is triflin right? Why don’t you fix that?” he said. A bunch of kids snickered a little louder.

Why don’t I fix it? I had no understanding of how to fix anything. I’d never had a doctor or dentist or even a toothbrush. I rarely had clean clothes. How would I go about fixing it? I’d asked a social worker before about emancipation and she asked my grandfather why I’d ask that; I got my ass beat when I came home. I was more concerned with having food that didn’t have roaches in it. Why don’t I fix it? I hadn’t been so angry in a long time, and Anthony was smiling and laughing so hard. I stood up.

“What you doin Shitmouth?” he said. Then he turned forward like nothing happened, still laughing.

I walked up to the side of him quietly with my fist tight and swung on him with my whole body. My fist smacked onto his right cheek and the sound rung out through the gym. The flubber on his face rolled like a wave, and kept jiggling for a few seconds even after I drew my hand back. The crowd went wild.

“Oh shit, that nigga socked the shit out you!”

“Yoooo,” others said.

I was still furious but my hand hurt so bad I wasn’t gonna to do it again. And Anthony? He just sat there, and I went right back to my dot and sat down, trying not to let my rage show, and even much less, the fact that my hand hurt. Anthony’s cheek was bright red and he started to cry, loudly. The sobs drew the attention of the gym teacher who was drawing more equipment from the closet.

“What’s going on out here?” she asked.

Nobody said a word. No snitchin. But Anthony was obviously crying. Then, I started to cry too. I wished I didn’t have to deal with any of it. I would have preferred to have friends, but that’s not how it worked. In order for people to respect me, I’d have to dominate them, mistreat them. By punching Anthony in the face and making him cry, I’d earned respect: the only social capital that mattered. I was crying louder than Anthony, which made me ever more furious, lapping up snot as it ran down my face. I couldn’t unknot my fists no matter how hard I tried. We both just sat there, crying.

That was the first time I got suspended. When I came home with the pink slip, I told my grandfather I had defended myself. He called me a dumb faggot and said I better not fuck up in school anymore. Then he kept grumbling obscenities into his room, fuckin dummy, if that boy had a brain, he’d be dangerous.