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That's not actually true.

When I got word from my agent that I could record my audiobook, I assumed I'd record it up the road in Memphis or down the road in Jackson. That's not actually true, because the first time I recorded anything for an audiobook, I recorded the prologue to Yrsa Daley Ward's Bone in this tricked-out room of a Walking Dead house in the boonies of Oxford, Mississippi. Oxford, Mississippi is home.

That's not actually true.

The day that I leave my house to record my audiobook, three musty confederate soldiers are outside mowing my yard, cutting my shrubs, laying my mulch, and smiling at each other. That's not actually true. The three workers were actually three white brothers from Mississippi, and the house I live in is not my house.

I only live in it.

Still, the white brothers who I want to call confederate soldiers look at me like I'm the only Black person living in my neighborhood. That's not actually true. They look at me like I have more money in checking than they have in savings. And that confuses me because I likely don't, and it makes me question things I don't want to question about intellectual class, versus economic class, versus the belief in what's possible for niggers who record audiobooks in Mississippi.

The day that I leave my house to record my audiobook, I talk with one of the white brothers about how both of our mamas couldn't cook a lick, and how our grandmamas loved to make purple hull peas, cornbread, sweet potato pies, and squirrel and dumplings, before they got diabetes. The white brother tells me that meal is still his favorite meal. I tell him that I feel the same way. If we were characters on "This Is Us," there would be instrumental music in the background telling viewers that the white brother and I are about to be buddies who text each other jokes and NBA statistics late at night. That's not actually true because though I'm at least 70 pounds more than the white brother, I haven't eaten meat in 23 years, and even when I did eat meat, seeing the remnants of a squirrel floating in boiling perfectly seasoned water made me really sad. There's no music for that kind of reveal.

Illustration by Billy Dee.

The white brother I shouldn't have called the confederate soldier tells me he finished one semester of junior college and he enjoys working for the state since he left his last job of towing cars. "I worked in law enforcement before that," he says. "Shit. I was the po-lice." This confuses me but also makes me question things I don't want to question about intellectual class, versus economic class, versus what's possible for niggers and white brothers I want to call confederate soldiers in Mississippi.

This white brother, who I like a lot more than I'll admit to my Mama, asks what I'm up to today. I tell him that I'm going to teach. That's not actually true. I tell him that I'm going to work. That's not actually true. My work today is recording my audiobook, but nothing in the world feels more awkward than telling a musty white brother who knows how to properly pronounce po-lice and coanbread, and mows the yard of the house I live in that I'll be sitting on a stool in some studio recording an audiobook where I say the words "nigga" and "free" and "love" and "American" a lot, while he gets mustier and mustier for his weekly check.

My work today is recording my audiobook, but nothing in the world feels more awkward than telling a musty white brother who knows how to properly pronounce po-lice and coanbread, and mows the yard of the house I live in that I'll be sitting on a stool in some studio recording an audiobook where I say the words "nigga" and "free" and "love" and "American" a lot, while he gets mustier and mustier for his weekly check.

The studio where I'm sent to record my audiobook is a few miles beyond the tallest Confederate monument in town, beyond Oxford's square, beyond Pick Thai, and way off in a new sub-rural neighborhood that I didn't really know exists. I assume the houses are owned by other kinds of white folk who don't get musty for their monthly checks. That's not actually true.

But it kinda is. And it kinda isn't. And it kinda is.

The house where I will record my audiobook is owned by a white family from up north. They moved down to Mississippi for work. The white man from up north comes to the door in socks. He tells me his wife is at work and his kids are at school. I feel like I should take my shoes off, but I don't have on any socks and my feet are smothered in foot powder. Leaving white footprints all over this white man from up north's house would make a funny Black-ass story, but I have to come back the next day and I don't want him to fuck up the audio in my audiobook. So I keep my shoes on, limp my way upstairs to the studio, and think a lot about intellectual class, versus economic class, versus what's possible for niggers in Mississippi who don't record audiobooks for a living.

We start recording up in an attic he's turned into a studio. The white man in socks is an audio engineer. He has never recorded an audiobook before, just music from bands. The director for my audiobook is a white sister whose face I will never see. She's a white sister from New York. I will hear her voice on Skype. She will tell me when I read too fast. She will tell me when I read too slowly. She will say things, lots of things, that make me think we share politics. Though she will not say coanbread or po-lice, I will feel safe(r) in that studio with her on the other end of the Skype. I will think a lot about intellectual class, versus economic class versus what's possible for niggers and white sisters in Mississippi.

That's not actually true.

I will think about how every Black woman in my life has talked with me about their particular distrust, disgust, and disappointment with white women. "You have no idea how they really are," they tell me. Every time I say I understand, they tell me, in different assemblages of language, that I really don't. Today, I wonder if I'm closer to understanding. I have far more disappointment, distrust, and disgust for Southern white brothers than for white men in socks from up north, or lefty white sisters from New York; because one, Southern white brothers inflict so much damage on the rest of us, and two, though Southern white brothers don't know us Black folks, they could. Though they refuse to feel us, they can. Though they do not appreciate the peculiar grace with which we carry ourselves in the face of their investment in the American terror, American disasters, they should. They know why we talk like we talk, eat like we eat, walk like we walk. Many of them talk, eat, and walk the same way. They know from whence we came, and what they've stolen from us, and instead of doing everything they can to fight our current billionaire Yankee Doodle Dandy President, who is equally adept at playing these Southern white folks for the gotdamn fools they insist on being while eating our suffering, these white brothers from the Deep South generally swallow our suffering whole—with their musty selves—and slowly drink their own suffering while insisting we be thankful to find work cleaning the creases of their faces, fingers, and plates.

That's not actually true.

I don't currently clean their faces, fingers, or plates for a living. I teach, write, and record audiobooks in Mississippi, and I consider my check a kind of Mississippi reparation.

That's not actually true.

The first day of recording, I will spend five hours readings sentences like: "You know white folks don't use no washcloths." I will use phrases like: "If white Americans reckoned with their insatiable appetites for Black American sufferings…" I will use words like "cowardice," "motherfucker," "train," "nan," "feets," "preserves," "stars," and "star-nated." When I imagined these words, phrases, and sentences, I never imagined reading them in a sub-rural attic, a few feet from white man from up north, across Skype from a white radical sister who teaches people how to read audiobooks, a few hours from really sweet conversation with the white brother mowing my yard. I imagine a warm, wet kind of Mississippi Blackness behind me, ahead of me, all around the sides of me. I imagine that warm, wet kind of Mississippi Blackness because it is here and it is there, in spite of and because of, all of the super sweet trifling white folks we have to deal with when doing our work for the day.

I imagine a warm, wet kind of Mississippi Blackness behind me, ahead of me, all around the sides of me. I imagine that warm, wet kind of Mississippi Blackness because it is here and it is there, in spite of and because of, all of the super sweet trifling white folks we have to deal with when doing our work for the day.

That's not actually true.

My agent, who loves me like a blood, is a white brother. My editor, who I dreamed of collaborating with for years, is a white sister. The head of the multinational corporation who owns my publisher is likely a white man from up north. So I've been thinking long, hard, soft, and silly about the politics of making Black Southern art objects for Black southerners when few, if any actual Black folks, or actual Southerners, are inherently built into the publishing process. And I've been thinking longer, harder, softer and sillier about how to craft a Black Southern self or subjectivity surrounded by so many layers and layers and layers of whiteness, and non-Southernness.

So I've been thinking long, hard, soft, and silly about the politics of making Black Southern art objects for Black southerners when few, if any actual Black folks, or actual Southerners, are inherently built into the publishing process. And I've been thinking longer, harder, softer and sillier about how to craft a Black Southern self or subjectivity surrounded by so many layers and layers and layers of whiteness, and non-Southernness.

That's not actually true.

I've been thinking about Black loneliness, about having children in my forties, about buying jeans that make my big-ass thighs look less like big-ass thighs, and "Martin" reruns.

As I drive home from my first five-hour audiobook session, I'm thinking about the white brother I wanted to call a confederate soldier and how there's a 75 percent chance he voted for Trump, which means there's a 75 percent chance he thinks my trans and gender-nonconforming fam should be discriminated against, and there's a 75 percent chance he think Muslims and Mexicans should suffer, and there's a 75 percent chance he supports giving massive tax breaks to tax brackets he will never ever occupy. I'm thinking about how most people treated like niggers in Mississippi do not spend workdays recording audiobooks. Most people treated like niggers in Mississippi do not live in homes owned by universities. Most people treated like niggers in Mississippi do not have any expectations of confederate soldiers or the white folk who believe in them.

That's what scares me most today.

I have little expectation that white men I want to call confederate soldiers will stop fighting for the confederacy, but I really want them to. I really want them to reconsider who they are, what they've done to us, what they've done to their insides, what traditions we share. I know, though they refuse to accept it, our relationship is a blood, Black, and cultural relationship down here and we can be better. I know one day white Southerners will fight next to Black, Indigenous, and Latinx Southerners for a country and region invested in well-funded public education, the best health care for all in the world, robust unions, and formalized racial reconciliation that redresses the labor, second chances, and healthy chances brutally stolen from us. I know that one day soon white Southerners will stop letting folks who have no love for them, or us, play them for the violent pitiful fools.

That's not actually true.

White folk, regardless of region, are going to do what white folk do. That might be the most shown but not told lesson in American history. But what are we going to while they do what they've always done? How are we going to get better at loving, organizing, and caring for one another in the face of white folk who believe in Mexican, Muslim, and Black ghosts that never actually haunt them?

Weeks after I finish my audiobook, I will be interviewed on NPR by a much older white man from up north. I will imagine him sliding around his office in his socks. Near the end of our interview, he will sincerely ask me why I still talk to my mother. I will say, "Oh my god." Then I will tell him the question should be why do we still talk to y'all when, northern or Southern, y'all refuse to critically engage with your investment in your belief that niggers ain't shit. I will answer the question before the older white man from up north can answer and say, "If y'all ever paid us what we worked for, we wouldn't talk to y'all. You know that right? We really wouldn't. But we ain't got no money so we talk to y'all. And we hope it makes our checks bigger."

That's not actually true.

I said, "Oh my god." And I told the white man from up north that I loved my mama. My mama would hear the interview a few days later and she would tell me she was proud of me for telling the truth. That's not actually true. Mama was proud of me because I lied to the old northern white man with Black bombastic grace, style and precision, as niggers down South have been trained to do when talking to white Southern sisters, white Southern brothers, white Southern gender-queer people, northern whites, and white folk worldwide since way before Grandmama and them wore short pants. And that, quiet as it's kept (and among us, it's not quiet or kept at all), is actually true.

Kiese Laymon

Kiese Laymon is a Black Southern writer born and raised in Jackson, Mississippi. He now lives in Oxford, where he is a Professor of English and African American Studies at the University of Mississippi. He's the author of a novel, Long Division, and an award-winning collection of essays, How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America. His most recent book is Heavy: An American Memoir.