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Black History, Uncensored: The heaviness of Kiese Laymon

Whether they’re in tweets, novels or essays, award-winning author Kiese Laymon’s words jump off the page. Here’s why Republicans want his work banned.


I love all writing that breaks its traditional form and ventures into something more creative. I see it as an exercise in jarring readers from the monotony of reading writers who’ve been taught — or encouraged — to color within the lines. 

So, consequently, I’m a big fan of Kiese Laymon’s work. His writing is truly immersive, no matter whether you’re reading his novels, his essays or even his tweets. When you read his words, they do something to you: They can punch, and console, and sometimes even give you a playful noogie.  

Laymon’s award-winning memoir, “Heavy,” has been targeted by conservatives for removal from school libraries in recent years.

But for today’s edition of “Black History, Uncensored,” our project focused on Black authors targeted by right-wing bans, I’m highlighting his cutting satire about a Mississippi law that granted people the right to discriminate against LGBTQ people on religious grounds.

In his essay — “Please Make Us Stop: A Real Christian Tale of Mississippi House Bill 1523” — Laymon writes from the perspective of a fundamentalist Christian. 

He begins: 

Like the courageous Phil Bryant, the Mississippi Governor who signed House Bill 1523 into law — a bill that might just save us from the contemporary scourge of sexual deviance across this great nation — I am a heterosexual Mississippi-born Christian male concerned about any and all things relating to my body, your body, our feelings, power, sexual history, sexual imagination and intimacy.

The piece finds Laymon playing the role of a fundamentalist Christian debating two Black women, also Christians, at what’s portrayed as a meeting for progressives — or “deviant” Christians, as Laymon puts it. 

He says: 

I’ve heard-tell of a group of radical, mostly deviant Mississippi Christians mustering the gall to organize and act up around not simply “tolerance” of these deviant lifestyles, but actual “reckonings” that target our complicity in personal, communal and institutional violence. I snuck into one of their mass meetings and I’m writing this from the back.

He’s forcing readers to empathize with the character at some level, because the story is told from the character’s bigoted perspective. But it’s an uncomfortable experience because the things the character says are so obviously contradictory and oppressive. 

Laymon also shares the Black organizers’ perspectives. And some of their arguments land with the weight of an anvil. 

Here’s one of the organizers explaining why LGBTQ rights are inseparable from pro-Black activism. 

She says: 

Our black liberation movement is only at odds with queer liberation in the imaginations of the imagination-less. Our black liberation necessitates queer liberation. And yes, a lot of our white queer family have watched and reaped benefits as we’ve been terrorized. But that’s on them. We will not be guided by the morality of folks who can’t see us or themselves.

That statement has resonance today, as some right-wing officials dismiss the connection between civil rights for LGBTQ people and civil rights for Black people (who may belong to both categories).

It also tells you everything you need to know about Laymon’s compassion and sympathies as a writer, his refusal to coddle the targets of his work, and why Republicans are so desperate to ban him from bookshelves.