the short story project


Michael Akintonwa

Niggas, Today. 

An Essay by Michael A. 

Note: If you’re white and you’re not sure if you’re going to read this whole essay, I’d like you to leave with at least one fact: your parents were not young liberals that grew up and turned into Republicans. They were always Republicans. They told you this lie early to make it easier to believe later, a sort of Chekhov’s Gun of white lies. 

Genesis: when Michael was born, he caused a bit of a stir – he came out looking white. The mother, in the throes of her bleary-eyed postnatal sweat, thought the nurse had brought back the wrong child. The father, who minutes earlier had been making an amateur photography project of the whole ordeal, suspected that his American girlfriend of barely one year had cheated on him with a white man, and began making designs on how he might kill her. Neither was right. Michael grew darker over time.


Days ago I had been listening to a politics podcast and felt compelled to subject my mom to my rendition on White Fear and the strong man – real deep shit, you know? After some back and forth, we arrived at the topic of living for self-preservation versus doing what’s best for everybody. 

“Speaking of doing what’s good for the community,” she started, and she went on to tell me that for the second time in a short while a family friend asked her if I was gay, since I have not been seen or photographed with a member of the superior sex romantically, in ever. More: a friend of a friend had supposedly prayed about me, and God told her that I was gay. Said friend brought this up with another friend and that friend thought it would be polite conversation to check God’s credibility with my mother. 

“So, would you consider…”  She pretended to be figuring out how to ask the question delicately – 

“…maybe leaving some sort of online trail of you being interested in women?”  This was all said very sincerely. 

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One night during a family dinner at the cheesecake factory my parents revealed to me with a great sense of humor that I had a twin brother who was miscarried. With a mouth full of cheeseburger, I chewed over this as much as you can at age fourteen.  Ultimately, I decided that his absence hadn’t been felt since I had been doing fine up until then, unaware of his existence. Fraternal relationships: cousins, recess friends, someone I played ping pong with at a bar once – these have been the preeminent relationships in my life. They’re at the center of the stories I write about, the source of much of my comfort and confusion, spurring my anxieties, an infinite well of never enough. If you asked nineteen year old me what I thought of romance, I’d have told you it had the appeal of spirited masturbation with wet cement – gruesome, painful, but understandable when you know how low a man can get. You would then watch me write cloying letters of affection to friends I’d only had for six months. 

My past parents interrupt today’s reverie: they say they wouldn’t have been able to finish college had he been born, and that it all worked out. There’s a bit of joking here and there. Their better judgement can’t stop dead babies from being funny sometimes. 

“Oh well,” my mom says. 

“Oh well,” I say. 

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I used to attend a church whose main selling point was that it was led by a prophet and prophetess couple who, despite my skepticism, proved themselves to be consistently accurate in a disconcerting way. One especially histrionic sermon, I was called to the pulpit and prophesied to. This prophetess, who I could tell could smell the faggot in me reeking like cigarettes, told me [redacted]. Armed with a promising knowledge of the future, my own special alternative to white privilege,  I have since lived with a degree of recklessness most people with common sense don’t get to enjoy, and I’ve also had my excessive share of bad luck. God’s Hand © in my life hasn’t been a reassuring pat on the shoulder. It’s like He’s pinching my head between his thumb and index finger, dragging me along towards a predetermined fate in the most contrived way possible. 

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As a black neoliberal, I was reminded I’m entitled to exist only when I finally received a viable job offer after six cruel months of unemployment. My excitement was promptly deflated after paperwork processing that took three months, and two weeks after I first walked through the doors of my new corporate home I was walking back out due to the pandemic. The middle of the year is when, one might say, “this bitch started to get popping”. A couple of police and para-police killings of black people was the shotgun pump to American consciousness that kicked off a summer of increasingly flammable parades, all set to the ambiance of disease. Videos of rolling tear gas fog and ritual store burnings spread through social media like a thing that spreads very quickly, which from my suburban safe house, seemed like they were happening on a different channel than I live in. I meant to attend one of these parades but they always seemed to be scheduled during business hours, and by the time five pm rolled around I was always too tired to rush through Atlanta’s pothole roads to yell in the hot sun. Plus, it was too new at my job to test out lies for getting off work early.  I decided my absence wouldn’t be felt.

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My edibles dealer is a 300-pound beauty queen who delivers the jazziest confections I’ve ever had the euphoria of choking through every weekend since all this bullshit started. My mainstay – magical brownies – come at an almost crooked discount when I buy sixteen, plus she delivers. And she has the cutest little white dog. These edibles make everything better. They make my dick feel bigger. I get so high it feels like my nerves are fucking each other, like my blood cells are shivering, like I can see in parallax, and I can’t get over the fact that my skin rests on top of my body like a wet pancake. Selling my piss would catch you a felony charge in Amsterdam. Friday nights are prime time for me to hazily pace my room like an octegenariat asking the glade-scented air “what are the teenagers listening to today?” in a most pathetic tenor. I write things like:

“The problem with infinite resources is infinite waste.”

Remarkable. With this weekly psychedelic assist, along with an aptly timed online personality test and regular phone calls with friends, I gained a great deal of clarity in my life. I’m reminded you can’t really see yourself if you’re standing too close to the mirror. Maybe you’ll see the ugly details, like how people see you during sex, but you also can’t see how toned your legs are. Indeed, high as balls, walking the line between throwing up and eating a post-dinner dinner (the one before the midnight pre-snack snack) , you might discover that the stories from your personal history you thought were so central to your identity might not have been formative at all. Now what. 

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At 23, and experiencing the Christopher Colombus-ian savagery of imminently turning 24, there are questions that keep you up long after you’ve taken your melatonin for the night.  Did my mother, bourgeoisie, a woman fixated on her dream of being a “corporate businesswoman”, who was careful not to seem too excited about receiving luxury goods and services, turn into a sellout like I keep trying to be? My mother who bought the fantasy of a nice home, and two children who aren’t in gangs, and a victory garden for “difficult times”,  and a renovated basement to rent to traveling college students who will pretend not to be drinking down there. Then again, isn’t that what everyone wants? No, not me.  I want gospel! Fuck, I want Usher Confessions Part 2. Will I one day make my own music, or let society castrate me like they did Maroon 5? What’s it matter – all my music is starting to sound alike these days.  Did I spend my whole life trying to turn myself into a black boy holy and acceptable unto the cracker* class only for them to jettison me? I get self-conscious that I’m making something that will draw excessive sympathy from white persons, and decide to reconcile this by getting even more high. This just makes me feel lonelier. What would my friends say? Perhaps their opinions don’t matter. They’re all caucasian, with their own super special singular problems, and they rarely ever know how to make me feel better. I’m worried that to the black people I’ve met I gave off the impression that I think I’m better than them, or different in some key way.  I’m a nigga, too, I swear to God! Be my friend! I wonder if the police can tell by my tone and levity that I’m a great thinker and therefore bulletproof. That I can quote a great man who once said “the problem with infinite resources is infinite waste?”  Have I possibly spent all my life looking for, lunging at, and latching onto friends for security, best friends as concepts, best friends who stand where my biological brother should be? Perhaps his absence was always felt. Perhaps I’m bugging. These thoughts grow darker over time. 


Living at home means a dozen uncomfortable flashbacks every day. The tone of my mother’s voice, being told “I love you, son” in the same hallways I got called stupid six years earlier. I parse through fragments of my past and wonder if I’m misremembering things. They weren’t so bad, were they? I’m still in one piece aren’t I. My mom has since apologizied for things she’s said to me, but I remember them like a reflex and am hurt all the same. No matter how self-aware I get, years of my brain sabotaging itself over a primal need to not be a stereotype, I’m still just a little boy trying to get approval from his mother. So when she asks if I’m willing to leave a heterosexual paper trail so reliable ol’ me doesn’t fuck up her eventual run for local office – I think about how a writer would deal with such a cliche. 

Had she asked me her question just five years ago this essay would be some playful, facetious version of a suicide letter. I’m older now, and I know that suicide is for your best friend from highschool, American veterans, artists whose work has lost its meaning over time, celebrities of a certain age, and people with far bigger problems than I will ever hope to know, not me. I’m too busy thinking about how I’d find a fake/real girlfriend, how I would frame our photos on our polaroid road trip for Instagram, what color her hair would be and if my mom would like her, or if my mom not liking her would make the lie more interesting. I wonder what jokes my twin brother, a gem in heaven with better teeth and an impish grin, is whispering to God. I wonder what advice he’s been trying to telepath to me all these years. Maybe if he were here we’d be in the same situation. What does it all mean? That’s an amateur question. What’s best for my community? I’m against interpretation. The moral of the story is this: Niggas, today, have a lot to think about! 

*cracker in the most Marxist sense.


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