Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching

A Young Black Man's Education


By Mychal Denzel Smith

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An unflinching account of what it means to be a young black man in America today, and how the existing script for black manhood is being rewritten in one of the most fascinating periods of American history.

How do you learn to be a black man in America? For young black men today, it means coming of age during the presidency of Barack Obama. It means witnessing the deaths of Oscar Grant, Trayvon Martin, Michael Brown, Akai Gurley, and too many more. It means celebrating powerful moments of black self-determination for LeBron James, Dave Chappelle, and Frank Ocean.

In Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching, Mychal Denzel Smith chronicles his own personal and political education during these tumultuous years, describing his efforts to come into his own in a world that denied his humanity. Smith unapologetically upends reigning assumptions about black masculinity, rewriting the script for black manhood so that depression and anxiety aren’t considered taboo, and feminism and LGBTQ rights become part of the fight. The questions Smith asks in this book are urgent — for him, for the martyrs and the tokens, and for the Trayvons that could have been and are still waiting.


Chapter 1

My parents sent me to college to become a credit to my race. It was never said in those exact words, but the idea was planted early on that my life would be one where I would defy all of the stereotypes associated with being a black man. I wasn’t allowed to sag my pants, or say the “n-word,” or listen to rap music that had explicit lyrics. My mother corrected my English whenever I dropped my g’s or started a sentence with “me and . . .” I wasn’t supposed to ever give anyone the opportunity to think of me as less than. Academic excellence was the biggest part of being “twice as good” and therefore a college education was non-negotiable. It was the key to the future my father envisioned for me. He wanted me to be an upstanding citizen with unimpeachable credentials who could gain everyone’s respect so they might see me as more than “just another black man” and come to see me as a man. My parents wanted me to become Barack Obama.

They never said it in those words either, of course, because they didn’t know who Barack Obama was. Hardly anyone did until July 27, 2004. He was an Illinois state senator with no national profile. He wrote a memoir that was released in 1995 that had a modest public reception. He ran for Congress in 2000 and lost. But four years later here he was, a candidate for an open U.S. Senate seat and being tapped to deliver the keynote address at the Democratic National Convention.

I didn’t see the speech, because I didn’t see any of the convention, because I thought electoral politics was inherently corrupt and useless. The first election I ever paid attention to was determined by hanging chads and the Supreme Court, and ultimately gave us George W. Bush as president. I wasn’t about to put any faith in that kind of system.

But I heard plenty about Obama’s speech the next day. My father was gushing about it. I had never known him to have any strong political opinions. My parents read the newspaper every morning and watched the news every night, but that was the extent of their political dedication. The most they said about politics to me and my little brother was that voting was important. But now, after hearing Obama speak, suddenly my father was a pundit. He was so impressed, he wished Obama were the one running to defeat Bush’s reelection campaign instead of the settled-for John Kerry. Obama was everything Kerry wasn’t. Naturally charismatic. A dynamic speaker. Youthful. Relatable. Black.

But the right kind of black. The successful, respectable kind of black. The kind of black that was “twice as good,” that made itself known and then faded. The kind of black that would allow people to just see a man. The kind of black man my father was raising me to be.

I was curious enough to want to see what had my father, and everyone else, so excited. It wasn’t hard to find out, thanks to 24-hour cable news. All I had to do was turn on CNN and witness Obama on a loop, saying, “There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.”

There was more to the speech, but that was the part that got repeated the most, and I wasn’t impressed. Obama seemed to be trying to get the country to forget about racism at precisely the same time I was ready to raise the most hell about it. He was emerging as the kind of figure I had been taught to admire, but I did everything to reject the moment I started seeing the world differently.

I was born in 1986 in Washington, D.C., when Ronald Reagan was presiding over the early phase of the War on Drugs. I grew up the son of a career Navy man in Virginia Beach, Virginia, during the 1990s, while Bill Clinton triangulated politics, exploded the prison population, and slashed welfare. I entered high school the year of George W. Bush and purged voter rolls. A conservative America was the only America I had ever known, and before 9/11 I didn’t think to question it. I was the son of a Navy man who had served under Republicans and Democrats and never uttered a single negative word about either in my presence. He was proud to serve his country and carry out his missions no matter who was commander in chief. My mother always made sure I was reading black authors and learning black history, but that didn’t carry over into a formalized ideology. I didn’t seek out any political education on my own, and living inside the bubble of American-born ignorance suited me just fine.

But after the towers fell and Bush took the country to war in Iraq, the apolitical stance I’d adopted became insufficient to help me process what was happening in the world. I was unclear about where to turn to make sense of it all. Until I found The Boondocks.

The first time I saw Aaron McGruder’s comic strip The Boondocks was in the July 1998 issue of The Source magazine with Master P on the cover. I couldn’t actually listen to any Master P records in my house, but my mother always supported reading, so I talked her into letting me get a copy of The Source. And there, after reading about the LL Cool J–Canibus beef, I saw Huey, Riley, and Caesar being everything my parents raised me not to be. They weren’t corny like the characters in Jump Start and Curtis, the only two black comic strips in my local newspaper.

But the Internet is magic, and when my cousin, Marcus, showed me that not only did The Boondocks exist in the form of two book collections but could also be seen daily on, it was as if the blackness messiah had come down to lay hands on me personally. I found it just as McGruder and the strip were hitting their anti-Bush-administration stride, calling them out for lying about weapons of mass destruction and the ways in which the U.S. government had previously supported Saddam Hussein. But at the same time, McGruder was also skewering contemporary hip-hop culture, criticizing the crass materialism and obsession with gangster culture. And while the daily strip was explaining current events, reading the collections introduced me to part of the canon of black consciousness—Huey P. Newton, Frantz Fanon, Public Enemy, and Malcolm X.

I’d known Malcolm for most of my life. There was one piece of art I can remember hanging on the wall wherever we lived. It was really simple—a drawing of the heads of three major Civil Rights–era figures, something you might find from a street vendor or at an African or African-American themed festival in your town. Ours was of Martin Luther King Jr., the Honorable Elijah Muhammad, and Malcolm X. Malcolm was in the center; his head was the largest.

One of my fondest early memories is of a Black History Month program that my father participated in while we were living in Naples, Italy. It was the Navy’s way of recognizing that, indeed, Black History Month was a thing and there are black people in our ranks. They had different service men and women dress the parts of notable black historical figures and then deliver speeches in character. I was four years old, and I watched the program from a theater balcony as my father, already kind of looking the part, stood and delivered as Malcolm X.

Then, in second grade, I chose to do my Black History Month project on Malcolm X. We were tasked with turning shoe boxes and paper towel rolls into a kind of movie reel that would have images and words about an important black historical figure. My mother took me to the library to check out all the (age-appropriate) books I could about him. My father let me borrow some of his books, too, including his copy of The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I didn’t understand much of what I read, but I knew the words excited me. I knew Malcolm excited me. He meant something special to me even before I could articulate what that something was.

Malcolm X excited me because he was dangerous. I knew that much because when I gave the presentation of my project, several of my white classmates started crying and my teacher made me stop before I finished. It was about three or four of them, one right after the other, their faces turning bright red with only their tears to interrupt the discoloration, upset as I told them about how Malcolm X believed in fighting “the white man” by any means necessary and he brandished the guns to prove it.

I remembered this episode when, at sixteen, I reread The Autobiography of Malcolm X. I was actually able to understand it this time, and I was better able to say what it was about Malcolm that filled me with pride. He was a student first, devouring every bit of knowledge that he could, and a teacher second, imparting his hard-earned wisdom to a people rejected from formal schooling. His uncompromising truth-telling made white people uncomfortable, so much so that whenever I brought him up in my history classes, my teachers quickly pivoted to Martin Luther King Jr. and nonviolence and dreams and color-blindness. I knew Malcolm was a threat—my second-grade classmates’ tears taught me that—but when I finally came to understand why, I held the threat close. The threat represented a truth I had, to that point, failed to see. Malcolm taught us that white supremacy was the enemy of self-love. He preached pride in our blackness as both a birthright and a tactic against an American system of devaluation. And he was killed for it.

I liked the idea of being that powerful and hated the idea of being defined by America’s racism. There had to be more to being black than the slavery and KKK I learned about in second grade, or that kid calling me a nigger in sixth grade, or a teacher advising me not to speak Ebonics in the eleventh grade, or my parents telling me to be “twice as good” all of my life. Malcolm X, as I knew him, was the perfect amalgamation of black genius and confidence needed to resist the system. He was my most important teacher, but following his example meant seeking more. I wasn’t going to find them at school because we had only ever been assigned two black authors and learned about the Civil Rights movement in half of a single class period. And I wasn’t going to find them at home, because we had taken down the Elijah/Malcolm/Martin portrait and never replaced it.

The teachers most readily available to me, who followed Malcolm’s model, came from hip-hop. My parents may have been able to regulate my listening choices when I was ten, but at sixteen I had the Internet and cashiers who didn’t check my ID at the CD counter. I was free to consume all the curse-word-laden gangsta rap my ears could handle.

It was never just the gangsta shit that captivated me, though it did speak to a certain sense of rebellion that lived dormant underneath my shy, reserved persona. But as the wars raged on and the massive assault on civil liberties took root, politics was becoming more central to my life and I wanted music to reflect that. Hip-hop’s history gave me Public Enemy, Ice Cube, and KRS-One, the truth-tellers of their time following in the tradition of Malcolm. They were just as uncompromising and unflinching in their critiques of American racism, with the added bonus of some hard-ass beats accompanying them.

Hip-hop’s present was giving me the “conscious” rappers—dead prez, Common, The Roots, Talib Kweli, and Mos Def. They would balk at the label ascribed to them, but their music was a portal to a certain type of consciousness that didn’t get the most airplay. They were the best rebuttal against the claim that hip-hop was all about guns, drugs, money, jewelry, cars, and sex. Mos Def emerged as my favorite of the bunch, with his heavy Brooklyn accent dripping off his hyperliterate rhymes. Listening to his album Black on Both Sides was like a religious experience for me. He was talking about the theft of black culture, corporate greed, racial double standards, the oppression of a police state, addiction, practical street survival tactics, and self-worth. There wasn’t another hip-hop album that felt like it was handcrafted with me in mind.

In between the generations represented by Public Enemy and Mos Def was Tupac. He was killed when I was ten years old and was the first celebrity whose death I had any feelings about. I was sad and confused, because I was truly convinced that Tupac was invincible. He was the ultimate outlaw figure of my childhood, representing everything my parents wanted to keep from me—tattoos and guns and thug life. A total disregard for authority and figures representing authority. But I knew Tupac had resonance beyond pissing off my parents and Dan Quayle. When I reengaged with his music at seventeen years old, his legend was wrapped up in so much mythology, it was near impossible to untangle the facts from the myth. He was the son of a Black Panther, started the East Coast–West Coast rap beef, beat up the Hughes brothers, survived five gunshots, faked his own death, and was chilling in Cuba waiting to return like Christ. He was the hip-hop generation’s Robert Johnson or Jimi Hendrix—a figure whose life and death were shrouded in mystery, and because of that his musical and cultural influence became inescapable. But Tupac was also a political figure, articulating the rage of a generation that took to the streets in rebellion (called riots by the rest of the world) because the police could beat Rodney King within an inch of his life and be acquitted of all charges brought against them.

In 1994, he told MTV, “We asked ten years ago. We was asking with the Panthers. We was asking with them, you know, with the Civil Rights movement, we was asking. Now those people that were asking, they’re all dead or in jail, so what do you think we’re gonna do? Ask?”

I wasn’t impressed by Barack Obama because he wasn’t Tupac. He wasn’t Mos Def or Aaron McGruder. He wasn’t Malcolm X. Barack Obama was my parent’s idea of black excellence: “well” dressed, “well” spoken, advanced degrees from prestigious universities, successful professional, ambitious, nonthreatening, a rebuke to the stereotypes. Twice as good. But he was a politician, and politicians didn’t tell the truth. My heroes were truth-tellers, the people who exposed racism and were committed to fighting in the name of black liberation. They knew there was no sense in asking for freedom. Barack Obama, and the speech that made him famous, seemed to be about denying the need for the fight. He wasn’t even asking—he was accepting.

I wrote him off because he didn’t see what I was starting to see. I was going to college to learn how to avoid becoming who I thought he was—someone whose ambition would have them avoid the truth. I wanted to learn how to be the next Malcolm X, or Frederick Douglass, or W.E.B. Du Bois.

I arrived on Hampton University’s campus in August 2004 so I could become a Black Leader. Hampton was the only school I applied to, partly because it fit the most important criteria of being a historically black university, but also because I was lazy and loathed doing paperwork. I promised myself to be more disciplined and vigilant in pursuit of the actual revolution.

I showed up expecting there to be a whole army of people like me. I expected to engage thousands of other young black budding intellectuals about the politics of racism, and how we might unite and organize to bring down the system, with our struggle-weary professors guiding and cheering us along. Instead I found thousands of mini-Obamas and an administration happy to indulge their delusions.

That’s not a totally fair description, but at seventeen that’s what I saw and I wanted no part of it. I told myself that was the reason I didn’t socialize much, that no one there understood me or shared my interests. It could have been true, but I also didn’t give them much of a chance. I’d written them off as apathetic and self-absorbed, as the 85 percent that the Five Percenters, a Nation of Islam offshoot, believed were deaf, dumb, and blind. I didn’t think they knew Malcolm, or knew Mos Def, and therefore wouldn’t know me. So I put my headphones on and tuned them out.

I would win everyone over in class, I thought. I would sit in the back, slouched down and inconspicuous, waiting until the perfect moment to coolly raise my hand and deliver the perfectly worded answer to the question everyone else had tried their hand at but failed to resolve. Everyone would be so blown away, and eager to hear more, that they would let me lead them to the revolution.

That’s how it happened in my head every single time, and not once in real life.

First-year classes at Hampton University weren’t structured around my desire to showcase my superior intellect. They were mostly general education courses where professors lectured for fifty minutes with either an intense passion for the subject matter or a roving disinterest meant to convey the message “it’s in the damn syllabus.” With the notable exception of freshman English.

I was ten minutes late the first day of my English 101 class. In every orientation at Hampton, they stressed this saying: to be early is to be on time, to be on time is to be late, and to be late is unacceptable. I wish I could say I was making some grand rebellious statement to institutional conformity, but since being born at 11:20 p.m. after three earlier trips to the hospital, I’ve generally been late to everything, and English 101 at 6 p.m. on a Wednesday was no different.

I strolled into class around 6:15 with my uniform on—headphones around my ears, backpack secure over my shoulders—and took the first available seat, right next to the door, as if all was normal. Professor Foster stopped midsentence when I walked in, his eyes following me, his grin widening with every second, every step I took. “And got the nerve to have a Malcolm X T-shirt on at that,” he finally said, breaking into half-genuine, half-performative laughter.

Professor Foster, who at the time was still finishing up his dissertation and would quickly reply with the date of his graduation to correct anyone who called him “Dr. Foster,” was a six-foot-tall, bald black man from Chicago who often ate applesauce on wheat bread as a postclass dinner. I know this because I spent many days in his office after class, not always by choice. In the beginning, to be honest, never by choice. But Professor Foster was an educator—rigorous and engaged—and he saw me. He clocked me from the moment I opened the door.

After noting my Malcolm X T-shirt, Professor Foster skipped ahead in his classroom introduction to show us the place in the syllabus where it talked about tardiness. “If you’re more than ten minutes late don’t even bother coming. The door will be locked,” he told us. The first day was an exception, but there would be no more.

I didn’t have to go to his office that day, but I did have to stay after class and listen to Professor Foster sardonically refer to me as Mr. Smith, while asking why I was late, to which I didn’t have a good answer, and telling me how much fun he was going to have with me that semester. I hadn’t really been challenged, he told me, but that was going to change.

Professor Foster’s approach to teaching English 101 was unorthodox. Whenever someone says something in education is “unorthodox,” it conjures images of a movie trailer about a nice white lady who goes to the inner city and teaches black youth that rap and poetry are really the same thing. But the norm is so staid that “unorthodox” as descriptor fits. It was “unorthodox” for us to engage with texts created by black authors. It was “unorthodox” for us to engage those texts not just for form, style, and prose but also content. It was “unorthodox” for us to be asked to relate the content to our current political moment. It was “unorthodox” for us to be expected to engage in classroom discussions about ideas where we would disagree with one another while the instructor refused to dictate but rather pushed us to think outside of our own experiences and perspectives. That should be a standard education. We call it “unorthodox.”

It was the second or third week of class when Professor Foster opened up by asking us, “Should selling drugs be legal?” There weren’t any reading assignments just yet because he was waiting for the add/drop period to end, so class was this freewheeling discussion of whatever struck him that day. Our conversation proceeded at precisely the level anyone would expect from a group of eighteen-year-old college students unfamiliar with drug policy and the history of drug criminalization. Lots of “what’s the big deal?” and “weed should be legal” and “just weed, everything else is going too far” and a few “drugs destroy the community” thrown in for faux pro-black effect.

For the entirety of the conversation, I sat waiting for my star-making moment. I was turning over an answer in my head, reworking and rewording it to perfection, to showcase my awe-inspiring brilliance. I waited and waited, but my classmates were an excitable bunch, and Professor Foster encouraged them when disagreement arose, and my reserved demeanor didn’t meld naturally into the flow of dialogue. But Professor Foster wasn’t going to allow me to stew in my discomfort and apprehension, not I of the Malcolm X T-shirt and ten-minute tardiness who had, by his estimation, never been truly challenged. “Mr. Smith,” he said through that goofy grin, interrupting the excitement, “your thoughts?”

My moment arrived and the pressure was on. I slouched down a bit in my seat, backpack still on and headphones around my neck because I was trying desperately to make that my look, waited a couple beats, and said, “I think selling drugs should be legal.”

“Okayyyyyy . . . why?” Professor Foster didn’t care that I’d retreated into my shyness. He was going to make me translate the thoughts that bounced around in my head. I still didn’t have the wording quite right, but I was on the spot and he wasn’t going to let up, so I let it out. “We sell stuff that’s harmful to people all the time. Bleach can kill you, fast food can kill you, so why not let people sell drugs? It’s the most American form of business aside from prostitution.”

I thought that shit was the most clever thing ever uttered. Professor Foster seemed to be the only one even slightly amused or impressed by my observation. My analogy was imperfect, and the quip about prostitution probably distracted a few prudes from my overall point, but my intent stands up—there is a certain kind of moralizing around the drug business that doesn’t exist elsewhere, and the criminalizing of certain products and services that are integral parts of American identity, whether we admit it or not, requires an advanced degree in hypocrisy and cognitive dissonance. The advantage of a decade worth of hindsight allows me to better articulate my idea, and maybe if I had worded it that way at the time my classmates would have responded differently. As it was, no one followed me to the revolution.

But Professor Foster did continue to take an interest in me. He made me stay after class for a few moments that day just to say, “You forgot war.” He got it, and that made me feel better, though I still felt like I missed an opportunity to gain my classmates understanding and/or adoration.

He kept me after class again not too long after that, this time with the intention of giving me an assignment. An extra assignment. Something not in the syllabus. An assignment that wouldn’t be graded but that he expected me to complete nonetheless. These were the perks of having someone take an interest in your education and development.

He gave me a book, one he’d clearly read a number of times given the tattered pages, highlighted passages, and copious notes written in the margins. He wanted me to read it and be prepared to discuss it with him the next week. I don’t remember the name of this book. I remember the title had something to do with politics and power, but not much else. I don’t remember because I didn’t read this book. I started to read it, but halfway through the first chapter I found the heady academic jargon too much of a chore to wade through for required-non-required reading. And while it dealt with race to some extent, it wasn’t the kind of “SAY IT LOUD, I’M BLACK AND I’M PROUD” literature that got me excited in those days. But Professor Foster was expecting me to read it, so I skimmed a few other chapters and decided I could fake my way through at least ten minutes of conversation.

“So, what did you think?”

“It was interesting.”

“Interesting means you didn’t read it.”

Professor Foster saw me. He always saw me and I was always left wondering how.

“No, I did. It was interesting. I had never thought about things that way before. There’s the stuff about how race affects politics in a way white people don’t have to think about. It was interesting.”

Professor Foster took his index finger and jabbed it into my shoulder, and he said, “And what about for you? As a man?”

Here was the challenge.

“Ummm, yeah, that too. I had never really considered it that way.”

He had mercy on me and let me go, mostly because he had papers to read (our first of the semester), but he knew I hadn’t read that book and he wasn’t going to let me forget.

I had deliberately skimmed over the stuff about gender and power because I was not at all interested. Then Professor Foster jabbed me in the shoulder.

I needed to take an honest accounting of who I had been reading and listening to, who was shaping my thinking: Malcolm X, Aaron McGruder, Tupac, W.E.B. Du Bois, Mos Def, The Roots, dead prez, Public Enemy, Frederick Douglass, Huey Newton. Or, in other words: man, man, man, man, man, men, men, men, man, man. And it had never once occurred to me that might be a problem. I would have needed to be conscious of it in order to consider that possibility.


  • "Ambitious, ardent and timely."—New York Times Book Review
  • "[An] audacious debut book...This is a must-read book for the generations."—Washington Post
  • "...a superbly thoughtful memoir."—Buzzfeed
  • "...wonderful...While Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching may not have the answers, its attempt to define the undefined something buzzing about blackness feels like catching lightning in a bottle."—, Summer Reading Selection
  • "Here is the deeply thought accounting of the contemporary black experience by one of our foremost writers and thinkers. A scintillating, rewarding read."—The Root
  • "[Mychal Denzel Smith] provides perspective into the complexity of blackness that's commonly lost in discussions about race...this memoir is both groundbreaking and saddening. It might be the first of its kind: a book that offers a comprehensive look into the genesis of black millennial lives through the eyes of a young black man."—Chicago Tribune
  • "With this book, Mychal Denzel Smith solidifies his place as one of the most important voices of his generation. A gifted storyteller with sharp political analysis, he straddles the personal and political with aplomb. This is a book everyone should read."—Jessica Valenti, Guardian (US) columnist and author of Sex Object: A Memoir
  • "Invisible Man, Got The Whole World Watching is quintessentially Mychal Denzel Smith: brilliant, honest, courageous, hilarious, and transparent. Most importantly, it is one of the best and most authentic examples of black male feminist cultural criticism that we have ever seen. Although he draws from his own experience, Mychal avoids the self-importance and navel gazing that compromise most memoirs of this genre. Instead, he offers a narrative that is at once unique and ordinary, reflective and instructive. This book should be read by anyone trying to understand what it means to be black and male and committed to this beautiful struggle for freedom."—Marc Lamont Hill, author of Nobody: Casualties of America's War on the Vulnerable, from Ferguson to Flint and Beyond
  • "Decades ago, Toni Cade Bambara wrote, 'The purpose of a writer is to make revolution irresistible.' Mychal Denzel Smith, in addition to crafting a genius piece of art that swims through politics and prose, has created one of the first books of my lifetime that makes structural and interpersonal revolution irresistible. Unlike many twentieth- and twenty-first-century memoirs written by black men, Smith convinces readers that any conversation or movement toward black liberation that doesn't also reckon with heteropatriarchy is brittle at best, and likely destructive. Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching is the first book of my life that I need to read with my mother, my grandmother, and my children. Mychal Denzel Smith has done it. He has written a potential revolution."—Kiese Laymon, author of Heavy and How to Slowly Kill Yourself and Others in America
  • "It has become routine to witness black boys meeting violent ends. Captured on police dashcams or bystander smart phones, we watch black boys die as videos replay hourly on cable news and are clicked feverishly on YouTube. It is still rare to watch black boys grow--to hear them laugh or cry, to declare their passions and to reason carefully. This is part of why Smith's book is so affirming, necessary, even delightful despite its brutality and angst. Mychal Denzel Smith answers the pressing but unasked question, what would happen if all those black boys felled by bullets had a chance to make mistakes, read books, fall in love, hone skills, take new paths, and grow up? The story is fully and unflinchingly Mychal's and because Mychal is so distinctively self-aware, so intellectually invested, and emotionally raw, it cannot simply stand in as a generic tale for all the lost black boys--except that they too would have had stories entirely their own to tell if only they had had a chance to write them. We owe it to them and more importantly to ourselves to read Mychal's book and render visible what we would rather forget."—Melissa Harris-Perry, Maya Angelou Presidential Chair at Wake Forest University
  • "Mychal Denzel Smith is one of the most important and vibrant voices of his generation. Born into the grim and brutal realities of systemic racism, police violence, and the prison industrial complex, Smith's work--searing yet funny--is, in some ways, a miracle. He has survived the grave challenge of simply being a young black man in America and has lived to tell the tale. Smith's writing, speaking, and television appearances, as well as his incisive use of social media, inspire one to imagine what it would be like if James Baldwin, Richard Wright, or Ralph Ellison were on Twitter."—Jeremy Scahill, author of Dirty Wars and Blackwater
  • "Mychal Denzel Smith takes us on a political and cultural journey of young black manhood that unapologetically examines, parallels, and weighs the influence of Obama and LeBron, Kanye and Trayvon, Malcolm X and Chapelle on his own becoming in the twenty-first century. By centering the black boy he once was, the boy many refuse to see, we face him head-on. Smith trusts us to not only see him in all his vulnerability, bravado, and incisiveness, but to know him. This is Smith's selfless offering."—Janet Mock, New York Times bestselling author of Redefining Realness
  • "If I kept a diary of my deepest thoughts, plaguing insecurities, and varied triumphs--this would be it. It is a cover-to-cover conversation with the reader on the complexity of (hopefully) growing to be a Black Man in the American Empire. Mychal's coming-of-age book, his first, is a masterful meld of personal reflection, political analysis, and honest insight that yearns to be felt, must be read, and demands to be seen."—umi selah, organizer and co-founder, the dream defenders

On Sale
Oct 3, 2017
Page Count
240 pages
Bold Type Books

Mychal Denzel Smith

About the Author

Mychal Denzel Smith is the author of the New York Times bestseller Invisible Man, Got the Whole World Watching (2016) and Stakes Is High (2020). His work has appeared, online and print, in the New York Times,Washington Post, Harper’s, Artforum, Oxford American, New Republic, GQ, Complex, Esquire, Playboy, Bleacher Report, the Nation, the Atlantic, Pitchfork, Bookforum, and a number of other publications. He has appeared on the Daily Show, PBS Newshour, Democracy NOW!, Full Frontal with Samantha Bee, MSNBC, CNN, NPR, and more national and local radio/television programs.

He is featured in and was a consulting producer for “Rest in Power: The Trayvon Martin Story,” the Paramount Network docuseries executive produced by Jay-Z. In 2014 and 2016, named him one of the 100 Most Influential African Americans in their annual The Root 100 list. He was also a 2017 NAACP Image Award Nominee. He is a fellow at Type Media Center. You can follow him on Twitter at @mychalsmith.

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