Columnist and commentator Michael Harriot joins The Stacks to talk about his book Black AF History: The Un-Whitewashed Story of America. Michael reveals why he wanted to write this book in this way, who his audience is and why he included so many rebellion stories in the text. We also discuss the musical Hamilton, what makes this moment in American history different from the past and how Michael has approached being such a large voice on social media.
The Stacks Book Club selection for October is Tar Baby by Toni Morrison. We will discuss the book on October 25th with Minda Honey.
*Due to the nature of podcast advertising, these timestamps are not 100% accurate and will vary.
Traci Thomas 0:08
Welcome to The Stacks, a podcast about books and the people who read them. I’m your host Traci Thomas. And today we welcome Michael Harriot to the Stacks. Michael is a writer, journalist, poet, author, storyteller, and he is one of those talking heads you seen on just about every news channel anytime something Black happens. Michael is also the author of a brand new book called Black AF History the unwashed story of America. The book seeks to correct the mythology of blackness that’s been implanted in our collective memory and tells the story of America by the black people who shaped it. The book provides an educational hilarious and searing antidote to the nation’s almost true legend of black history. Today, we talked about why he wanted to write this book in this way, how he hopes black as history will change the conversations around American history. And we get into the musical Hamilton. Remember the Stacks book club pick for October is Tar Baby by Toni Morrison. And we will discuss the book on October 25 with Minda Honey. Everything we talked about on each episode of the stacks can be found in the link in the show notes. Okay, now it’s time for my conversation with Michael Harriot.
All right, everybody, I am so excited. I get to talk to I don’t know maybe the smartest person in the world. I haven’t quite decided yet. But I think we’re close to that. I’m joined today by author, commentator, Twitter superhero, Michael Harriot, welcome to The Stacks.
Michael Harriot 2:49
Thanks for having me.
Traci Thomas 2:51
I’m so excited to talk to you about this book. Your new book is called Black AF History: the unwhitewashed story of America. And for people who aren’t familiar yet will you tell them in about 30 seconds what this book is about?
Michael Harriot 3:04
This book is about the history of America through the eyes of Black people. So there are a lot of books that are about the history of America that are kind of by default filter to the eyes of whiteness, there are a lot of books about black people, filter to the eyes of black people. But this is a book about how black people see America and what we experienced as Americans from the 1400s until basically yesterday.
Traci Thomas 3:31
Yeah, I love the framing because it is like sort of a specific shift. It’s not about Black people in America. And it’s not about America. It’s about how Black people have seen and experienced America, which is like a slight shift, but it makes such such a difference. Why did you want to write this book in this way? Where did this idea come from for you? And what did you want to make sure you did with this book?
Michael Harriot 3:59
So initially, when I started, I pitched the book. So I used to teach a class called race as an economic construct. A lot of people are always surprised to find out that my background is as an economist, a macro economist, and I taught a book called a tortoise class called race as an economic construct. So I pitched the book called The wipey apology about viewing race through that lens of economics. And every time I met with publishers, they they were like, Yeah, we like that idea. But what about that history thing you do on Twitter? And so a one book deal turned into a two book deal. And when I originally proposed this, it was 2018 and the title of the first book wipey apology the subtitle, they thought no one would be would understand what the reference in the subtitle because it was called yp apology toward A more critical race theory and they had never heard of critical race theory then. So they said, Let’s do the history book first. And so now everybody knows about critical race theory. And I don’t have a book on critical race theory.
Traci Thomas 5:11
Yeah. Well, you will. That’s the second book.
Michael Harriot 5:14
Yeah, yeah. So that’s how it came about.
Traci Thomas 5:17
I love that. I love that. I think so I follow you on Twitter, I love you on Twitter, I think you do such a great job of like breaking down complicated things for us regular regular people with regular regular sized brains. And I love that you sort of do you know, a similar thing in this book. But what I was really struck by was how much new and new to me information. There was in this book, new new people stories I’d never heard before, but also sort of how you subvert conventional thinking. And I’m wondering like, is that just who you are? Like, are you just a person who you’ll be having a conversation with someone? And you’ll say something? And then they’ll be like, Well, I never thought about it that way? Or is there something that you do to sort of subvert conventional thinking?
Michael Harriot 6:05
Well, I think part of in this book, it is a little of each of those things. So I think part of it comes from, I was homeschooled until I was 12 years old. So not learning in the conventional American education system. I think it’s part of it. And you know, of course, being in a black family in a black neighborhood not having that subconscious deference to whiteness that people are accustomed to. But I also intentionally did some things, right. So there are subtle things. For instance, here’s here’s one, when I refer to enslaved Africans, right, I did the research. And if I was talking about a specific person, I tried to see where they came in from, what was the tribe or the kingdom, or the culture that they came here from. But all the white people in the book are just white people. Now that people might think that is an you know, kind of unnecessary or anti white or half of people will frame it. But when most people learn history, they learned it the exact opposite way, right? They learn about the French settlers, and the English colonists and the Spanish conquistadores. And then all the black people are just black people, Africans, right? They don’t have a past history, or political motivation or religion. And I want it to kind of be some versus Walsh subversive, while showing America like this is your standard. This is the way you teach what history from the white perspective. So it should be okay, if I do this, from the black perspective, using your standards?
Traci Thomas 7:45
Right? Oh, I love that. Because that is totally the standard. When you are trying to find information on you know, the black people in the book, were you doing your own research, trying to find where people came from? Or is that was that information sort of readily available to you?
Michael Harriot 8:01
A lot of it was my own research. You know, I mean, of course, it’s available if you kind of dig for it, right? And I and I also had historical consultants, my main consultant on the book, Blair, Kelly, who also has a book out called Black Folk is a historian. And she’s a historian. She’s now the University of North Carolina’s chair for the Department of Southern Studies. So she kind of gave me a curriculum. And sometimes when I reach a wall, she tells me, Hey, you should look here. Or you should, you shouldn’t forget to include this or his perspective that you didn’t include. So yeah, I did a lot of his primary research, we went through a lot of black newspapers and black media to find out what black people were thinking at that time. So it’s not just my perspective about how we would view it. But what black people at the time were thinking about this current or past historical event.
Traci Thomas 9:01
yeah and you talk about that sort of like a note on sources where your non source list you talk about, like how people can find this, like, through records at the churches or black media at the time and stuff. And I thought that was a really helpful guide as a reader to kind of get a sense of where your, where your headspace was, and where you are pulling from a book like this, a book about American history told from the perspective of black people doesn’t exist. But this sort of like writing history, again, and again, like we do it constantly throughout throughout history. There’s always these new history books, new ways to look at the past. I’m wondering like, for your approach, how were you thinking about making this book like making something that’s worth publishing that’s worth spending your time writing on? What was your perspective going in? To say this is the place I want to carve out for my book?
Michael Harriot 9:53
Well, what the thing I wanted most was for it to be accessible, so I don’t want it to just be A book for people who are really interested in deep dives of history. Right? So the average black person, I wanted to read it right. So I think that I did that by, you know, with, you could do little things graphic design, right. It’s kind of formatted graphically as a textbook. So their insights and their quizzes at the end of chapters, like remember this thing you just read? Hey, don’t forget that because it’s going to be in the next chapter. And, you know, humor is a big part of that, right? People relate to humor. And I think I was intentional about doing that. And I also wanted it to be a book that, so this is think like, Have you ever like, heard a noise? And, you know, no one else heard it? Do you hear that noise? Or did you see that thing that just happened? Right, like black people constantly live in that kind of state? Where we’re wondering if like, the whole world is gaslighting? Like, is it me? And then does that seem racist? Right? And I wanted people to know that it’s not just a feeling there is an actual historical basis for so I wanted people to like, not necessarily explicitly say, this is why this happened. But when you read about these things, you realize, oh, now I understand, right? Like when you read about the head rights system, right? And that, like white people got 50 acres of land for every enslaved person that they brought over here. And then you read about the New Deal. And you’ve read about, you know, how, all of the ways that basically white people got government handouts. You understand, you might have that aha moment, I don’t have to say, Hey, why people be getting government handouts, I can just lay out the facts. And when they make the argument that well, you just black people just need to work harder, and focus on education. You can point to these facts and say, Now, I’m armed with something that supports that feeling of way, what am i What do you mean, like we work all these years for free? What do you mean work? Right? Right. Right. And so those are the things that I wanted to do with this book.
Traci Thomas 12:18
Yeah, there’s a there’s a few moments that I noted for myself of like, sort of these aha moment. And you know, I love history. And I read a lot history. I read a lot for this job, like I’ve read, you know, Carol Anderson is one of my favorite authors like she, she’s been so helpful with my thinking about history. But there’s a few moments in this book, where I was like, How had I never thought about black history or American history in this way, which is one, where you talk about how the Civil War was really a battle between three sides, this idea that it wasn’t actually like the North versus the South or the slaveholders versus the non slaveholders. But that black people were their own side, and that they were fighting for their freedom. And that, regardless of what everyone else was doing, like they were unified in picking the side, that was the best for them, and that they were pulling in, they were shaping the conversation. And it wasn’t just something that happened to them. But that black people were an active part of what happened with the Civil War, and similarly with the Revolutionary War, and that they went from the British, to the Patriots or the Americans. And I had a similar moment, when you talked about black people and religion and how the religions black people didn’t convert to Christianity, Christianity converted to black people, and that black people shaped what religion looked like in America too. And there were so many moments like that in the book, that I think like those aha moments you’re speaking to, I certainly, like felt them and had them and was like, let me take a note here.
Michael Harriot 13:44
Yeah, I think I think that context, why like, so you can learn that black people got here in 6090, right. And you can learn that, oh, the King James Bible was written in 1609. But when you put it in the context of all those two things happened simultaneously, there wasn’t like this Christian religion that we know now wasn’t pervasive. And so there were new black people and a new religion on the scene that was being shaped at the same time. Just the AI, just putting them next to each other gives you context of all that’s why it is the way it is. And you don’t have to explicitly again, explicitly say, you could just present the facts and say, Hey, like it was this new thing called Christianity. And there’s a new thing. In America, there’s race based slavery. And those two develop simultaneously. And knowing that gives you a new context. I don’t even know if it is reframing history, as much as it is juxtaposing two things beside each other and giving people context.
Traci Thomas 14:54
And also like giving black people a seat at the table in some of these conversations because I feel like so much History, American history, the way that it’s taught is like this, like you were saying before this happened, and black people were there, and not that black people were making things happen. Another point in the book that I had this similar feeling when you talked about, like the red summer, and the ways that, you know, these white mob violence against black communities, and it always been taught to me that white people were upset with black people having freedom. And in this book, you really set it up more like, black people were thriving, and white people were floundering. And like, let’s not forget that the white people had lost their bearings. Like they didn’t know what the fuck was going on. And it wasn’t just that they were jealous, but that they felt that they that something had been taken from them, and that black people were doing so well. And they were just basically loser, fuck ups. And I felt like oh, right. Sure. It’s not just like, oh, black people have a thing is that black people have a thing. And white people are lackluster in this case.
Michael Harriot 16:01
Yeah, I think I think that it’s important. You know, there’s a statistic that I think people always find surprising in that before the on the eve of the Civil War, you know, because black people were property, the value of that human property was worth more than all of the banks, and all of the factories and all of the railroads in America combined. Now imagine taking that away, too, from an economy and giving it as essentially to black people, because we own ourselves. Right. Right. So imagine the kind of chaos that would engender. And I think you can understand history better, and you can understand what happened better when you understand it in that context.
Traci Thomas 16:49
Yeah, you include a lot of stories of rebellion throughout the book. Which I don’t know about you. But every time I read stories of like, enslaved people rebelling, I get like super hype. I’m like, Yeah, fuck, yeah, we did that. But I’m wondering why why you wanted to spend so much time on those stories?
Michael Harriot 17:09
Well, one of it one of the reasons like my favorite kind of black story like the explicit rebellions. And then the other part of it is that if so, of course, there’s this historical narrative. And I, again, I don’t have to say it explicitly, like they were happy slaves. And, you know, it was a product of the time, right? And that is counterbalanced by the fact that there were so many rebellions all across the country, and in every state, and in every right, so if it was this frequent, that idea that the people were happy and, and complacent goes against the stuff that they actually did, and all of the laws they had to pass and all of the protections they, like white people had to take to ensure that they were protected against this constant, looming threat of rebellion. And so knowing about that, and knowing because a lot of us don’t know about this, because we’ve learned this whitewashed version of history, it would make it makes us think that we didn’t rebel against the stuff that was done to to us. And not that. No, they had to put a whole system of laws in buildings in armories in place, because they knew they couldn’t control us on their own. Like, it was not even a fair fight. They couldn’t even stand up to a fair fight and knowing that kind of empowers you.
Traci Thomas 18:48
And in my opinion, I felt that I definitely felt that and like there were some rebellions that I’d never heard of before. And I was like, Ooh, this is a new one. I love it here. Like it is empowering. And it also is like, again, like, I keep harping on is that black people shaped this country this, like, we like it or not, we shaped the police. The police are here because of how badass we were like, they weren’t here before. Like we, you know, it’s definitely a double edged sword. But it is like that, that we invented these things that we we created a need for so many things in this country that otherwise would not have been and obviously, not necessarily a great reason. But it is something that we did that we contributed in ways. And I feel like you know, the rebellion stories also just feel really good to read. They just feel nice. I’m just like, I’m proud of us like this is great. You mentioned a little bit having someone who helped you sort of like with the historical stuff, but how how did you research I know that you know so much I know that you’re a wealth of knowledge, you talk about it from a young age. Talking about like Reagan’s that’s like the first story in the book Reagan’s election, and How your grandma was like, how do you know this? And you were like, Well, I’ve been in the small room reading books or whatever. But how much research did you have to do for this book? And how much stuff? Did you sort of already know? And you were just flushing now, like, how did you outline this? How did kind of how did this come to be? Because it’s a big undertaking, it’s, it’s 400 years, 400 plus years.
Michael Harriot 20:19
So I don’t know, what percentage I knew versus what percentage? I didn’t know. I know, probably most of it. I didn’t know. And some of it most, a lot of it, I learned specifically for the book. And the research was a lot of ways, right? Going through black newspapers, looking at primary sources, traveling to places as talking, asking his historians like, Well, hey, what if I wanted to know more about this? Where could I find it? And so it was almost every piece of research a lot, buying a lot of books on the subject. Luckily, like Kindle, for instance, was a great help, right? So if you need to know, like, I bought a lot of books, because because I needed to know one specific fact. And it was only in this book. And so I had to just buy the book to find out one specific fact. And so it was a lot of it was basically every kind of way that you can learn history, some from oral history, some from research, listening to interviews. So it was a bunch of different sources.
Traci Thomas 21:37
And when you said you started this in 2018-
Michael Harriot 21:40
2019 is when I really got started on the book.
Traci Thomas 21:43
Wow. So four years, or three years, I guess. And then the year that it takes for the book to actually come out. Yeah. That’s wild. Was there any thing that you learned in the writing of this book that really surprised you, or that wasn’t what you had thought it was was going in?
Michael Harriot 22:01
So one of the things that surprised me is the idea that, first of all, there is a kind of a brick wall that you hit. And it is really shocking. When you research, you know, you can find out that okay, this person said this, or wrote this, in this newspaper on this day, this black person. And then I would want to pull up the actual article from the newspaper. And there would always be two sentences that almost were all the same. It says no surviving copies exist, burned by a white mob. It is shocking how many newspapers that so as much as we know about IOP wells, we can’t read most of what she wrote. Because remember, the Memphis free speech was burned by a white mob, right? Like the we would know more about, for instance, bleed the Bleeding Kansas war, but those newspapers were burned, but it is shocking. How many, not just newspapers, like on every HBCU campus, their oldest building you’ll always see was like, built in the early 1900s, because the first structure was burned down, like right after reconstruction. The same with churches, just so many black historical figures were burned, buildings were burned by a white mob. And then the other thing is kind of the opposite of that. A lot of what we thought was lost to history really wasn’t lost. So when, for instance, on research, researching the history of enslaved people, like it wasn’t that white people went over to Africa, it just got like the first strongest people they could find, when they want it to grow rice, they went to the specific places, and cultures that had the technology, and the knowledge and the horticulturist, they knew how to grow rice, and got those people. And then when they like the state of Virginia, the biggest export was iron, because they went to Africa, to the cultures that were iron workers, and got those master blacksmiths and brought them here. So like, we a lot of times, we think, like a lot of our history was lost, but a lot of our history still exists. Because they wrote down and told each other, hey, you could go over here. If you want to go right, if you want some iron, good iron workers, man, you could go over here, right? And not only do they tell each other right, but then that boosted their economy because they would say, you know they could they had to prove that, hey, these people you about to buy. They come from this place that has ironworkers, right so you don’t have to take my word for it. Here’s the here’s the shipping. Basically what we’re shipping labels Right, right. And so, those those things to prove it to boost their economy, they still exists. And a lot of our history wasn’t last week. It just wasn’t taught to us, but they knew. Right, right.
Traci Thomas 25:14
Right. Okay, we’re gonna take a quick break, and we’re gonna be right back. All right, we’re back. I want to ask you about the current state of American history classes in America. I mean, you talked about how people didn’t know about critical race theory when you were pitching the other book. But now we know. And there’s this really fun thing that the Caucasians are doing, which is banning books that teach real life history, especially those people from marginalized groups or any of the good stuff. So I’m wondering, what do you like? Do you feel like this book has a place in these conversations? Do you do you feel like you can speak to sort of what’s at stake right now in the ways that they’re shutting down American history being told, and the history of people like I’m just curious what this means to you a person who is a former teacher and a historian and a smart, smart person who thinks a lot like, what do you How are you seeing this moment?
Michael Harriot 26:21
Well, I see it as part of a continuum, right? So as soon as black people were able to educate themselves, this process started, right. So the daughters of the Confederacy, we talked about this in the book, they started right after the Civil War, when black people were able to educate themselves. And in the 50s, in the 60s, there was the same edge movement, what a lot of people don’t know, is that what even let’s take what we know, and what we learned in schools. Now, our parents didn’t learn that, right. So even like, including a little bit, that’s in the schools now, that started in the 60s and the 70s. They didn’t learn anything before. They’re not about slavery, not about black people. The Ku Klux Klan, were the good guys back then, like until the 50s, and the 60s, right. So my mom, and my uncles and aunts, they didn’t learn about this stuff, which is why there were books like before the Mayflower, they magazines like ebony would have historical articles in them, right? Because this stuff does not exist, because it was intentionally excluded. So what we’re seeing now is a continuum of that effort. Right? So the moms for liberty of today is just the old white ladies who were the daughters of the daughters of the daughters of the Confederacy, right? Well, maybe the granddaughters of the daughters of Confederacy, right? It’s not a new effort. And it’s not really a really successful effort, because they can’t really stop black people from learning things. Right. And so that’s part of what I how I feel about it. And the other thing is, I do not think that this effort would be so prominent, if like, I don’t think that educators and white people care, that black people learn things learn about history, if that didn’t translate into something else, right? So if you, for instance, are a 12 year old kid in a school, and you weren’t you think that well, all those black people in that neighborhood are poor, because they don’t focus on education. And, you know, crime and they’re a little bit violent, like my mama says, But you learned at school about redlining, you learn about how to police were invented, you learn about all of this, you learn about how your grandparents got government handouts in the New Deal, then you begin to not only see America in a different way, you realize, hey, if I don’t like when my windows are busted out, why don’t we do the same thing that they did for my grandparents? Right? Why don’t we improve the economy, the economy by cuz it ain’t really a dare is in a democracy, there is no such thing as a government, right? Is this us? Right? That’s right. It’s not like the government is pulling money out of making money out of oxygen or rain or it’s just our money, right? And we say, we got to do this without money. Right. So I think that is part of it. And then again, the other part of it is, is is one of my beliefs, that they’re not betting books about black history, then Not trying to stop people from learning black history, the tops trying to stop people from learning white history. They learn. They don’t want people to learn what white people did. Black people, they were cool with UTG like slaves existed, but not what white people did to deal with. You learn about the end of segregation, but not about the regret your grandparents spitting on those black kids faces when they immigrated to school, right? That’s the stuff that they’re trying to ban not what we did, but what white people did.
Traci Thomas 30:28
Right. Okay, so then let me ask you this follow up question, because it comes up in the book a little bit too, when they’re talking about like black people getting the right to vote. And I obviously there’s sort of a connection about what’s going on here. Is any of what we’re experiencing now new, is any of it actually new? Or is the media just we’re new people. And so we’re learning it all over again? Or is there something about this moment that feels particularly alarming or horrible? Or is this just all on that continuum?
Michael Harriot 30:57
So I think none of it is new. I think what is kind of new is that white people get to hear what black people think about the stuff that’s going on? Right? So when you talk about the lynching movement, right? Why people listen to other white people about that, right? So they didn’t hear us complaining, or say a you know, we know these accusations of rape and murder are lies, right? So they believed what because the white people are in the newspapers and the Telegraph’s and all of that. And the same thing is true in the early 1900s. And the same thing is true, even in the civil rights movement, right? They didn’t like you could hear what Martin Luther King said in a speech. But you didn’t hear what black people were saying in barber shops, and on the streets because America was segregated. What I like you didn’t, you didn’t sit next to a black person in school, you didn’t work with a black person. So you there was really no way for white people to hear what black people thought. And now, because they hear what black people think. They think it is something that we have manufactured, so they deem it woke, they think that it is a new Rise of anger, or they think of it as anti white because they hear unfiltered, what black people think about this country and about this world and about what white people have done to them. And so the only new thing is that like I don’t think there is a obstacle between black voices and white people’s ears. And that is the new thing that causes the alarm. And this this new regurgitated movement.
Traci Thomas 32:57
That’s so that’s so well put into a smart, I feel like, I have to tell you this one of the things that your book made me feel I personally have a hatred of the musical Hamilton. And your book made me hate Hamilton even more, because I kept thinking about how much real history we could have been talking about when we were talking about fucking Alexander Hamilton and his friend instead of this fake narrative. And I know that, but that’s not really what your job is. But I just wanted to let you know that it validated me in a lot of ways, and I now hate Hamilton even more. Sort of a non sequitur, but-
Michael Harriot 33:34
I feel like I feel kind of the same way because like, I feel like they could have told the truth in Hamilton. it because it’s a song. People don’t like it anyway. Right?
Traci Thomas 33:44
And like, the thing that I really hate about the musical not to go on a tangent, but this always comes up. But the thing that really pisses me off about Hamilton is that you’ve taken black and brown Americans and descendants of people who were slaves or enslaved or whatever. And then you’ve put them in the position of being the heroes as the white people who are the people who are responsible for what happened to them and their families. So basically, you’re like, we’re just going to put these white people in like theatrical blackface and say like, now you can route now immigrants we get the job done. Well, we weren’t actually fucking immigrants. Powell. You know what we were we were captured from our home, okay, by you and your little friends. And it just really pisses me off.
Michael Harriot 34:27
You want to make you want you want to get matter. Think about Yes, this is because I don’t even I didn’t ever thought of it that way. But the music and the art form created by black people, as a response to their oppression. was Jimmy a call for the show to to use and was use to valorize the people who made them create the music in the first as a response to their oppression.
Traci Thomas 34:55
And the musical is three hours long. And then Lin Manuel Miranda has the audacity to say If we didn’t have time to include slavery, what do you mean? You had three hours? You included every detail of the Federal Bank? Excuse me, what are you talking about? It’s just, I makes me so mad. It is one of those things where I’m just like, there’s so much you could have done. There’s so like, and it’s just frustrating. And then when I read something like what you did, and I’m like, Oh, wow, somebody actually did a thing that’s interesting and smart about American history, and didn’t have to like fake the funk to get there. Just anyways, that’s my endorsement of your book and my scathing review of Hamilton seven years later. Oh, wait, wait, we got to talk about the cover and the title. Where did you come up with these things? Were you involved in the cover? How much were you involved in the cover? Was there other titles for this book? Talk about it.
Michael Harriot 35:48
So Sarah, Honey Young is an artist that did the cover. And, you know, she created a whole backstory for the cover, right? So her backstory was a kid sitting in class with a book, a history book that had that cover of, if you hadn’t seen it, it’s the cover of the famous painting of the Declaration of Independence. And see the student rips away the cover and finds the real history of black people under the cover, right? So what we did is went back to that painting, and there is there exists a kind of a guide to okay, this is this person on this painting. So there is a roadmap to everybody. And so we’ve researched the history of those people. So when I say, human smuggler, that is the actual human person. That is the history of the actual person. Right. So some of them were drug smugglers. Some of them were thieves. Some that’s how they built their fortunes. And that’s how they became what we call founding fathers. So we researched like, like every little bit was researched. And it means something, even the cover.
Traci Thomas 36:59
I love it. And what about the title?
Michael Harriot 37:03
Black AF history. So I, I have I actually trademarked Black AF like years ago. So I am a people, a lot of people don’t know, like, I am a poet also. And when I would travel, doing poetry years ago, of course, there’s no money or claim of fame and poetry. So you got to figure out a way to make money. And I would sell shirts that that said black AF. And so I trademark trademarked it. And of course, when I decided to write a history book, it seemed like a perfect name for me.
Traci Thomas 37:41
Yeah. Is there anything that’s not in this book that you wish? Could be? Or was?
Michael Harriot 37:46
Oh, yeah, there’s a lot that that I wish. Because the story of Moses Dixon, and the National slave revolt, I wish I could have gone into that more. There are? Well, I think I went pretty deep into the Gullah culture, there are a bunch of like, I could have overdosed you guys on just slave revolts. If I if I want it to. Just there are so many small detailed stories of you could do a story on just the music. And you could do one on just HBCUs. And the development just the one sport. So there’s so many things that I I wish I could have included in the book out, there was a chapter a whole chapter that we decided not to include on the history of, and the complex stories of mixed race in America. And AIP, from all right, from from the Hemings to you know, this, George Washington as descendants in the Madison’s right. And so, there was that whole a whole chapter on just black towns and how these towns the other Wall Streets was another. The other Black Wall Street, like the Black Wall Street that we hear about in Tulsa was like one of the lesser known black walls. Like at the time, if you would have said Black Wall Street, they would have probably assumed you were talking about Durham, North Carolina section they call it a tie, or or Virginia in Richmond, Virginia. So those are there’s a bunch of stuff that I wish I could have included.
Traci Thomas 39:33
Wow. Okay, I want to talk quickly about your process. How do you write where are you? Are you listening to music or no? Are there snacks and beverages? How often all that kind of stuff.
Michael Harriot 39:45
So when I was writing this book, I did this crazy thing that I’m still trying to get out of called biphasic sleep. So apparently, there’s this theory that for the most of the history of mankind, we slept into cycles, we would Go to sleep when the sun was down, wake up in the middle of the night, what they call the witching hour, you know, and that’s when we would make kids, that’s when we would read the Bible. That’s we take care of the animals because the animals were asleep and milk the cows and stuff like that and then go to sleep and wake up again, when the sun went up. Well, I did that and it actually works, you sleep. Eight or nine o’clock, wake up about midnight, to three or four and right, and then sleep from about four till about seven or eight, and get up and you’d be actually refreshed. And now I can’t get out of that sleep habit. But that’s when I got I would write during the day because I got a regular job at the grill. And then right at write the book at night. So that was part of my process. There were no snacks. I can’t really. So I’m very severely ADHD, so I couldn’t I can’t have any like, no distractions or anything. Yeah. Okay. Right. So got it. So that’s how I worked.
Traci Thomas 41:01
So now that you’re still in that cycle, what are you doing with those hours in the middle of the night?
Michael Harriot 41:07
Well, I still have like, it’s almost like a weekly version of Hamilton. I’m doing it on a podcast called Trick toe maniacs. So we take, you know, Pharrell, the producer. And I take a different story, every black story every week that really people don’t know about, or an aspect of a person that people don’t know about. And do a episode that uses music and sound and celebrity voices to narrate this story. So I’m writing that in the middle of the night. I’m working on the next book. There’s always something to write. So yeah, that’s what I’m doing. And I’m trying to watch TV, like, catch up on everything. So that’s what I’m doing.
Traci Thomas 41:49
Do you find it easy to wake up at that time, and like, because like, when I wake up in the middle of the night, I want to go back to sleep immediately. Like, sometimes I’ll be like, Oh, I’m wide awake. And then I’ll start reading a book. And I’ll be asleep in 10 minutes. So is it easy for you to wake up in the middle of the night? Or was that a struggle to get into that process?
Michael Harriot 42:08
Well, I think so is crazy that I get more sleep now. So I was always a night person. So I will stay up until three or four o’clock in the morning. But of course, you gotta go to work the next day. So you have to wake up and you get less sleep. But when you break it up into two different cycles, you’re more likely to get six to eight hours of sleep than I was if I would stay up to like two or three in the morning. Just because I’m a night person anyway, so I’m used to doing stuff at night.
Traci Thomas 42:37
Got it. I’m the opposite. I mean, my sleep I sometimes I go to bed when you go to bed and don’t wake up in the middle of the night, I wake up in the morning. Like I’m like a heavy need for sleep person. So you’re like a real life influencer? Not like, I sell, you know, gummy vitamins. But like a person who really influences the culture and shapes the way people think about things, especially like via Twitter. I feel like so many people know you from that. And you’re on television, as I mentioned before you write for the Grieux. And you’re just like a person who’s influential in the thinking of America specifically, I think for a lot of black Americans. Do you ever feel pressure or stress around that?
Michael Harriot 43:16
No, not really, because? Well, it’s two things, right? I don’t feel a lot of pressure or stress. Because I often turn down stuff that I don’t know about, like, I don’t want to go on and say crazy stuff. Like I’m not going to be on TV talking about relationships or right like so I don’t feel the pressure to talk about stuff that I don’t know about. And I don’t feel the need to talk about areas that someone else already covered. Right? So and then I kind of don’t want to influence necessarily what people think, but to say, Hey, have you ever thought about it like this, though? Right? And not saying I’m right. And you’re wrong. But a you’d never considered this? Right. And here’s a fact, that is, is basically I’m not saying that, like government handouts are bad or good. All I’m saying is that when we need to rebuild that economy, we came we created the largest government program in the history of the world, and it kind of worked. Right. That’s why we have a middle last. I’m not saying that you’re wrong, but I got history on my side. Have you ever thought about that? Right? So yes, I don’t I don’t feel the need to comment on stuff that I don’t know about or that like my voice isn’t needed in that conversation.
Traci Thomas 44:45
Yeah. Okay. What about a word that you can never spell correctly on the first try?
Michael Harriot 44:51
Oh, gosh, there’s so Okay. Um, the biggest word I always like have to look up. I get Wednesday mixed up a lie. And uh Oh, see, this is the number one on the list, Sergeant.
Traci Thomas 45:08
Oh, I don’t think I know how to spell. I’m a terrible speller. I don’t think I’ve ever had to spell that. S A R. g e n t.
Michael Harriot 45:15
I don’t. I don’t know. I don’t think he’s right.
Traci Thomas 45:18
I gotta Google it. I don’t seem too easy. Sorry, Jen. I’m googling. No, there’s an A S E R, G E A N T. Oh, no. Well, okay. I can’t follow it either, apparently.
Michael Harriot 45:31
Yeah. Yeah, sorry. I get a bunch of Caribbean specially bold letters, like, letters. Caribbean sheriff.
Traci Thomas 45:41
Sheriff, I can’t one that I realized I can’t do recently a separate or separately, can do that. Because I’ve been writing a lot about separate. And I can’t I can’t do it. I have no clue every time I get the red line. And I’m just like, I’m done. I’ve given up on this word, just tattoo it on my hand or something? I don’t know. Um, so for people who love black AF history, what are some other books that you might recommend to them that are in conversation with your work?
Michael Harriot 46:09
I think The Souls of Black Folk before the Mayflower and there are some other books that not aren’t necessarily about history books, a black man’s guide to the Constitution by Le Mustang. So good. Right. Blair, Kelly’s book on called Black Folk is really good. So yeah, those are some books that I think that people kind of would get that kind of has a voice and the perspective, while they might not necessarily be about the same subjects, yeah.
Traci Thomas 46:42
That the LMS is such a good, such a good book to be in conversation with because they are similar, like similar in tone. There’s that similar sense of humor. And also, like, there’s a black person telling you about this stuff. Like, this is our perspective. You know, I love that love that. What do you hope people will keep in mind as they read your book?
Michael Harriot 47:02
I think one of the things that I think they will, will realize and and recognize is that I, again, back to what I was saying earlier, right? This is not saying like the stuff that you learned was wrong, because it’s most of the book is not saying it didn’t happen the way you you learned it. It happened this way. What was what I’m saying is, this is a different perspective, right? So that stuff about Lexington and Concord in the American Revolution did happen. But like black people just saw two different kinds of white people fighting about something that didn’t affect them. Right. So none of that mattered to us. Right. And so I think I think the perspective is what I hope people realize, like it’s not a new history, it is a different perspective on history that already exists.
Traci Thomas 47:58
I love it. Okay, here’s my last question for you. If you could have one person dead or alive, read this book. Who would you want it to be?
Michael Harriot 48:05
Dead or alive? I think I’d have to go with C just to see what WEB DuBois thinks of it. I think he’s probably I really think he’s the smartest person, the smartest American person in American history. And so I would just like to see what he thought about it.
Traci Thomas 48:23
I love that such a good answer. Well, everybody you can get Black AF history: the unwhitewashed story of America by Michael Harriot wherever you get your books. It is out. Now. Michael, do you do the audiobook narration?
Michael Harriot 48:35
Yep, I do the audiobook narration.
Traci Thomas 48:37
Okay, so get the audiobook. I’m sure it’s fantastic. I haven’t listened to it yet. But the book is great. It’s out now. Get it wherever you get your books. Michael, thank you so much for being here.
Michael Harriot 48:47
Thank you so much for having me and telling us what to read.
Traci Thomas 48:52
And everyone else we will see you in The Stacks.
Alright, y’all, that does it for us today. Thank you so much for listening. And thank you to our guest Michael Harriot for joining the show. I’d also like to thank Heidi Richter for helping to make this conversation possible. Remember our October book club pick is Tar Baby by Toni Morrison, which we will be discussing on October 25th with Minda Honey. If you love the show and want insight access to it, head over to patreon.com/thestacks and join this backpack. Make sure you’re subscribed to the stacks wherever you listen to your podcasts. And if you’re listening through Apple podcasts or Spotify, please leave us a rating and a review. For more from the stacks, follow us on social media at the stacks pod on Instagram and tik tok and threads and at the stacks pod underscore on Twitter. And you can always check out our website the stackspodcast.com This episode of the stacks was edited by Christian Duenas with production assistance from Lauren Tyree. Our graphic designer is Robin MacWrite. The Stacks is created and produced by me Traci Thomas.
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