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A lot of WDKYMYB is the author telling stories about growing up in Pittsburgh, PA, hanging out with friends, maneuvering through school, and playing lots of sports. There are laugh-out-loud observations about adolescence and the awkwardness of an ever-changing body, something I could readily identify with. But underlying the relative ordinariness of life is that his life is lived in black skin, which brings a layer of complexity to every situation. Young elucidates the differences between "n**ger" and "n**ga, which should make it clear to anyone who has every wondered "But why do they call each other...?" He explains with humor and dead-eye seriousness a "down white boy" versus a "woke white boy." There is also a dissection of the effects of "white privilege."
What I most enjoyed about WDKYMYB, is that, whatever the topic, Young sees the absurdity of it brought on by people trying to rationalize their own choices. We're all screwed-up, some of us more than others.
WDKYMYB is an eye-opening, thought-provoking memoir that is bound to create conversations, with yourself, if with no one else.
A Finalist for the NAACP Image Award
Longlisted for the PEN/Diamonstein-Spielvogel Award for the Art of the Essay
An NPR Best Book of the Year
A Washington Independent Review of Books Favorite of the Year
From the cofounder of VerySmartBrothas.com, and one of the most read writers on race and culture at work today, a provocative and humorous memoir-in-essays that explores the absurdities and anxieties of being Black in America
For Damon Young, existing while Black is an extreme sport. The act of possessing black skin while searching for space to breathe in America is enough to induce a ceaseless state of angst where questions such as “How should I react here, as a professional black person?” and “Will this white person’s potato salad kill me?” are forever relevant.
What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker chronicles Young’s efforts to survive while battling and making sense of the various neuroses his country has given him.
It’s a condition that’s sometimes stretched to absurd limits: creating the farce where, as a teen, he wished for a white person to call him a racial slur just so he could fight him and have a great story about it; provoking the angst that made him question if “being straight” was something he could practice and get better at, like a crossover dribble; and generating the surreal experience of watching his Pittsburgh neighborhood getrify from predominantly Black to “Portlandia . . . but with Pierogies.”
And, at its most devastating, it provides him reason to believe that his mother would be alive today if she were white.
From one of our most respected cultural observers, What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is a hilarious and honest debut that is both a celebration of the idiosyncrasies and distinctions of Blackness and a critique of white supremacy and how we define masculinity.
Damon Young is the cofounder and editor in chief of VerySmartBrothas, a senior editor at The Root, and a columnist for GQ. His work has appeared in outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, CNN, MSNBC, Al-Jazeera, Slate, Salon, The Guardian (UK), New York magazine, Jezebel, Complex, EBONY, Essence, USA Today, and the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette.
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