It's a well-known, established fact that the more I like a book, the less capable I am of describing it. I feel like I shouldn't even try with You Can't Touch My Hair. Stand up comedians are smart, funny, and mad observant, possibly more so than people in other professions, save TV detectives. Phoebe Robinson is all that, through a race and gender lens and a poet with millennial vernacular.
The first of my eleven bookmarks is a publisher "we can have it both ways" disclaimer
Penguin is committed to publishing works of quality and integrity. In that spirit, we are proud to offer this book to our readers; however, the story, the experiences, and the words are the author's alone.
I really want to know the backstory on that. Did they try to get Robinson to soften her tone? Or is it standard practice for them to simultaneously stand by their books and distance themselves from the book's authors?
I always appreciate when a heterosexual acknowledges that not all ladies lust after dudes and vice versa, so I like that in the foreward Jessica Williams writes "I think I can speak on behalf of all straight women everywhere..." Bonus: she's discussing Carrie Bradshaw's implausible preference for Mr. Big over Aiden on Sex and the City. But the same foreward calls attention to something I've noticed in comedian memoirs--a fixation on sales. "I am so excited that you bought this book..." Or maybe I'm just annoyed that she didn't write "I am so excited that you borrowed this book from the library..." or "...scored a DRC from Edelweiss..."
So, you might have guessed from the title of the book that Robinson has some things to say about Black women's hair.
The message that society sends to black women is that black does not belong to them but is fair game to be discussed, mocked, judged, used, and abused, and it serves as a home for people's preconceived notions about blackness, as if it is an abstract concept that is not connected to living, breathing, and feeling human beings.
Stuff like that.
I read this book immediately after a non-waste-of-time diversity training at work. Robinson's take on microaggressions was a good reinforcement for the things I'd been thinking about, including the nature of whiteness.
Microaggressions like [shitty customer service at the frames department in an arts-and-crafts store] accumulate over days, weeks, months, and they shape my experience as a black person. And this is not to say there aren't many wonderful things about being black. There are, and a lot of them have been absorbed by pop culture--fashion, music, food--but still, there are tons of things about being #TeamMelanin that blow.
There's a chapter on being The Black Friend. It's like Robinson is writing this book for a Black readership, not a white one. Whoa! I am baffled when books aren't written for and/or all about me! And apparently I'm not alone in that. Robinson herself is always thinking about white people.
...that Greek chorus of, "But what will the white people think?" has been a constant in my brain for much of my life. "Man, I truly am going to be late, not because of CPT but because of traffic. But what will the white people think?" "I really want to order certain food off this menu at dinner. But what will the white people think?"
I want to reproduce the whole rest of the chapter for you, but that feels like a few too many steps toward coopting or capturing her work or wanting a cookie for sharing it, so, please, when this book comes out in October, please read it for yourself. One last bit though, to me, the best-ever definition of emotional labor:
Being on the charm offensive all the time will win you friends and help avoid conflicts, but it also leaves you feeling stifled and exhausted.