What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young
I had never heard of Damon Young, but the memoir sounded interesting. This is a collection of essays that focus on different themes in Young’s life, such as his childhood quest to be called a slur so he could tell the story of how he beat someone up, and the heartbreaking story of his mom’s battle with lung cancer.
For Damon Young, existing while Black is an extreme sport. The act of possessing black skin while searching for space to breathe in Americais 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, provoking the angst that made him question if he was any good at the “being straight” thing, as if his sexual orientation was something he could practice and get better at, like a crossover dribble move or knitting; 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; and generating the surreality of watching gentrification transform his Pittsburgh neighborhood 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.
Young tells these stories with a generally humorous attitude. The events and themes are often heavy, but the way he writes keep things optimistic. He finds the humor in situations, and so despite what could be a very depressing memoir each essay has a hopeful tone.
One essay that I particularly liked was about his growth while writing a blog called “Very Smart Brothas.” This blog focused on Black culture and dating and was very popular. However, in one article Young criticized a woman for writing an article which argued against victim blaming. At the time, Young thought he was in the right for telling women to take some responsibility for assault, but after hearing the stories of countless women he realized how hurtful his words were. Most people who make these kinds of mistakes never acknowledge the harm they cause, but Young completely owns up to it and discusses how important it is to listen to people who are victims of things like assault.
I loved this piece because so many people don’t know how to reflect and change their attitude, and Young shows how it happened for him. There were lots of fun anecdotes throughout. Young’s writing style isn’t what I’m used to, but it worked for this memoir, and overall I really enjoyed this.