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What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker by Damon Young
Essays

What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker

by Damon Young

Quick take

We think the title says it all.

Why I love it

Dennis Norris II
Writer and Co-host of Food 4 Thot

Let’s keep it real: Who among us hasn’t dreamt of fighting somebody because they said something dumb? I’m black, gay, nonbinary, and have a Twitter account—meaning that on most days, I need half a reason. But since I was raised right, I can’t just walk around letting folks catch these hands, so instead I look for books that make me feel like I have. By this, and any standard, Damon Young’s What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker is a gem of a find.

From the opening essay about waiting to be called the N-word by a wayward white person (so he can fight them and be a man!), to “Bomb-Ass Poetry,” where he admits to writing truly awful Love Jones-inspired verse (reprinted—for funsies!), Young consistently interrogates, analyzes, and yes, straight-up reads, for utter filth, his earlier thinking and behaviors around the development of his masculinity. As a cisgender heterosexual man, he never exempts himself from his own contemporary, socially-aware critique.

What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker forces you, as a reader, to look at your own position in the world and hold yourself up to the microscope, but it does so lovingly and humorously. Boyhood hijinks abound, misadventures, basketball dreams, and like every boy, comedic overanalyses of the difference between gay and soft—all of which are examined, then cast aside in the quest to be a better man.

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Synopsis

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, 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.

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Preview

Get an early look from the first pages of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker.

Member thoughts

All (617)
All (617)
Love (318)
Like (260)
Dislike (39)
641 ratings
  • 50% Love
  • 41% Like
  • 6% Dislike
  • Palmrya, PA

    Powerful essays, humorous, real. As someone who lives in Pittsburgh, it’s great to hear the perspective of someone whose grown up and watched the gentrification and acknowledge the racial issues here

  • Youngsville, NC

    I loved that this was a memoir that was not toned down to keep readers comfortable. He is honest and open about his experiences, insecurities, and triumphs. And don’t forget his laugh out loud wit!!!

  • San Jose, CA

    I am so impressed with the Author's self- and societial- awareness and his ability to put that awareness into words and create very digestable prose. Conversationally written, educational, and honest.

  • Vineland, NJ

    I have been wanting to really educate myself on what it really means to be black in America. This book was thought provoking, funny, and heartbreaking sometimes all at the same time. Highly recommend.

  • Cleveland, OH

    I think most people likely lead interesting lives, but recognizing the stories within and weaving them together takes true skill. Damon Young has that skill, along with the strength to be vulnerable

  • Wheatley Heights , NY

    A hilarious yet refreshingly honest insight into what it's like to be a black man in America. Although I am black, I believe anyone can discover some inkling of relatability somewhere in these pages.

  • Valley Village, CA

    Damon Young is an anxious, lactose intolerant, resilient human being. He really dug deep inside himself to be brutally honest in these personal essays, which made each one resonate. Highly recommend.

  • West Peoria, IL

    This was a slow start for me, but by the end I felt like I knew the author pretty well. He did a great job of sharing his life & his perspective as a Black man. Very good book! Would highly suggest!

  • Philadelphia, PA

    Not only is Damon an excellent writer, making it enjoyable just to read his essays for the wit and style, but for white people growing up in the same generation, it's eye opening to say the least.

  • El Paso, TX

    This book gives insight into what it's like being black and the struggles black people continue to go through. Humorous and informative, this book is unique and isn't afraid to tell the truth.

  • Fairfax, VT

    Got this book right as BLM was at its height. Really needed every opportunity to view these situations from a different perspective. I wont every fully understand but cab do my best to try!

  • Queens, NY

    This is exactly the type of memoir I was looking for! I appreciated honest, thought-provoking perspective that Damon Young provides. Hoping to see BOTM provide more reads like this!

  • Ravenna, MI

    These essays are fun and funny, but are also a great jumping off point to think about and unpack what it means to be Black in America. Loved how real and down to earth he writes

  • Chicago, IL

    I’m thankful for this honest memoir in a time where I am learning how to be more inclusive, more loving, and more aware of the injustices faced by BIPOC daily in this country.

  • West Trenton, NJ

    Damon Young's essays are brilliant. They are a perfect balance of funny, heartfelt, introspective - all wrapped up in social and personal awareness. This is required reading.

  • Chehalis, WA

    This book flows in each essay Damon writes. The language, the topics and the rhythm kept me engaged and intrigued. I also laughed out loud more than a few times. Brilliant.

  • New Orleans, LA

    It was a bit of a slow read, but Young’s authenticity and honesty shined to me—making him relatable, unique, and a powerful storyteller all at once.

  • Atlanta, GA

    This book is a wonderful look into the life of a black american. I love Young's voice as an author. He kept me laughing through the traumas of his life

  • Waban, MA

    Loved this book. Talks about racial issues in an interesting and entertaining way, yet still conveys the seriousness of them.

  • Phoenix, AZ

    I loved his self deprecating humor. First memoir I could actually relate to. Definitely recommend to anyone and everyone!

Essays
  • Calypso
  • Trick Mirror
  • Shrill
  • Fair Play
  • What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker
  • Thick