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.
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.