by Bri Little
There is no shortage of books about racism, and since the Black Lives Matter protests last summer, anti-racist books have been pushed to the forefront as essential reading. I have read a number of books about racism to interrogate my own internalized anti-Blackness, but most of them, paradoxically, center whiteness because the author usually writes for the benefit and education of white readers. Texts as teaching tools do have their place, but anti-racist books aiming to help Black people cope with their experiences of racial violence are few and far between.
In Amber Ruffin and Lacey Lamar’s 2021 release, You’ll Never Believe What Happened To Lacey, the sisters use a fresh, intentional approach to recount the constant barrage of macro- and microaggressions Black women endure and often internalize. With pitch-perfect humor, heart, and a take-no-prisoners attitude, Ruffin, a comedian, and her sister, Lamar, whom most of the stories are about, offer kinship in sharing their experiences, and freedom, in the ways we can respond to this violence.
You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey can best be described as an unburdening. Ruffin and Lamar explicitly state they have written this book because “leaving these things unsaid gives [the racist comments or stories] power.” The book employs humor as a coping strategy, as Black people have become good at joking lightheartedly about our suffering. Sometimes we need to laugh at the vile, terrible things that white people say and do to us, and some Black people have reached an expert level when it comes to this skill.
In their discussion of anecdotes exposing how rampantly and shamelessly uneducated white people still are when it comes to understanding Black identities, Ruffin and Lamar present a dichotomy of their experiences with racial aggression based on both their respective geographical locations and their methods of responding to these situations. Lamar lives in Omaha, Nebraska, where the sisters grew up. She is in a directorial position in the health care and human services field, where there aren’t too many Black women with her kind of power. Ruffin lives in New York City, where she doesn’t often experience the incessant racism Lamar has grounds to complain about on a daily basis. Both sisters are quick to admit racism has a home everywhere in America, but the cultural diversity of NYC and Ruffin’s work environment as a comedian allows her to swiftly and effectively dismiss people in a meaningful way when they say something messed up.
In the introduction of the book, Ruffin makes the point that,“When something racist happens to you […] you can express your feelings about it or not, or just tell the story and leave your feelings out, or just say your feelings and leave the story out — it’s your world.”
A significant thread throughout Lamar’s encounters is that she nearly always directly addresses racist interactions with undeserved calm, which she attributes to her Mama. She loses, or leaves, numerous jobs because she brings attention to how unfairly her colleagues treat her. On the other hand, Ruffin is entirely over it. Explaining racism to white people is no longer her ministry. Both Lamar’s and Ruffin’s reactions to racial aggression against them are completely appropriate. When our identity is so constantly and casually under attack, often no response seems right, because it’s always going to happen again. We, ourselves, can’t solve the problem of anti-Black racism. But Black people can do whatever we feel is necessary to cope when we are thrown into scenarios we didn’t ask to take part in.
You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey is special because Ruffin and Lamar infuse the searing brutality of casual racism with humor that’s appropriately deprecating and lighthearted. They have delightful banter, and include much-needed asides about their fascinating upbringing as Black middle class nerds in Omaha. This book feels like true kinship for Black readers. They will feel shaken to the core at the number of stories they have in common, but Ruffin and Lamar offer a form of community, the comfort of talking to a friend who also understands our frustrations and feelings.
Editor’s Note: The full title of the book contains ableist language that we have removed from this article.
Purchase You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey from your preferred Black-owned bookstore. The Amber Ruffin Show is currently streaming on Peacock.
Bri Little is a DC-raised, Seattle-based writer and editor. She covers Black culture and arts, with the intention of highlighting myriad ways Black people express joy and healing. Her favorite things are thriller novels, pop culture, and sparkling water. Follow her on Twitter @iamaytman.
Featured image courtesy of Grand Central Publishing.
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