Tuesday, July 18, 2017

Topic Read - "You Can't Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain" by Phoebe Robinson

"You Can't Touch My Hair and Other Things I Still Have to Explain"

By Phoebe Robinson

Published by Plume 
(A Penguin Random House Imprint)
Publication Date: October 4, 2016
Genre: African-American Nonfiction
Central Theme:

The central theme of "You Can't Touch My Hair" is about various aspects of the African-American experience and directly how Phoebe Robinson has seen those differing experiences as an African-American woman. Robinson infuses humor into hard topics, like seeing African-American individuals as the "Other" and how there are issues even within the confines of Hollywood for African-American individuals. She touches on numerous conversations about the African-American experience. 
Important Quotes:

This book has numerous important quotes and is chock full of important information, but these are a few that I want to highlight to you about the discussion of African-American individuals in American society:

"There's nerdy black, jock black, manic pixie dream black, sassy black, shy black, conscious black, hipster black... the list goes on and on. But some people don't want to believe that, because if varying degrees of blackness become normalized, then that means socieity has to rethink how they treat black people. In other words, if you allow black people to be as complicated and multidimensional as white people, then it's hard to view them as the Other with all the messy pejorative, stereotypical, and shallow ideas that have been assigned to that Otherness." (p. 79)

"Pointing out modern-day institutionalized racism prevents blacks from getting jobs and paints them as angry, scary, and a menace to society by the police until proven otherwise is not me reveling in victimhood. It's acknowledging the current environment as the first step in attempting to change." (p. 131).

"Explaining your life to a world that doesn't care to listen is often more draining than living in it" (p. 156)

"On that day with the White Director, I made the choice to never again be quiet, to never again suck it up. I challenged him. And I will do it again. If that makes me uppity, so be it. At least people know I'm no longer a vessel that they can use to act out their racist feelings. They will know that I think I'm worth fighting for. They will know that I have a fire burning inside me. They will know that I'm alive." (p. 158)

"You see, I've spent my life learning that I am, at all costs, supposed to care more for a white person's feelings than my own. That if I hurt them or they decide that I have hurt them, that I am to feel guilty." (p. 201)

My Feelings:

This book highlights exactly why I do not give books ratings. If I rated this book based on my experience of enjoying the book, I would have given it like 3 whatevers I utilized as a rating point system. This is because I found elements of this book hard to get through. This was because of how Robinson mixes humor to help get through the tougher conversations that the book is trying to have. As an individual more set in academia it was weird to see this infusion. I wanted to see it written more professionally, but when I sat with the book (a good couple weeks before writing this review) I recognized that she needed to infuse this humor to help other populations get through the book and understand these concepts that they may not have otherwise understood. If I was to rate the book on importance of conversation though I would be rating it at 5 stars. In a book like this the rating system would be so arbitrary because what am I rating it on? How important the message was, how she wrote it, or something else all together. Diverse books sometimes are best left unrated and more taken at face value as being part of an important dialogue, which is why (even though I mention ratings here) I will never rate any of the diverse books that I read. It is just not appropriate to do. It detracts from the intended message. This is the only time, since I am starting these diverse books as part of the conversation here now, that I will mention this aspect. 

This being said, Robinson has some very important conversations about racial issues that are at the heart of our country right now. Most of us are aware of numerous deaths of African-American individuals by police officers, in situations where the person did not have a weapon or was not even resisting arrest. I am not having some huge discussion about police officers. I respect that they do the world a service, but the reality is that too many incidents have been reported now where this has occurred to African-American people for little to no reason, other than they were African-American at the wrong moment. She does not discuss too much these particular incidents, but she delves into differing aspects of society that showcases this "Otherness" that society places on the African-American experiences. Robinson does this with a sharp and witty tongue that remains comedic through most of her stories. 

The comedic nature of her stories sometimes is overwhelming and detracts from her intended message. This was my chief complaint of her book. I wanted hard hitting facts. There was even a moment where I wanted to scream at her because she was discussing her issues with coded language and how one person utilized the word "uppity" against her that she worked for, but she seems during most of this story to not recognize that she, herself, was being a bit biting and racist (yes, this might seem weird, but you can be racist against a white person, even if they are the predominate race in the country). Throughout the story she made it a point to state numerous times "White Director" about the other main person involved in the incident. When you have to point out this aspect of the person for numerous pages in a book about racial issues it detracts from your intended message, especially if you want a white individual to take anything from what you are saying to make positive change in the world for your community. I also want to be clear: Yes, I am a white and I am also part of a marginalized population. I would never go around screaming in a story "cisgender" over and over again, if I was trying to make a point about the treatment of transgender individuals in society. When you complain about white people saying "this is not my intention" and then basically say the same thing about calling someone "White Director" for numerous pages, umm you may also need to check yourself slightly along the way. As she says though, I don't know her story though, not fully other than this book. With all this said by the end of the story I had forgiven her because it was when I stopped reading the book for numerous days as I was so frustrated with her message. I only fully forgave her story when I arrived at page 156 where she discusses that this director actually started making it all about him and she couldn't even own what had happened to her because of the antics he ensued after the fact. Her story, at the end, showcased the reason she called him this throughout, but the reality is that other people may never reach that point of this story as a result of her language choices. I will, however, state that through the entire book there was no other singular moment that I wanted to stop the book. There was nothing else that made me think, "Phoebe Robinson, you are full of some grade A manure girlfriend." The rest of the book I was like "Yes girl YASSSS!" because she speaks the truth on these experiences. She doesn't mix words. She lets it all hang out, but she does it in a way that is edible. You can devour it without going "Oh lord I am about to choke on all this realness of the world." This is important since this may be the only book some people read about racial issues in our society, I hope not because people should read a diverse grouping of books, but if they do only read this one they are not walking away from it unlearned. 

The book does discuss some really important conversations. For example, I appreciated that she discusses that in Hollywood there is not only an issue with African-American representation (often it can be linked back to looking a particular way or being a slave), but also she discusses that transgender representation sucks as well. She cleverly states that Laverne Cox, who I love, cannot represent every single transgender experience and nor should whatever white male they hire to play the role either. I applaud her for this inclusion. Hollywood does have a long way to go in African-American and Transgender representation on the screen. We should not be a comedic punchline in every single movie either. Thank goodness for shows like "Transparent" and "I Am Jazz" coming to the forefront. This, however, is just a starting point. More needs to occur for both populations.

The last thing I really want to point out is that you may be thinking that there is no differences in society between African-American experiences and those experienced by White people, but this is so inaccurate. She showcases greatly these differences when she presents a limited amount of statistics on the population. For example, African-American women are "three times more likely to be incarcerated than white women" and they also have reported higher rates of poverty in American society (she provides actual numbers on this). Imagine living in a world where you are more likely to be walking down the street living your life and just for being the race you are you may be stopped by the police and end up in prison. It is this aspect of our society that has to change. It is this aspect of our world that we need to work on bettering. Statistically African-American people are treated substantially different in American society. We must do something to help change this, which I think a good stepping stone is reading this book to start educating yourself about these experiences.

Other Information:

Phoebe Robinson hosts several podcasts, including "2 Dope Queens" w/ Jessica Williams and "Sooo Many White Guys." She also has a website entitled "Blaria" (Black Daria) where you discusses topics related to race, gender, and pop culture. You can also watch a web series she created called "Woke Bae" on Refinery29.com, where she and a co-host discuss a guy that they deem to be "woke" because they are engaged with some type of community activism. 

Later this week, I will be posting some information about some films that showcase African-American representation within media. I am doing this to start the "conversation" part of my blog about diverse experiences. I am wanting to read two books every month and then have a blog post related to the book in some way that is not the book, but a topic that stems from the book. Phoebe Robinson discussed in detail about African-American representation in media, so I would like to point some important films to watch in that genre. I will focus on important films and television shows that have been important for the community, but I know it will not be an exhaustive list. Just a highlight reel. Some will focus on African-American experiences and helping the audience to understand those experiences because Robinson's book heavily focused in on that aspect of the world as well. 
Where You Can Purchase
"You Can't Touch My Hair":


  1. I listened to this in audio format and I found it really informative...although the humor may have come across better through her actual voice than it did in print. - Katie

    1. I imagine in places it probably did. There were moments where I seriously was like "enough with the humor", but I think it was because I wanted a particular type of book discussing the African-American experience, which this didn't fit what I was expecting. This does not make it bad though. I enjoyed it on its own merits, but it definitely was not what I expected.