You Can’t Touch My Hair by Phoebe Robinson
First, just a quick note — I’ve been away from reading/reviewing for a few months for personal reasons, and I’m hoping to get back to publishing a review at least once a week, though it’ll obviously depend on how much reading I’m getting done. Thanks for sticking with me!
I was first drawn to this book because the Foreword is by Jessica Williams, who I really liked on The Daily Show, but I also requested it because I think there’s a huge gap in understanding black culture and the struggles of being a black woman in America today. Obviously, I realize that this is only one person’s perspective, but it’s one person more than I had before. Now, I’d never heard of Phoebe Robinson, probably because I don’t tend to watch a lot of comedy shows and I never watch stand up, but that didn’t make this book any less interesting to me.
This book is written in essay format, so it’s easy to read one or two essays at a time, which I appreciated, especially since things have been so busy lately. It’s very conversational in tone, and I felt like I was sitting and having a chat with Phoebe rather than reading a book, which can be nice in a memoir. My biggest problem with the writing and format was that it definitely read like a series of blog posts more than a memoir, complete with hashtags and a lot of shortened versions of words (my least favorite being “cazsh” for casual). Saying these things is one thing, but actually reading them made me feel old and out of touch. Do people actually write out these shortcuts? I get that in a blog (and she does have one) you might use this sort of abbreviation, but in a book it kind of drove me crazy.
That aside, though, the content of the essays varied from interesting and insightful to a little weird, but I didn’t hate reading any of them, which is always a good sign. In her essays, Robinson talks about being black and the struggles she and other people of color face, and while it’s told in a humorous way, the idea that POC have to make sure they’re not the token black friend or the accidental spokesperson for every POC is crazy. I’ve never really thought about this issue before, and now I’ll at least be more aware of it. I’d also never thought about society’s expectations for black women’s hair, which she discusses early on. I hadn’t realized there was so much controversy about natural hair vs. treated or relaxed hair. I liked learning about these things, even in a small way, because I think it’s important to try to understand the struggles and culture of people around me. Robinson also discussed issues that generally affect women, and I enjoyed her section on advice/requests for the first woman president, whomever she might be.
There are a ton of pop culture references thrown into this book, some of which I totally got and enjoyed, and some of which I definitely didn’t. As with most books written by comedians or intended to be funny, I think some of the humor was also lost on me. I did enjoy reading this, though, and I thought that it touched on some heavy topics in a relatively lighthearted way. Racism and sexism are addressed head on, but with a little humor.
Overall, I did enjoy the content of this book, though the blog-like style was a turnoff for me. I gave this book three stars, but I do recommend reading it, especially if blog style doesn’t bother you.
*ARC from Penguin Group via NetGalley