“What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker” isn’t your Typical Memoir
Kevin Hart once told a story about when he and Chris Rock were working on new material at a comedy club. As comics do, they watched each other perform, and then gave each other notes and advice for their respective sets. After they finished, Dave Chappelle walked in and performed 20 minutes of stand-up. Hart said that after seeing how funny Chappelle’s performance was, he and Rock looked at each other, balled up the papers containing their new jokes and started from scratch.
As a writer, that’s how I’ve felt for years after reading writer/blogger/essayist Damon Young’s work. It’s not a feeling of defeat or frustration, but rather a motivation to challenge yourself. Young’s new memoir “What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Blacker” is no exception.
The book takes readers on an eye-opening, irreverent, witty, and, at times, harrowing journey in the life of a young Black man coming of age in America, specifically, Pittsburgh, PA.
Young touches on institutional racism, masculinity, white guys who say “nigga”, getting roasted and not having a good enough comeback, poverty, gentrification, “hotep” poetry, and much more.
A standout piece is early in the book where Young talks about the presumptions and expectations America has of Black youth:
“If you’re just black, America adds a decade of age, a vat of sass and a coating of Kevlar to your skin because of course niggers don’t feel any pain. If you’re poor and black, America acts like you emerge from the womb twenty seven years old… White people get to be babies. And they get to be babies when they’re adults. Poor Black people are born Avon Barksdale.”
“What Doesn’t Kill You” is unique in the sense that it’s not what many people expect from a “black male in America” memoir. It’s not just trauma, hard lessons and dealing with police; it’s multifaceted. It contains a sharp wit similar to that of a Samantha Irby, the vulnerability and introspection of a Kiese Laymon, and the social commentary of a Ta-nehisi Coates.
This book showed me that it’s okay to be all of yourself as a writer. It’s okay to be serious, silly, thoughtful, heartfelt, dark, candid and funny, because these are all important parts of the human experience.
“What Doesn’t Kill You” inspires me to not only continue to challenge myself as a writer, but to appreciate my story and my journey in this world. I’m almost certain that others will find inspiration in it as well.