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


3.89  ·  Rating details ·  7,372 Ratings  ·  1,063 Reviews
You Can't Touch My Hair- And Other Things I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson DOWNLOAD OR READ IT ONLINE FOR FREE
You Can't Touch My Hair- And Other Things
I Still Have to Explain by Phoebe Robinson
A hilarious and affecting essay collection about race, gender, and pop culture from celebrated stand-up comedian and WNYC podcaster Phoebe Robinson.

Phoebe Robinson is a stand-up comic, which means that, often, her everyday experiences become points of comedic fodder. And as a black woman in America, she maintains, sometimes you need to have a sense of humor to deal with the absurdity you are handed on the daily. Robinson has experienced her fair share over the years: she's been unceremoniously relegated to the role of "the black friend," as if she is somehow the authority on all things racial; she's been questioned about her love of U2 and Billy Joel ("isn t that . . . white people music?"); she's been called "uppity" for having an opinion in the workplace; she's been followed around stores by security guards; and yes, people do ask her whether they can touch her hair all. the. time. Now, she's ready to take these topics to the page and she s going to make you laugh as she s doing it.

Using her trademark wit alongside pop-culture references galore, Robinson explores everything from why Lisa Bonet is "Queen. Bae. Jesus," to breaking down the terrible nature of casting calls, to giving her less-than-traditional advice to the future female president, and demanding that the NFL clean up its act, all told in the same conversational voice that launched her podcast, "2 Dope Queens," to the top spot on iTunes. As personal as it is political, "You Can't Touch My Hair" examines our cultural climate and skewers our biases with humor and heart, announcing Robinson as a writer on the rise."


Reviews


I was inspired to read You Can't Touch My Hair at GR friend Taryn's suggestion as a counterpoint to Jodie Picoult's portrayal of Ruth in Great Small Things. 
I didn't know anything about Phoebe Robinson -- who I now know is a young writer, feminist, actor and comic -- but I'm glad I read her book of personal essays. She writes about her views and experiences of being an African American woman -- she writes about experiences as a student, in casting calls, on the set, shopping, dealing with her hair and much more. She doesn't purport to speak on behalf of all African American women, but to the extent that she sheds some light on the experience of living in the shadow of mainstream expectations and stereotypes, her anecdotes and observations go well beyond the personal. She has a great narrative style -- she's funny but direct and unapologetic. Robinson's book is a timely and compelling counterpoint to the ugly morass into which current American politics have descended. I suspect that the audio version of her book would be even better because there's a lovely spoken quality to her writing.

I just read Amy Schumer's GIRL WITH THE LOWER BACK TATTOO, and if you follow me, you'll remember that I had some complaints. Mainly that comedians, for whatever reason, write unfunny memoirs that are either a) self-promotional, b) long, shopping lists of gratitude, or c) boring & dry. It's like they have to prove a point - that they're not just the funny man or woman, they can be serious, just you watch. But...that's not why people are going to buy your memoirs. It's not why I buy your memoirs.



Phoebe Robinson's memoir is not like that at all. It opens with the history and the politics of "natural" hair and why it's rude to ask to touch it. Robinson discusses how different hairstyles can make a statement if you're a woman of color, the hours and effort that go into maintaining natural hair, and the frustration she and other women feel when they are othered based on their appearance.



After this, as a bit of a wind down, she discusses some of the famous (black) celebrities who contributed to the pop cultural lexicon of black hairstyles. This section includes pictures and commentary, and I really enjoyed seeing the evolving looks.



The middle section is a bit about Phoebe herself, and some of the things she loves, as a sort of belated meet-cute before she gets into the heavy stuff. Try not falling for this woman, I dare you. She's so charming, and funny, and self-effacing. She drops pop culture references and slang like a pro, and her voice is so strong that you really get the feeling that you're having a dialogue with her - right now.It can be surprisingly difficult to capture a "voice" on paper, and she does it really, really well.



After the meet-cute, Phoebe gets into the Deep Stuff. Race. Stereotypes. Bigotry. Guilt. Othering. Coded language. Privilege. The stuff that will send a small population running for the hills (or their laptops), screaming about rabid SJWs. But Phoebe discusses these topics in a really great way, supporting her points with examples that help give you an idea of what she feels and why when people use insensitive words like "exotic", "urban", or "uppity", or why she got so angry when a woman burst into tears after Phoebe was forced to read aloud and then later criticized her offensive lesbian master/slave love story and claimed that she - a white college student - felt "picked on."



Riiiiiiiight.



Phoebe gets right to the point. Even now, decades after the civil rights movement and about a century after the end of slavery, we are still pretty damn discriminatory as a society. And discrimination doesn't have to be overt. You don't have to say the N-word to discriminate. Discrimination can be as implicit as designing camera film for white skin, treating your black friend like they're the ambassador for all people of color, or only carrying lighter shades of foundation at a drug store. Buzzfeed did a few role reversal videos (1, 2) that help illustrate what things look like from the outside the privilege zone, but the fact that it feels so ridiculous just goes to show how heavily integrated such stereotypes are within the structure of society, and why we still need change.

The book ends with Phoebe writing a series of letters to her young niece about what it means to be black, biracial, and a woman, and the importance of being an authentic, compassionate individual who is open to new experiences but also not afraid to stand up for her principles. She brings up some more great points, too, but after the previous section, it feels a bit anticlimactic. I can see why Phoebe chose to end her book this way, though. You don't want to leave your readers on a note of moral outrage (for better, or for worse), and it helps bring the memoir full circle, as Phoebe starts out talking about the politics of the parts of the individual, and ends with the politics of the whole article.

This is probably one of my top 5 favorite female memoirs, ranking right up there with Felicia Day's YOU'RE NEVER WEIRD ON THE INTERNET and Tina Fey's BOSSYPANTS. It made me cry out, "I relate to that!" "I am interested in that!" "I am outraged by that!" and "I want to be your friend!" by turns. I love memoirs that are passionate, and political, and energized, and this book was all of those things. It was also thought-provoking, and honest in a way that a lot of memoirs these days aren't (I think you've probably heard me complain that too many celebrity memoirs are too "nice"; nice is nice, but it isn't controversial and it doesn't make a statement and it doesn't get you talking, either).

I loved that. And I love Phoebe. (And now I'm off to check out her comedy and stalk her on Twitter.)

We may not be in a post racial society but I tell you what: when funky, funny Phoebe can tell us what white people do that makes her crazy, and why she doesn’t want to be anybody’s token black friend, I think we’ve moved the needle since the last century. I remember the first time an African man told me that the only pictures he’d had taken in his years of graduate school were those taken by a Singaporean man who knew how to get the camera to register his skin color and expression. Robinson says something similar here: maybe it’s best if we first acknowledge a color difference before we declare it doesn’t matter.

Robinson does plenty of things in this “breakout book deal” but the thing that drew me in was the chance to learn, unfiltered, how black women had such dope-fantastic hair while white folk have to make do with boring thin stuff that flies away and looks pretty much the same everyday, no matter what we do to it. I first learned a little about the time and energy and money serious black hair coiffeurs require in Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s novel Americanah, but now I think I get it. And no, I don’t think anyone should have to do this so that other folks will love them more. It is, however, an art form, another art form that black folk have created, perfected, and strutted.

Shonda Rhimes, in her book Year of Yes, tells us as a teen she tried to get her hair looking like Diana Ross every morning before classes. Oh girl…I did the same thing with some magazine model or other whose look was so far from mine that a million years of evolution wouldn’t have changed that difference between us. It is definitely not worth the effort. And the “creamy crack” or “crack cream” (break me up, girl!) sounds positively dangerous. Forget it immediately. Get a wig if you want to toss straight hair so much and definitely don’t subject yourself to chemical burns. Come on. If that is what’s required, f- them. I wouldn’t do it. Who the heck is calling the shots here?

When Robinson describes a bedroom scene where the woman is wearing an elastic do-rag to protect her afro and she insists that a real man would still get a boner regardless, I laughed all right. But then it occurred to me that is the definition of drop-dead sexy: strong and sexy, when black womanhood doesn’t even need to fling her hair around to get to home base. She commands the stage. I’m impressed. Personally, I’d kill for the simplicity of a close crop and call it quits. But I ain’t no Phoebe Robinson.

Jessica Williams, Phoebe’s “werk wife,” writes the introduction to this book. Williams was a writer/correspondent on The Daily Show and now the two perform standup at various locations in Brooklyn and work a podcast (WYNC) called 2 Dope Queens. Robinson had a vision of where she wanted to go and to that end began a blog called Blaria in 2014. When the Robinson and Williams standup routine started to take off, a new piece in the NYT tried to keep track. Robinson also has a talk-show style podcast she started last year called Sooo Many White Guys. She's angling for Oprah's job, and I think she's becoming a worthy successor. She certainly has drive.

If the material is sometimes juvenile, well, juvenile can be funny. There is one thing that may eventually limit the range of the women, though: all their references for jokes relate to TV or movies. When it works, it’s very good indeed, but not everyone is so deep into popular culture, or have looked at it with such seriousness and depth of understanding. It is fascinating to watch Robinson deconstruct an old movie like a college professor does a piece of literature, but then our mind starts thinking…what else can this woman do that would be—less fun, maybe—but more important?

Then I remember what she is doing, desensitizing race relations, telling white folk what bothers black folk, sharing some intimacies and some vulnerabilities, and I realize she is doing exactly what she needs to be doing right now, and she is doing it funny, she is doing it sexy, she is doing it in braids, in long soft curls, in dreads, and in a bust-'em afro. She’s strong, she’s sexy, she’s outspoken, and she’s unstoppable now. I’m a fan.

I have loaded a 2 Dope Queens holiday video podcast on my blog for you to see what you’re missing.

Phoebe Robinson's delivers more laughs per page than any other book of essays by a female comedian in recent memory. (Yes, I'm including Tina Fey. And Amy Poehler.) Not only that, she dispenses wisdom and tackles issues that go beyond the typical "being-a-woman-in-comedy-is-hard" thing a lot of these books do.

You know how sometimes you're reading the new Mindy Kaling book and she'll start talking about the realities of being a woman of color in entertainment and you think she's just about to start going for it and then she starts talking about zits or B. J. Novak or some other thing and never really goes there? Phoebe Robinson goes there. This book is about those realities, and yet it is so constantly hilarious that it's hard to figure out how she does it. She talks about microaggressions and then she's ranking the members of U2 based on bone-ability. This tightrope walk defines the whole book and it's pretty masterful.

Often with this kind of book that's kind of a mix between essay and memoir there will be the occasional weak section or the short, fluffy chapters thrown in so it doesn't look to short. But not this one. Every chapter felt solid and consistent and you could read for a long stretch or a little bit and feel really good about it.

If you're a fan of the 2 Dope Queens podcast, this book is probably already high up on your list. It will only confirm that Phoebe is even funnier than you thought she was.

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