Wednesday, October 20, 2021

I'm Judging You: The Do-Better Manual by Luvvie Ajayi Jones


One of my friends recommended I'M JUDGING YOU to me ages ago and I haven't gotten around to reading it until now. I knew Luvvie was internet famous for something and for some reason I thought she was a YouTuber, but I looked her up before reading and I guess she's an old school blogger, as well as a public speaker. As an old school blogger myself, YAY. As someone who is deathly afraid of public speaking, I salute you. Anyway, I was excited to read this book because it looked like it was going to be a scathing collection of essays about judging people, WHICH IS MY FAVORITE THING TO DO. And not in like a gross, bigoted way, mind you, but in a secretly wishing that people who smack their gum on public transit fall out the window sort of way, or hoping the asshole in the pickup with the Truck Nutz fishhooks into that one creepy bar off the freeway after he cuts me off for the FIFTH TIME, because where do you think you're going, it's a red light?!

I'M JUDGING YOU is a pretty ambitious collection of essays, ranging from the soft-hitting to the hard-hitting. The book opens up with what I was expecting: Luvvie delivering judgement on toxic friendships and people doing things she thinks are really annoying. She has a really unique voice because in addition to using AAVE she also throws in some Nigerian words and slang, and some phrases I think she made up herself (like minuswell, instead of might as well, and summagoat, which apparently means "son of a goat"). Looking at the reviews, I guess some people didn't like this but I found it endearing and entertaining for the most part. I like it when people write in a chatty way.

In the middle, things get serious. Luvvie talks about discrimination of all kinds and what that looks like, as well as the history of infrastructural racism in the U.S. and the consequences of denying one's privilege and refusing to "see color." She also talks about intersectional feminsim, the failures of white feminism, rape culture and its consequences, religious tolerance and diversity (from her perspective as a Christian, which I thought was interesting), and the discrimination that the LGBT+ community faces. Her essay on Blackness and racial privilege was really strong and a lot of the one-star reviews on Amazon seemed to be fixating on this chapter in particular because it made them uncomfortable. I think some of those people seemed to be missing Luvvie's point. Having privilege doesn't mean that you're racist but denying your privilege and walking from conversations about how you can make things better for other people kind of, um, implies that. I think some people feel inherently uncomfortable acknowledging inequality, especially if they don't feel like they're part of the 1%, but privilege is comparative and it's a simple statement of fact that someone who is lower middle class and white is still going to have more socioeconomic advantages than someone in the same bracket who is Black, and that's true at all levels of the economic continuum. Her essay on rape culture was also excellent. I felt like the LGBT+ essay was the weakest, which might be because Luvvie self-identified as straight and maybe didn't feel quite as comfortable speaking to issues that she didn't have an inside perspective on? I appreciated the religious chapter, though, and I think if more people had her liberal interpretation of Christian faith, Christianity would be all the better for it.

The book ends on a light-hearted note again, with Luvvie tackling influencers, social media dramatists, reality TV, oversharing, and Kim Kardashian. I enjoyed these chapters a lot, mostly because I agreed with a lot of her opinions, although EXCUSE ME. I am very proud of my follower count, thank you very much, and I don't care who knows it. I liked the epilogue, but the postscript is sad and it's because she said she wrote this book originally with a mixed sense of frustration of hope and then 2016 was kind of like, "Oh yeah, you know all that stuff you were concerned about? GUESS WHAT? Enough of the American people didn't care about that stuff that they put the embodiment of all you hate in office! YAYYYY." (Paraphrasing, but you know, that's the gist.) This book ended up being a rollercoaster of feelings and emotions and for me, that was the most difficult thing about it-- it goes from amusing shade to serious business to amusing shade to downer reality. And I guess that's life and all, but it made for interesting reading. And not necessarily interesting in the good way, because the serious stuff trivialized the shady stuff and then made me feel guilty about enjoying the shady stuff more than the serious stuff, and then after the serious stuff, getting into the shady stuff made me think, hmm, shouldn't we be giving more gravitas to the serious stuff? MY BRAIN IS SO CONFUSED RIGHT NOW.

Overall, I did like this book. It was a lot to process and a bit mixed in tone, but Luvvie is a good writer and funny when she wants to be, and I think if you enjoy writers like Lindy West and Phoebe Robinson, you'll like Luvvie Ajayi Jones. As other reviewers have said, when it comes to the social justice stuff, Luvvie doesn't really say anything new, but it's a good introductory piece for white people who need the truth hammered in (hello, white person here), or people who maybe want to see some good examples of talking points for serious social issues that aren't couched in legal or political jargon. As for her personal pet peeves, I don't judge. I get irrationally annoyed when people suck their fingers or smack while chewing (SERIOUSLY IT IS THE WORST), so I don't begrudge people for their petty peeves. I have plenty of my own and Luvvie is SO FUNNY the way she talks about hers. The part about Nigerian culture and how she's always late cracked me up.

So, if you enjoy comedy essays with a serious streak, this is the book for you.

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