A good introduction can grab you by the collar and say “sit down, this book is going to need your attention.” I immediately bought into Luvvie Ajayi’s I’m Judging You: The Do Better Manual when I read the first line of the introduction.
One day, I was minding everyone’s business, scrolling through my Facebook news feed when I saw a picture of someone’s dead grandma being prepared for burial.
I enjoyed this book tremendously. I think I marked at least 5 passages a chapter that needed to be shared. If I had a hard copy of the book it would look like a rainbow of highlights and be nearly illegible with notes. I would recommend it to anyone, especially anyone who quotes The Golden Girls.
This book of advice isn’t just about how to improve your Act Right, but also why you should Act Right. In an early chapter Ajayi ( Ma’am, it is Ah-JAH-YEE”) had me snort laughing about the ridiculousness of anal bleaching and then thinking about the tragedy of racism embedded in beauty standards.
One of my favorite therapists used to encourage me to expand my definition of success. Why should I allow a very narrow definition trap me in a life that was making me miserable? In that vein, Luvvie Ajayi is asking why we should allow a very narrow definition of beauty to trap us in a cycle of self defeat?
Yes, you can judge me because I just dedicated an entire half a chapter to talking about my yansh. But I’m judging YOU, I’m judging Lil’ Kim’s surgeons, and I’m judging society. Because everyone hates how they look, everyone wants what we don’t have, and everyone is stuck in a cycle of so-called self-improvement that is really self-defeating. Do better, everyone.
yansh (also nyash): This is pidgin English (spoken in Nigeria) for “ass.”
See! You will learn why you should behave better and new words. I’m not sure you can ask for more from a book. It’s not like it can do your laundry for you.
Ajayi spends several chapters tackling areas that require more than side eye and judgment – racism, privilege, homophobia, misogyny and religious prejudices. She not saying anything new, but she is saying it in her way, which makes it well worth reading.
But one thing is clear: humans excel at using our differences as excuses to act like assholes and torment one another. It is highly unfortunate that we use these innate, integral, and often uncontrollable things to mistreat others. We have created rigid, yet often invisible, systems that keep some people at the top, on the backs of others at the bottom, based on their identity markers.
Ajayi points out the ways we all use differences to exclude, and she talks about the specific ways the United States is built to oppress black and brown people. This is the real heart of I’m Judging You. Ajayi leads us gently to the part where we need to recognize the inhumanity we inflict on one another and ourselves as part of our everyday life. The small ways that we participate in supporting the systems that “keep some people at the top, on the backs of others” lead to the atrocities that make us shake our heads in wonder and despair.
I’ve always thought the best advice boiled down to some variation of “don’t be a dick.” Ajayi is suggesting we do better than that. Don’t be a dick. Tell other people not to be dicks. Love yourself as you are. Smash the white, hetero, cis-normative, Christian centric patriarchy. I’m going to let Ajayi’s last paragraph be my last paragraph and I’m going to go look up recipes for Jollof rice. I hear it’s good.
Shirley Chisolm said, “Service to others is the rent you pay for your room here on earth.” Some of us are mad delinquent on this rent. We owe back pay, but that’s okay. We just need to start now. We can start doing better any time we want.