“Racism in all its many flavors is easier to recognize when it’s KKK-style Original Recipe. But when the form it takes isn’t slurs and hate speech thrown in your face, people don’t always want to see it, acknowledge it, or understand how much it affects the everyday lives of others.”
Sometimes I feel like I suck at being a human, more specifically, an adult human. But when I look around, I can see that I am not alone in the suck, and that we all have some work to do to be better, to ourselves and one another. Luvvie Ajayi, the blogger known for AwesomelyLuvvie.com is on the case, here to side-eye and criticize our myriad failings as individuals and as a society. However, all of the material for I’m Judging You is new to this book, and is not made up of edited blog posts. With humour and self-deprecation, Ajayi tackles everything from toxic friendships to social media oversharing to rape culture and our tendency to treat Africa as a monolith.
Ajayi starts out by judging herself, fully admitting that she is prone to being terribly and unforgivably late for social events. This willingness to include herself sets her up as a good sport, and she uses the term “we” in a lot of places throughout the book. The first few essays are light and purely humourous, dealing with stingy friends who don’t want to pay their share of the restaurant bill, and the several types of bad friends (the Frenemy, the Enabler, the Lannister, etc.) But the subject matter, while always approached with a good sense of humour, gets serious quickly from there.
By the fourth piece, “Under the Knife,” Ajayi is discussing beauty standards and their intersection with race. She is still in it for the humour—she starts out with anal bleaching, after all—but moves into a more substantive discussion of bleaching creams for making black people look lighter, and a cultural obsession with plastic surgery so extreme that women have died from having concrete filler injected into their bottoms by unlicensed plastic surgeons. She goes on to tackle racism more broadly, calls out those who use Christianity as an excuse for homophobia, and discusses the need for intersectional feminism, among other topics. While the discussions can be entry level, they are approached with humour, and though many readers will already be familiar with Ajayi from her blog, others like me will be meeting her for the first time with I’m Judging You.
Marketing has put a bit of a self-help spin on the book, subtitling it “The Do-Better Manual.” But Ajayi is less about telling you what to do—let alone how to do it—and more about giving some serious side eye to the way we currently do things. Why are we so thirsty for fame that we don’t care what we’re famous for? Should you ever post pictures of Grandma’s open casket funeral on social media? Have you washed your bra more than once in the last year? If you do better for having read this book, it will be less because Luvvie laid out a plan of reform, and more because she made you felt shame for your inconsiderate or gross behaviour and vow to be a better human going forward.
I’m Judging You is best read over several days, a few essays at a time. While the humour makes the book go down easy, and you could finish this in a sitting or two, the essays are more enjoyable when you spread them out a bit rather than swallowing the book whole. Ajayi’s humourous commentary puts the heart in the book, but she goes out on a serious note, imploring readers to speak up, and donate where they can to make the world a better place. This light-hearted but sincere call to do better was exactly what I needed to start the new year.