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What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays
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What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker: A Memoir in Essays

4.15  ·  Rating details ·  193 ratings  ·  39 reviews
From the cofounder of, and one of the most read writers on race and culture at work today, a provocative and humorous memoir-in-essays that explores the ever-shifting definitions of what it means to be Black (and male) in America.

For Damon Young, existing while Black is an extreme sport. The act of possessing black skin while searching for space to bre
Published March 26th 2019 by HarperAudio
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4.15  · 
Rating details
 ·  193 ratings  ·  39 reviews

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Reading in Black & White
I really wanted to like this book but there was an excessive use of the “n” word and the time jumping from one essay to the next was a tad too much which messed up the flow. Damon is a voice I truly enjoy reading but I think I’ll stick with his articles.
Traci at The Stacks
Parts of this book are take your breath away emotional and good. Parts are a little too funny/silly for me. I loved getting to know Damon Young and reading his thoughts on the big WHYS of his life instead of the what’s that so often fill memoir. The second half of this book was more enjoyable for me. I appreciate this book and what it does though I was often annoyed because I felt the amount of cute humor took away from the gravity of the work. Though I have to admit I laughed sometimes.
Apr 04, 2019 is currently reading it
straight into my veins
chantel nouseforaname
I really enjoyed this book because it felt like the definition of black boy joy and young, youthful, black curiosity.

I found every story relatable and possessing this kind of understated, but really powerful, silent respect for it's being put on paper. There's so much power in capturing BIPOC stories, even chill ones.

Nothing really crazy happens in this book, nothing too out of the ordinary (when it comes to life, love, birth and death), but we need all the coming of age and young adult storie
Mar 26, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: to-review
Young uses the form of the essay to both tell his own story of growing up black in Pittsburgh AND write about the culture around him. He has a sharp turn of phrase and a dry humor that I really enjoyed. There is a lot to think about here, from ripping culture, to masculinity, to use of the N word in black culture, to his lack of an driver’s license and how that impacts employment, to his new identity as a parent. I really appreciated how he constructed the chapter about his mother’s illness and ...more
Mar 02, 2019 rated it it was amazing
On a scale from 1 to Queen Latifah’s cover of “I Put a Spell On You”, how cool did I feel reading a galley of this memoir on the subway? Pretty damn cool. This book was such an absolute pleasure to stumble upon. I wasn’t familiar with but Young’s writing in this collection of essays is so incisive, so honest, so full of love, and so goddamn hilarious that I know I’ve been missing out. The fact that any discourse about race in this country so often has to be cloaked in humor ...more
Apr 06, 2019 rated it it was amazing
One of the funniest memoirs I've read in a long time. I loved it. His section on Obama and the one about basketball at the end made me both laugh and cry.
Mar 26, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I *loved* this book. I like memoirs that aren’t chronological or linear, so the decision to make this a collection of essays that read as reflective vignettes worked well for me. I also just like that, though this is a Black personal narrative that addresses trauma, the trauma isn’t the focus or the point. It’s part of the fabric of the Black experience but it isn’t the sum total of it and Young gets that in a way and allows himself the freedom to toggle between laughter and gravitas. He takes h ...more
Morgan Gayle
Mar 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
4 1/2 stars to be exact.
Apr 07, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: biography-memoir
I read a lot of memoir, and this one jumped immediately to the top reaches of my favorites list. Damon Young is a really excellent writer- each chapter could stand alone as an essay with a very satisfying beginning, middle, and end, but read together they tell a nuanced, intimate, hilarious and honest story of his life growing up black and neurotic in Pittsburgh. As a kid, he and his parents navigated lower middle class, a series of near-financial disasters that were always precariously recovere ...more
Max G.
Apr 04, 2019 rated it it was amazing
As a longtime VSB reader, I went into this book feeling like I knew Damon, and I got everything I expected; the pithy observations and wry humour that make his writing so distinctive and enjoyable.

But what I didn’t expect was the feeling that Damon knew ME that I got from this book. As he might say, there’s some deeply insightful sh!t in this book that brought clarity to some of my own experiences; both as a Black person in a white world and as a slightly awkward perpetual over thinker.

In short
A loose collection of memoir-like essays, this is a bumpy read with a big heart. On the other side of PA, I can still relate to much of Damon's story. And I'd assign some of these chapters to my wypipo friends who want to get woke.
Mar 29, 2019 rated it it was ok
The essays were educational to read for a white grandma. I especially liked the ones about black haircuts, Obama, and Kool Aid. Damon Young certainly has a voice.
***3.5 STARS***

I was excited to read Damon Young's book. As one who's familiar with the work he's done via Very Smart Brothas, I was interested to learn more about him. However, this read less like a memoir than a collection of anecdotes--told in no particular sequence--which seemingly span the entirety of his life, from the time he was a boy, to now.

If you're familiar with Young's style of writing--lots of satire, colorful language, regular use of the "n" word and heavy on the tongue-in-cheek--
Harold M.
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
The rating is for content more so than structure. I see a lot of similarities in Damon's story and my own both for good and for bad. I think that this isn't a complete story yet and I'm looking forward for more on his journey. Damon's not a bad person, he's also not an especially virtuous person. I think he's trying and failing and succeeding and figuring it out and I'm grateful for a story that's honest, complicated and revealing.
Apr 18, 2019 rated it really liked it
Young possesses a rare level of self-awareness for a man, and it shows in his writing, where nothing, especially not his own flaws, is saved from some gentle ribbing and thoughtful consideration. Really enjoyed this collection of essays, which are largely humorous but have some heavier moments scattered throughout. The most moving part for me was him discussing the sacrifice and selflessness of black motherhood in the context of his mother’s life and death.
Apr 08, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: giveaways
You should read this memoir no matter what your opinion on race relations in the U.S is. I consider myself (partly based on my background) extremely socially conscious, but this memoir explains and depicts the real life of a young black man; a perspective I lack given I am a female with white skin.

The most poignant statement is the explanation of white privilege. "The idea that whiteness, for white Americans, provides an imperishable benefit of the doubt and a flexible and perpetually renewable
Apr 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing
This 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 “n*gga”, 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:

Apr 02, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I have always loved Damon's writing on VSB, so I was excited to read this. His writing is so honest, the kind of honest that hits you in the gut and that you need to sit with. VSB always gave me insight into the African American life in ways that pop culture and movies that I watched didn't. The injustices, the invisible fights, the invisible and visible assumptions of failure, lesser than and the results of constantly fighting to have a chance and lots of successes despite the odds, the ability ...more
I had been looking forward and waiting for this a long time.
I couldn't decide between 2 or 3 stars.
I don't know what I expected, but it wasn't this. There's absolutely nothing wrong with this book, it's beautifully written, it's very personal and there's so much to think about and learn from.
But words being said over and over again, every 5 sentences, drives me nuts and I felt like it was all over the place, not so much a collection of essays, as a collection of essays from different sections
Ben Ostrowsky
This memoir is the furthest thing from a puff piece it could be, and Lord knows some memoirs are so self-congratulatory you think the author had some ribs removed so he could reach. Damon Young lays bare the moments in which he most significantly failed to live up to his own standards. It's instructive, as are his other observations about being black and male in Pittsburgh specifically and America generally. And it's both touching and hilarious. Unequivocally recommended to anyone who cares abou ...more
Apr 15, 2019 rated it it was ok
Disclaimer: I am white, I am male. I am glad I read this book. I had hoped to learn more about life in America as a young African American. I would say about 15% of his stories are unequivocally uniquely from this experience - the rest is just the human condition. I worry that the ossified boundaries between our communities leaves us convinced that our human experience is unique and the "other" is simply not human and cannot understand. I will always strive to understand, but it can be enervatin ...more
Michael  Berquist
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: first-reads
Damon Young's What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker is a stunning collection. I particularly enjoyed Young's piece about the rise of Obama and the impact on society today. This book was eye-opening and should be required reading for Americans today. The book is beautifully written with content that pulls no punches. It is about time for Young's work to be widely read and I look forward to reading more of his VSB blog and future books. I am planning on using some of these essays for my high sch ...more
Christina Gamiño
Apr 19, 2019 rated it it was amazing
I absolutely loved this book. His writing is so funny and raw and honest. I love what he writes on Very Smart Brothas, and I thought I'd love this book, but recently I've read books from my favorite authors that weren't as good as I thought they'd be, so I was a little worried I wouldn't like this, but nope. Better than I could've imagined.
Susan Lee
Apr 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Brilliant Writing

Step back from the topics, which range from basketball to haircuts to Kool-aid and white. Endless whiteness. So, ok, step back from that and meet a brilliant and funny and insightful and exquisitely honest writer. Then after you’ve read this, and bought copies for 5 or 8 of your friends, re-read it, cuz you’ll find lots of new treasures.
Apr 23, 2019 rated it really liked it
I started reading this after hearing Damon on the Keep It! Podcast. It may not be a perfect book, but it is a book that will challenge you, make you laugh and is a relevant voice for our times. Highly recommend.
Apr 11, 2019 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Really enjoyable collection of essays. Zoe, the last essay to his daughter, is by far the strongest. I lost the thread a little bit during some particularly specific bits about basketball, but overall this is a really entertaining and wonderfully specific collection. Good read.
Apr 19, 2019 rated it really liked it
The chapter on his mom...what a tribute to black women EVERYWHERE! Our contributions are rarely recognized...BUT when shit goes wrong, you can guarantee that a black woman is behind how it got fixed. #DontArgue #ItsTheMagic
Apr 03, 2019 rated it really liked it
This was an interesting collection of essays. I appreciated the author’s insights and they have widened my own understanding of racism in America.
Rachel BeLieu
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Read in one sitting. Powerful, funny, moving, incredible.
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Pittsburgh native Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VerySmartBrothas (VSB) and a professional Black person. He enjoys selfies with his infant daughter, getting hurt playing pick-up basketball, and unsolicited pancake dinners. He can be reached at @verysmartbros or