Until the age of seven, comedian Samantha Irby had not realized that “she wasn’t white.” Her love affair with examining the oddities of white people has continued ever since.
If you haven’t heard of Samantha Irby, that’s about to change. Creator of the wildly popular blog Bitches Gotta Eat, Sam is a force of nature. Her candor in style and subject matter—mostly sex, dating and the general lousiness of men—has earned her a cult following. In Meaty (Curbside Splendor Publishing, 2013), Irby explodes onto the page in a series of brand-new essays written with scathing wit and poignant bluntness. The following excerpt is from “Milk and Oreos.”
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I fucking love white people. As a matter of fact, having grown up surrounded by your legion on the rough, tree-lined streets of Chicago’s North Shore, I wasn’t really even aware that I wasn’t white until I was approximately seven years old. Okay, I knew, because I never had a sunburn, whatever the fuck that is, but I didn’t know-know. But with every politely declined camping invitation and spat out mouthful of roasted beets, it became that much clearer to me that, despite my penchant for craft beers and J.Jill knit cardigans, I AM NOT WHITE.
It has been exceptionally difficult for me to come to terms with this shocking revelation. I don’t know what the fuck Kwanzaa is. If a bitch asks me some black history shit I’m always like, “I don’t fucking know! Rosa Parks?” And black people are always telling me I “talk white,” which until recently I thought was due to my passionate defense of Christopher Guest films, but now realize is a criticism of the fact that when I say “motherfucker,” I pronounce the T. And the -er.
I’m pretty much an expert in white people. I don’t really understand lacrosse, but I do pay for a subscription to the New Yorker. The subtle differences between us, though, were the catalyst through which I became cognizant of my blackness: The stay-home mom who also has a nanny? The shorts in the middle of December?! I don’t get it, but I’m grateful for you guys, I really am. Without white people I wouldn’t know what the fuck a scone is. Or that a $5,000 bicycle is a real thing. And with Valentine’s Day fast approaching, I thought I would write you a love letter to prove my undying affection for your kind.
Dear white people, I love you because you fucking mean well. I should clarify and say that I am referring to white people who buy North Face jackets and take their babies to yoga class, NOT these fucking Newport-smoking teen moms named “Destiny,” spelled with nine E’s. Those kinds of white people are terrifying. I like farmer’s market white people, the ones who are always dressed like they just finished climbing K2 when all they’ve done all day is eat samples at Whole Foods. The ones who try to convince me that a $15 jar of organically-grown, locally-sourced, environmentally sustainable white peach marmalade is a worthwhile fucking purchase. I’m black, ho. FUCK EARTH. Black people don’t really believe in recycling. Or, for that matter, artisanal jam. If you see me put my Coke can in the recycling bin, it’s because 1. someone left that shit within arm’s reach of my desk and 2. a white person is watching me. Seriously, if there weren’t so many white people around all the time I would literally be standing outside with a can of hairspray spraying that shit at the goddamned sun. Fuck being cold. The only black vegans I can think of are the ones dodging the bags of donated oatmeal raining down on them from Red Cross helicopters, but I love that about you guys, I love that you could sit down to an enormous Thanksgiving dinner and only eat the fucking green beans because a turkey with a brain the size of my toenail didn’t have a happy childhood. That shit is fucking admirable.
I also love you because you are still afraid of black people. Whether or not you are the type of misguided racial profiler who would lock the doors as I walk uncomfortably close to that old-ass piece of shit Volvo you’re sitting in, if I raised my voice in here right now two-thirds of you would get out your wallets and start up a collection to get me my reparations. Or whatever it is colored people are always YELLING ABOUT.
I love that you’re so fucking fancy. You don’t cram yourselves into a sticky booth at IHOP to shovel four dollar pancakes from a box mix down your throats, no, YOU stand huddled against the cold for three hours waiting for the hotly-anticipated opening of that adorable new brunch place that serves bald eagle omelets and tiger milk pancakes with cinnamon butter. And I’m snarling at the table next to yours, sneering as you upload a snapshot of your breakfast and tap-tap-tap out a glowing yelp review, but that’s just bitter jealousy because your three-year-old is trading mutual funds on his iPad at the table and I only have $37 in my 401k.
I love you because you love me. If white guilt were tangible currency I’d be in the one percent. I’m sure it’s because in your minds I fill the role of the minimally-threatening sidekick or the sassy black maid white people have been conditioned by cartoons and television sitcoms to yearn for your entire lives. I am that childhood dream actualized: the Tootie to your Blair, the Alphonso to your Ricky, the broom-wielding thick brown ankles to your mischievous mouse-chasing house cat. You love that I can teach you things about black culture and our current socio-political landscape, and I love that you have no idea that I don’t know what the fuck I’m talking about. I’m not Cornel West, bitch, I don’t know shit about black people! I’m from the fucking suburbs! BUT I have an innate sense of rhythm, so I’m a total blast to take to the disco, yet you can also relax with the knowledge that I’m not going to embarrass you at your wine and cheese party by saying “pitcher” when I’m referring to a photograph.
I’m never going to go kayaking, I don’t understand the popularity of the show Arrested Development, and I’m still not sure what Montessori means, but I love you. Let’s be together forever and ever. Or at least until a white person becomes president again and you can stop pretending to like me.
Dear black people, I love you, too. Sometimes I sound like a valley girl. A valley girl with with a sinus infection who has taken a cheese grater to her vocal cords, but a valley girl nonetheless. Rachel says that she loves my voice and its “California diction,” although I’m not sure whether or not that is a compliment considering that I was born in a hospital in suburban Chicagoland. And I love that most of you don’t make me feel weird about my voice, even if it differs from yours. Because for some black people it’s not enough to just be black. You can’t just have brown skin and kinky hair and a wide nose and big lips and a large ass, you have to talk a certain way and think a certain way and present yourself a certain way.
I love you because, in case you didn’t know, every third black person you meet is an unofficial scorekeeper in life’s never-ending game: “Are you black enough to be black?” If you are black and can’t remember ever having received the barometer of real blackness with which you are to measure the down-ness of your contemporaries, chances are you are the kind of black person who enunciates all of her Ts and Gs and probably has a Metallica album or two in regular rotation on her iPod. My whole early life was spent seeking out the “other kind” of black people, black people who unabashedly listened to rock music and quoted Star Trek: The Next Generation in regular conversation. Black people who were often accused of “acting white,” although no one could ever really explain what that meant. As a kid I never wore blonde wigs or bleached my skin, yet every day some wielder of the black-o-meter offered his or her unsolicited assessment that the way I played kickball or foursquare or jumped rope was most decidedly the white way of doing things.
I love you because black people who are uncomfortable in their own skin and with their own identities often try to control and demean other black people by challenging their “blackness.” It’s an age-old trick. Maybe you won’t notice that I’m wrong and an idiot if I deflect and put you on the defense about your heritage. Because there is no right answer to the question of who’s blacker than whom, it’s an ideological pissing contest. And a fight, by the way, that the negro-lite can never win. I love that as I’ve gotten older there seem to be fewer and fewer of these people in my life, that all of the tan and chocolate and coffee complexions in my world seem to all be working together rather than pulling each other apart. I dated a dude who called me a “house nigger” once because I think Tupac is kind of overrated. Oh, for real. A rational person would understand that maybe I just prefer Biggie.
I love you because I grew up in the fucking suburbs, man, with lots of other black kids just like me. That's the reason I speak this way, that’s the reason Faith No More is my favorite band, that’s the reason I know so many goddamned people named Emily. For me, this is keeping it motherfucking real. I shaved my head because relaxing my hair was destroying my scalp, I got tattooed because they look cool and no one was around to tell me not to. Apparently each racial judge comes equipped with his own specific ruler by which we Uncle Toms get measured. For some, appropriate slang usage is the gauge; for others, style of hair and dress dictate the guidelines. But the kids are figuring it out. I was on the South Side a few weeks ago and saw a black kid on a skateboard wearing purple skinny jeans with his hair locked.
I’m never going to eat hot sauce, I hate going to all day black gospel church service, and I will never understand the appeal of two pounds of yaki affixed to an otherwise beautiful head of curly black hair, but I love you. Let’s be together forever and ever. Now let’s go fuck some shit up while we still have this halfrican president who will hopefully pardon our black asses if we ever get caught.
This excerpt has been reprinted with permission from Meaty by Samantha Irby, published by Curbside Splendor Publishing, 2013.