Many important books about race in America have come out in the past year. Some of them are heavy and dense and may be imposing. If you'd prefer to start with something a bit less intimidating, "You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey: Crazy Stories About Racism" would be a good place to start.
Despite the serious topic, it's written as a humorous exchange between sisters Amber Ruffin, a writer for "Late Night with Seth Meyers" who lives in New York City, and Lacey Lamar, her older sister who still lives in their hometown of Omaha, Nebraska. The font changes so it's easy to tell who's talking at any given point, but Amber tells most of the Lacey stories with occasional comments from Lacey.
Lacey, as Amber describes her, is "the perfect mix of polite, beautiful, tiny and Black that makes people think 'I can say whatever I want to this woman.'" And people do — constantly — so that at least twice a week, Amber gets a call from Lacey to share the latest jaw-dropping actual words a white person thought were OK to say to her face or while she was the only Black person in the room. The following is just a brief sampling of things her coworkers have said to her:
"'A lot of time when you take braids down, you'll find roaches in them.' I was wearing braids in this meeting."
"'Well I was fired by a woman who didn't pay me enough and always hired — umm a certain ethnic group'. I'm the only Black person in the room."
"'Lacey, I started watching a show on Netflix about a Black kid playing basketball on a scholarship. I'm just trying to learn about you.'" To which Lacey replied, "We'll I'm 5'2 and high maintenance so I don't think it's me you're learning about."
I absolutely laughed out loud at some points while reading the book, but generally, the laughter came from the way Amber and Lacey contextualize and introduce each incident and the way they tease each other. Lacey's encounters include one with a store clerk, who upon seeing Lacey's Black History check with a picture of Harriet Tubman, exclaimed, "Wow! You have checks with your picture on 'em"? Lacey looks nothing like Harriet Tubman, and pictures of both are included to illustrate that point.
The story about how their parents lost their very successful day care business due to racism is not to be missed. Amber explains she never tells the story to white people because of the reactions she gets. As she puts it, "I have never been able to understand why white people have such a low tolerance for hearing about racism. I mean, we have to live it! The least you could do is nod your head."
Reading this book will be eye-opening for white people who are willing to acknowledge and believe the lived experiences of a Black person in America. The chapter titles — I Find This Hard to Believe; I Want to Put This Book Down and Run Away; and There's Nothing I Can Say to Make You Believe These Stories, but Here They Are Anyway — anticipate the skepticism white people often express upon hearing anecdotes about the racism Black people face every day. I highly recommend this book to anyone from high school age on up.
Lisa Sanning is the adult services librarian at Missouri River Regional Library.