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You'll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey
Crazy Stories about Racism
By Lacey Lamar
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- ebook $14.99 $18.99 CAD
- Hardcover $28.00 $35.00 CAD
- Audiobook Download (Unabridged)
- Trade Paperback $16.99 $22.99 CAD
This item is a preorder. Your payment method will be charged immediately, and the product is expected to ship on or around January 12, 2021. This date is subject to change due to shipping delays beyond our control.
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*A NEW YORK TIMES BESTSELLER AND INDIE NEXT PICK*
Writer and performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers Amber Ruffin writes with her sister Lacey Lamar with humor and heart to share absurd anecdotes about everyday experiences of racism.
Now a writer and performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers and host of The Amber Ruffin Show, Amber Ruffin lives in New York, where she is no one’s First Black Friend and everyone is, as she puts it, “stark raving normal.” But Amber’s sister Lacey? She’s still living in their home state of Nebraska, and trust us, you’ll never believe what happened to Lacey.
From racist donut shops to strangers putting their whole hand in her hair, from being mistaken for a prostitute to being mistaken for Harriet Tubman, Lacey is a lightning rod for hilariously ridiculous yet all-too-real anecdotes. She’s the perfect mix of polite, beautiful, petite, and Black that apparently makes people think “I can say whatever I want to this woman.” And now, Amber and Lacey share these entertainingly horrifying stories through their laugh-out-loud sisterly banter. Painfully relatable or shockingly eye-opening (depending on how often you have personally been followed by security at department stores), this book tackles modern-day racism with the perfect balance of levity and gravity.
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Lacey used to have these Black history checks. Each check had a different Black hero on it. MLK, Rosa Parks, Frederick Douglass. So Lacey was at a store chatting with the cashier and they’re having fun. After she’s all rung up, Lacey handed the young white cashier a check with a picture of Harriet Tubman on it and the cashier said, “Wow! You have checks with your picture on ’em?” I am sorry this book peaked so early. That is the funniest story I will ever hear. Harriet Tubman, y’all. Look at their two faces! This story happened years ago and I still think about it and laugh out loud.
My sister Lacey is a lightning rod for hilarious racist stories. She’s the perfect mix of polite, beautiful, tiny, and Black that makes people think: I can say whatever I want to this woman. And I guess you can. Hey, knock yourself out—but that doesn’t mean you won’t end up in a book.
I am not exaggerating when I say “You won’t believe what happened to Lacey.” And I’m hard to impress. My name is Amber Ruffin. I grew up with my big sister Lacey, our mom, dad, two other sisters, and one brother in Omaha, Nebraska. I know exactly the type of shenanigans folks will pull on a person of color. My lord, have I heard some things. But my feeble stories never come close to the hilarity that befalls Lacey on a near daily basis.
I moved away from Omaha many years ago and now I work in New York City, where I write comedy. Everyone I work with is stark raving normal. We don’t have any crazy bigots (dumb enough to run up) and I’m no one’s first Black friend. Now, I’m not saying no one ever says anything crazy to me—I’m still a Black woman in America—it’s just that we all know there are consequences for talking to me as if you’ve lost your mind. So I’ve forgotten, more or less, the constant flow of racism one must endure to live in the Midwest and be the only Black person at work. It is an unchecked tsunami of dumb questions and comments. You’re expected to walk people through every aspect of Blackness. You become the ambassador of Blackovia. People think it’s your job to answer every dumb “Why can’t I (insert the most nonsense shit you’ve ever heard)? Is it because I’m white?” I call this process “dragging white people into the light,” and it’s something I don’t do anymore.
This is Lacey. My little sister, Amber, is spoiled and has forgotten the 1970s-esque social blindspot she’s left me in.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad that she’s gotten to move away from Omaha to New York, where someone would get fired for out-and-out racism. I love that that really happens. Never seen it, but I love it. Like Santa Claus. I’ve seen movies about it, heard people talk about it. I understand it’s normal for a lot of people, but it would be like having a zebra in your living room for me. I would not believe my eyes.
Twice a week, I get a text from my sister that says, “Can you talk?” It’s my favorite because I know I’m about to be transported to a place that exists in real life and fantasy: the place where coworkers will put their whole hand in your hair, talking ’bout “It’s fluffy like a dog.” I realize this sounds terrible, but it’s like watching Dateline. You can’t believe it was the GIRLFRIEND who killed the HUSBAND! It’s the edge of reality. Technically, it happens, but it is barely plausible. Excited, I steal away to the elevator banks at work and listen to Lacey tell me a new horror story. It’s fantastic. As I stand there, mouth agape, listening to some new fresh hell, I am always struck by the fact that these stories will only exist in this phone call. Some will go on to become stories once the topic turns to “racist people at work” one night when Lacey is hanging out with her friends, but she’ll forget most of them because of the sheer volume. The. Sheer. Volume.
Now, I understand all of this sounds harsh, but you have to know that this is not a book full of sad stories. The previous paragraph was the saddest it will get for a while. Black people hear stories like these so frequently that it takes a lot for it to start to hurt our feelings. We have all been through it. But, dare I say, you ain’t been through it like Lacey. Black readers will read these stories and feel that really good, yet terrible feeling of going through something bad and realizing you’re not alone, and not only that, but that someone else has it worse! And, hopefully, the white reader is gonna read this, feel sad, think a little about it, feel like an ally, come to a greater understanding of the DEPTH of this type of shit, and maybe walk away with a different point of view of what it’s like to be a Black American in the twenty-first century.
Hence this book.
Why? Why Would a Person Do This?
There are a few reasons why I think this book is important. I think it’s important for people to speak on what has happened in their lives. When something shitty happens to you and you never say anything about it, it festers. And trying to act like it’s not happening is bad for you.
I know, Lacey! This is Amber and, so you know, we are going to tell you who’s who through different fonts. When you see serif, it’s Amber.
And when you see sans serif, it’s Lacey!
You guys, Lacey has the burden of carrying around all this garbage alone. I want to unburden her. I want to wrap my hair in kente cloth, stand on a rock, and shout, “Let us unburden our sister Lacey by gathering to hear her stories, lest they drag her down to the pits of depression.” But that’d be insane. Slightly less insane? Gathering these stories into a book and selling it to strangers in malls and airports throughout the country.
Also, any person who has to live like this needs to hear that there is a second person slogging through this mess. And then they’ll realize that there’s a lot of people living like this and feel better, then worse for a second, and then better again.
We want to use this book to make sure people understand that when something racist happens to you, you can say it. You can feel however it makes you feel and you can talk to people about it. You have the right. It can hit you however it hits you at that exact moment. You can express your feelings about it or not, or just tell the story and leave your feelings out, or just say your feelings and leave the story out—it’s your world. There’s a billion studies about why you should speak positively, mediate, how to handle loss, and stuff like that, but when it comes to how to live in a country made to abuse you, who the fuck knows. So do what you feel.
And not to go “full hippie” on you, but leaving these things unsaid gives them power. Try to unroll your eyes to read the rest of this: if you do not take the time out and call bad things that have happened to you “bad,” they float around your brain category-less and with influence from the type of people who want to penalize you for calling racist things racist, and those events can fall into the “okay” category.
Shut up, Lacey. And finally, has anyone taken a look at a lifetime of racism? I mean, this isn’t every racist story that has happened to her, and she’s nowhere near the end of her lifetime, but it’s a good chunk of ’em. Some of these stories are old, but a lot of them are post-Obama stories. A lot of folks think things like this don’t happen anymore. But in this climate where people are becoming more brave with their racism, I think things may get worse before they get better. Just kidding, I don’t think things are gonna get better. Just kidding about just kidding. I’m Team Hopeful! My point is: Has anyone ever decided to take a look at one person’s buttload of racist stories? What happens when you do? I don’t know, but here you go.
About the Authors
Amber Ruffin was born in Omaha, Nebraska, in 19-whatever-year-is-plausible-for-you-but-still-implies-that-she-is-young. She moved to Chicago to pursue a career in improv and—laugh all you want—it worked! She was hired by a theater called Boom Chicago in Amsterdam, where she did improv shows for what felt like a billion years. She also did shows in Chicago at the Second City Mainstage. And that’s it. That is a complete list of full-time improv jobs you can have in this world.
In 2014, Amber became the first Black woman to write for a late-night network talk show in the United States. As of her writing this, she’s a writer/performer on Late Night with Seth Meyers and the host of The Amber Ruffin Show on the new NBC streaming service, Peacock. But by the time you read this she’ll be…king?
Lacey Lamar is Amber Ruffin’s big sister. She was born in Omaha, Nebraska, and if you want to know what year, take the year you imagined me being born and subtract four years. Lacey is the middle child in our family, yet somehow the only normal one. After all the “less than fun” jobs she has had over the years, she feels she’s finally found a great job as a program director at a good company. Living in Nebraska, Lacey loves the challenge of creating safe spaces for the celebration of Nerd/African American culture. See how we used the word challenge? Polite, huh?
Picture it: Omaha, Nebraska. 1980–2020. This is the setting all these stories take place in. It’s not completely backward, but Omaha is still pretty segregated, so there are places you can go and get stared at. You know what I mean? Where no one talks to you and when they do, it’s to ask you if you work here. It’s not the most racist place but it’s not the least racist place.
Okay, so just like everything, Omaha has a wide range of white people. From regular to “Look how cool I am with Black1 people” to “Eww! A Black person!” It’s never a Black person’s job to make sure these people understand why what they’re saying is wrong. It’s our job to survive another day as a Black person in America. Sounds dramatic, but, as you will find out, it can be a tough thing to do! Lest I scare you, here’s the range of these stories: No one gets hurt. No one dies. Not in this book. This book is not about those things. This book is about the stories you’re expected to swallow or forget. So Bon appétit!
As I’ve said before, Lacey is a magnet for this behavior because she’s small and nice and cute. Another factor is where these stories take place. The majority of these stories happen in Lacey’s workplaces. When you’re at work and someone says something crazy, you gotta walk the tightrope. You don’t want to hurt their feelings so badly that they get you fired (getting a Black lady fired from your workplace is so easy you can do it accidentally!), but you also don’t want to create an environment where you’re a sounding board for people’s gross racist thoughts. You’re already the person they come to to discuss rap. That is enough.
I don’t know what effect stories like these have on the people they happen to, on the people who hear them, or on the people who need to hear them. When you hear these stories and think, None of these stories are okay, you are right. And when you hear these stories and think, Dang, that’s hilarious, you are right. They’re both.
There are going to be a lot of times while you’re reading this book when you think, There is no motivation for this action. It seems like this story is missing a part because people just aren’t this nonsensically cruel. But where you see no motivation, you understand racism a little more. It’s this weird, unprovoked lashing-out, and it never makes any sense. It’s why it’s so easy for people to believe the police when they beat someone up—because no one would be that cruel just because the person was Black. But they are! So, as you read this book, when you see there’s no motivation, know that there is: racism.
Here’s a pretty racist map of Omaha. Get familiar with it because it will be a part of a lot of these stories!
Before you come to the conclusion that Omaha is some small backwoods town, here’s a list of cities we are bigger than:
New Orleans, Louisiana
Salt Lake City, Utah
Omaha is the forty-fourth biggest city in America. There is no excuse for this behavior.
1 You’ll notice throughout this book that I capitalize Black and I leave white lowercased. It is because, when I was in history class in seventh grade, I saw a lecture where some Black activist, I forget who, said to always capitalize Black when talking about African Americans who were descendants of slaves. The thinking was, the term African American is a reminder that Africa is a whole continent and we will never be able to pinpoint exactly where our ancestors were from on it. It’s like saying “South American.” There’s a lot of frigging countries and cultures in South America; if you can’t say which, you might as well say “earthling.” They also said African American is kind of like Polish American in that it makes it seem like you chose to come here. Black Americans may be from the same place but how we got here is very different and we aren’t ashamed of it. So we had to start embracing the whole Black American experience. We have a rich culture to draw from and feel loved by. At some point, each of our family trees turns into a pile of receipts. So, we would claim “Black” as “descendants of slaves.” Does that make sense? Just kidding—I don’t care if it does. Anyway, when I saw this on TV, honestly, I didn’t feel very strongly about it. I understood where the activist was coming from, though. So I decided to try it out and take their advice and used it in a history paper. The teacher told me I couldn’t capitalize Black and not white. He insisted that I capitalize neither. I proceeded to capitalize Black on every paper I turned in and got five points off every time. If you want to share your opinions with me on this, please write down all your thoughts on a paper airplane and throw it out your window!
I Got a Million of ’Em
These are the stories we all have. If you know a Black person, odds are this has happened to them. If you are a Black person, remember that? Crazy, huh? It’s a good place for this collection of stories to start. If you read this first chapter and think, There’s no way this happened! I refuse to believe it!, then you may not be able to make it through this book.
Let’s begin this book with one of the most fun and most frequent racist stories: being told you look like someone you in no way look like but is also Black. Sometimes you say, “I don’t look like that person at all. You cannot see.” But sometimes you say, “Fine. I do look like Michelle Obama.” You can’t be fighting everyone all the time. They’ll have to wait for a more patient Black person to tell them they’ve lost their mind.
One summer in the mid ’90s, I went on a vacation to Rocky Mountain National Park in Colorado. It was a fun trip through the mountains even though there wasn’t another Black person in sight. I walk into a lovely store that sells trinkets and tourist stuff. It’s pretty darn cute. And what’s even better, the lady behind the counter sees me and is happy! This does not happen a lot, period. Much less in the middle of the mountains. So this lady runs up to me, a Black lady, smiling from ear to ear. She is like, “Yay! Whoopeeee!” And I, being a natural improviser, yell right back, “Yay! Whoopity doo!” No one’s ever been so happy to see me that they exclaim like that before. But this lady has me believing that those people are wrong and this is the only way I should ever be greeted. The lady runs up to me and says, “Oh my god. I can’t believe you’re in my store!” I’m thinking, Who in the world does she think I am? The lady insists that I take whatever I want—on the house! I politely thank her while I suss out the situation. Maybe she is so glad to see a Black person she wants to give me free stuff? It’s possible. You never know what a white person is gonna do.
She says, “I’m your biggest fan. I’ve loved you since Jumpin’ Jack Flash!” That’s when I realize this woman thinks I’m Whoopi Goldberg. She was yelling “Whoopi” as in “Goldberg,” not “Whoopeee” as in “Yippidee doo.” Now, this woman doesn’t just think I look like her, which happens to both of us a lot, but she thinks I am her. Now I’m having quite a conundrum. It is not right to take T-shirts that are meant for Whoopi Goldberg. But, on the other hand, free T-shirts. Who was I to reject this compliment? I love Whoopi Goldberg! I look into the lady’s eyes and realize that Whoopi Goldberg being in her store has made her year. It would be wrong not to take five T-shirts and leave. So I do.
Here are some pictures of people I have been told I look like next to pictures of me trying my best to look like them.
Some “No Service” Stories
Lacey loves Omaha Fashion Week. She goes every year. Omaha Fashion Week is a big deal fashion show and expo where Omaha showcases a lot of its talented designers. It’s really fun and Lacey loves supporting local businesses.
I think it’s inspiring to see what my neighbors have come up with! They’re right here, in Omaha!
Y’all, this nerd loves Omaha and all our events and fund-raisers and gatherings. She’s a nerd for Omaha events.
So do you!
Oh my god, I do! We are both nerds.
One year, Lacey went with friends and the whole show was fun, but she became fixated on one specific designer. Her dresses were amazing. Lacey started to think, Amber needs one of these for the Emmys! (I love to go every year to lose.) At the end of the show you can meet the designers and ask how to purchase different pieces. There’s a long line to wait in to meet this designer. Lacey doesn’t care; she’s mesmerized by glamour! She waits the fifteen minutes in line to talk to her and when she gets to the front she meets her associate. Lacey asks if she can meet the designer, who is standing a few feet away. The associate says to Lacey, “Her pieces are really expensive.” In no way was that an answer to her question. Now, a few things could be happening here.
Possibility 1: This could be your traditional white person who thinks Black people spend too much on stuff we can’t afford. It feels good for them to tell Black people they can’t afford things because treating grown Black men and women like children makes them feel superior.
Possibility 2: This could be that thing where white people don’t want to be associated with you because it would make people think less of them. Maybe they want to be known as a very bougie brand and they think that Black people wearing their clothes will do the opposite.
Possibility 3: We found a mean old bitch who was smack dab in the middle of being a mean old bitch.
Possibility 4: They’re just looking out for you. Just kidding. I put this here just so you know that this category is exactly Possibility Number One!
Doesn’t matter what’s going on here. She’s not the designer. Lacey ignores her. She even has pity for the designer for having an asshole of an assistant. Surely this designer whose clothes spoke to Lacey’s soul would be different. Lacey walks right up to the designer and says, “Hello! Are you the designer?” Without missing a beat, this woman says, “These are exclusive, one-of-a-kind runway pieces and they’re very expensive.” Well, what do you fucking know? All this while Lacey thought she was in Omaha. Turns out, she had walked into an Armani fashion show! So sorry, Donatella Versace. She thought she was supporting her community! Whoops! Excuse me, Gucci! I thought this was the kind of fashion show that was open to the public where people stand in a line and get to talk to the designer! Sorry for wanting to tell you you’re great and purchase your dresses. That’s Omaha.
Lacey loudly replies, “Wow, you’re really rude. Is that how you talk to Black people? Well, thanks, because your attitude just saved me”—looks at the price tag—“575 dollars! 575 dollars? This only costs 575 dollars? Wow. I thought this was supposed to be a runway piece. Thank goodness I didn’t buy this. I could have really embarrassed myself.”
There is this very insane Black thing where people out loud will assume you have no money by just looking at you. Especially if you ask how much something costs. Sometimes when you ask, “How much is this?” people hear, “Do I have any business buying it?” It makes you wanna scream. No one is asking you to look at them and guess if they can afford it; people wanna know the frigging price! Do white people not ask what things cost? Ha ha ha—but also, for real, do they?
dare you to read this hilarious and eye-opening book and not become obsessed
with Amber Ruffin."—Mindy Kaling
you laugh half as hard as I did at the FIRST story in this book, let alone the rest of the book, you will have
gotten your money's worth. The stories made me laugh and they made me sad. I
know I'm not the only one to experience these kinds of moments but it helps to
know that someone else-poor little Black Lacey taking on the lion's share of
Nebraska's white ignorance all by her lonesome- experiences it too. From the
mental gymnastics needed to call a black store dirty then drive out of state in
order to avoid said dirt only to wind up shopping in a sty operating in a white
neighborhood to having the gall to try and holluh at black women on a dating
app when your profile pics have the confederate flag in them, Amber & Lacey
point out how white folks are apparently doing the most in them parts."—Retta, comedian andactress (Parks & Recreation, Good Girls)
message of this book is for ALL of us and no matter why YOU'RE here --
you're a fan of Amber Ruffin's comedy, or a Seth Meyers' fan, or a
friend of Lacey's, or maybe you're just a person browsing for a book
that will help you understand the Black experience in America and the
other ones seem too
much like school -- I urge you to BUY THIS BOOK. The stories are
the humor and horror they deserve. You will laugh, you will be enraged,
you are a white person, you will understand more than you did before
about the truth of being Black in
America -- even if you thought you understood a lot already because you
hard school books."—Busy Philipps, author, actor,white lady
"Amber and Lacey have the
gift of making you comfortable enough to laugh at events that will also make
you cringe. This book is an opportunity for black people to know you're not
alone in how you've experienced the world. And for everyone this book is a
chance to see a layer of this world that you might have been blind to. You'll
leave both with a laugh and a little more knowledge."—Roy Wood, Jr., correspondent, The Daily Show with Trevor Noah
"Amber and Lacey hysterically walk us through a minefield of empirically traumatizing events, finding a way to make us laugh while weeping for the state of our nation; a place where two brilliant women are made to feel that somehow it is they who are missing the mark."—Natasha Lyonne, quadruplethreat, noted surrealist
"Both maddening and funny, an eye-opening look at how its daily targets cope with racism."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)
- On Sale
- Jan 12, 2021
- Page Count
- 240 pages
- Grand Central Publishing