Once in a while a book comes along that you read voraciously, you can’t put it down and you want everyone to read it too. It hits home and you want to talk about it with everyone you know. Recent books that come to mind in that way; Untamed by Glennon Doyle, How To Be An Antiracist by Ibram X. Kendi and White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo.
You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey is one of those books. A delicious mixture of memoir and storytelling and it doesn’t hurt that it’s absolutely hilarious too. I want everyone I know to read this book. Especially everyone I know in Omaha. You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey is a compilation of true stories about racism. Omaha-based racism, at that, with a few outliers. And although the names have been changed, the book itself leaves all else exposed. What’s more is that all of these experiences (a literal book’s worth) happened to one Black Omahan, Lacey Lamar.
Lamar is the Omaha-based sister of Amber Ruffin, best known for her work on SNL, The Late Show with Seth Myers and her newest venture The Amber Ruffin Show, currently streaming on Peacock.
Most of the stories are told by Amber using the same entertaining, matter-of-fact tone that made her a comedy star. Lacey jumps in sporadically for additional commentary, memories and added comic relief. The sisters ‘ banter and chemistry gave me some of the loudest laughs and showcased their close relationship while highlighting the difference in their experiences with racism both geographically and professionally. Amber adds in a few of her own stories for contrast. Stories of how racism is swiftly called-out, shot down or fired in comedy work in larger cities.
Meanwhile, in Lacey’s many jobs in the Midwest, it’s largely protected and accepted if not outright encouraged. It truly is a different world. Many of the pair’s most outrageous stories actually take place in Lacey’s professional settings, often ending in her termination for calling it out. Or in one case — being punched.
Throughout the book the sisters harken back to the title “You’re never going to believe this…” But sadly, I absolutely believed every word. I have had happy hours with my Black girlfriends dedicated to the asinine amount of Nebraska Nice racism we’ve faced while on the clock. So much so we were compiling our own stories for a book when we heard about Amber and Lacey’s book and said, “Oh, this is going to be good.”
Other encounters range from your all too normalized midwestern micro-aggressions (hair touching, wondering if Black people eat salad, etc) to all out showdowns with racial slurs and a shotgun—at the time of that incident Lamar was eight years old. And of course the ever-present racist go-to, the N word–all of which are censored in the book–because even when you talk about literally hundreds of racist incidents you want to protect your Black readers from even more trauma by reading it. (Thank you ladies).
The chapters are broken down into sections where the events are categorized by how racist they were or who was involved. Some of my favorite and most satisfying moments involve Lacey and Amber’s mother, a master at putting racists in their place in the most above-board, scathing way possible ala Claire Huxtable. One of the most welcome surprises was the use of pictures to help highlight a few points. Early on, Lacey is mistaken for Whoopi Goldberg (I know) and the subsequent pages are shots of Lacey AS the famous women she’s been mistaken for, including Whoopi. I laughed out loud, wishing this was unique. (I invite you to Google me and know that I have been told I look like Oprah Winfrey AND Lauryn Hill.)
I WISH I could’ve recorded my immediate reactions to so many pieces in this book. I laughed, I groaned, I cringed, I covered my mouth, I clutched my proverbial pearls, and mostly, I nodded adamantly and knowingly. For this is the Omaha I have known. So many of my own experiences were brought to the surface that I had to stop reading sporadically and start a list of my own. Ones that I had brushed under the rug and tried to forget and some that have kept me up at night over the years. I read this book voraciously, I couldn’t put it down, and in 220 pages it was a pretty quick read.
My suggestion though, would be to take your time with it. Let the memories come and give the stories space. Because when I was done rapid reading, it all hit me at once. Underneath all of the laughter and the tenacity, and the joy of reading this book–there is still a sickness in this city and that’s gonna be a hard pill to swallow. You’ll Never Believe What Happened to Lacey is the book we need. It shines a light on the publicly acceptable, “benign” stealth racism that Black people face everyday. It highlights bizarre responses to Blackness by white people in a way that I NEED my white friends to read and reflect back on. And it gives permission to laugh at it, while also giving space to the utter exhaustion of it all. Black people and white people will read this book with very different points of view, but it is a must-read for all.