Review: All Boys Aren’t Blue by George M. Johnson
I asked for All Boys Aren't Blue for my birthday this year, and was so happy to have received it. I have never read a young adult memoir; is this the first of it's genre?
In a series of personal essays, prominent journalist and LGBTQIA+ activist George M. Johnson explores his childhood, adolescence, and college years in New Jersey and Virginia. From the memories of getting his teeth kicked out by bullies at age five, to flea marketing with his loving grandmother, to his first sexual relationships, this young-adult memoir weaves together the trials and triumphs faced by Black queer boys. Both a primer for teens eager to be allies as well as a reassuring testimony for young queer men of colour, All Boys Aren't Blue covers topics such as gender identity, toxic masculinity, brotherhood, family, structural marginalisation, consent, and Black joy. Johnson's emotionally frank style of writing will appeal directly to young adults.
A memoir, a manifesto: both appeal to me and are things I love to read. Young adult: you have me worried. But this was a perfect balance of storytelling and educating, all told with a simplicity that felt very suited for young adult as well as adult readers.
At the beginning of the book, Johnson has included an authors note that states trigger warnings that are upcoming in the book (something that should maybe be considered for books in the future of this nature), and advice for allies that are not members of LGBTQIA+ or black community.
There are plenty of impactful moments in this book, and I was able to learn about parts of black history that I was not aware of (or was ever educated on in school)!
Johnson powerfully states in bullet point form, things that Abraham Lincoln said that in fact proved he did not believe in social, political and economic change for the equality of black and white people. He merely wanted to save the union, and if this meant freeing slaves, or keeping them enslaved, he didn't care either way. Interesting topics such as racial microaggressions are discussed. Johnson explicitly said when he attended high school, he was never referred to by the N-word although was consistently called the F-Word (as he attended a majority black high school) but had the opposite abuse when he attended a near all white university. Other microaggressions such as asking questions like, "did you grow up in a rough neighbourhood?" means you are asking questions based solely on a marginalised group. This may seem innocent or naive but these little assumptions grow to create an entire stereotype and this kind of behaviour often leads to overt racism or homophobia in the future. Being part of two minority communities comes with it's own complex layers. "In the white community, I am seen as a black man first - but that doesn’t negate the queer identity that will still face discrimination."
"In the black community, where I often find myself, it is not the black, male identity that gets questioned immediately. It is that intersection with queerness that is used to reduce my blackness and the overall image of black men.“
This quote makes me think of when RuPaul Charles said, "white people didn't like me because I was black, black people didn't like me because I was gay, and gay people didn't like me because I was too femme." It perfectly highlights how many groups have their own rigidity of how people should be and how it is so damaging for so many individuals.
Even phrases like, "look how far you've come", can be degrading and patronising. I have been guilty of using this in my own communities when attending events such as pride (as much as it is never intended out of malice). Phrases such as, "the first black person to..." e.g Halle Berry being the first black woman to win an Oscar for best actress. Or Barack Obama was the first black president 219 years after George Washington, a slave owner, was the first white president. Or 145 years after Abraham Lincoln signed the emancipation proclamation. Ultimately, this phrase limits actual change. Saying "look how far you've come" is not vocabulary that should be used amongst allies, when really the saying should be, "look how long we've stopped you from getting here." If these are topics you care about, want to be educated on, or even just enjoy reading an insightful memoir, please pick this up immediately. I will not forget this read in a hurry and will continue to recommend it to others that are looking for their next nonfiction read.
Initial Prediction: 4.5 stars
Final Rating: 4.5 stars
Publication Date: 28 April 2020
Publisher: Farrar, Straus and Giroux
Genres: Nonfiction, Memoir, Young Adult
# of Pages: 304