By Heidi Stevens
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) The dumbing down of news, white privilege, intersectional feminism, celebrity sex tapes…nothing is off limits in culture critic Luvvie Ajayi’s new book “I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual.”
There may be another book in recent history that was lauded, before it even went on sale, by Shonda Rhimes, LeVar Burton, Amy Poehler and Jennifer Weiner (among others), but I’ll be darned if I can recall it.
Chicagoan and culture critic Luvvie Ajayi, whose blog and social media prowess have earned her hundreds of thousands of followers nationwide, is the author of the highly anticipated “I’m Judging You: The Do-Better Manual,” and is, as her followers would expect, whip-smart, take-no-prisoners hilarious.
” ‘I’m Judging You’ changes the game and snatches wigs one page at a time,” she writes. “It is a guide to getting some to act-right online and in real life. All the shade that resides in my spirit, all the side-eye I’ve dispensed across my vast network, has led me here.”
She takes on Facebook oversharing, the fallacy of promise rings (“about as much importance and symbolism as a heart drawn in the sand at low tide”), the dumbing down of news, white privilege, intersectional feminism, celebrity sex tapes and everything in between.
“I’m kind of like the angel on your shoulder going, ‘Don’t do that,’ ” Ajayi, 31, told me over coffee recently. “That’s why I have the lollipop on the cover giving side eye. I want people to walk into Barnes & Noble and be like, ‘Is this book scolding me?’ Yes. Yes, it is. But in a loving way.”
If you follow Ajayi’s commentary on social media, you’ll recognize her voice on the page immediately. Her ability to bounce seamlessly from serious social ills to pop culture pettiness is an art, and it’s fully honed in “I’m Judging You.”
“My favorite chapter to write was ‘Your Facebook Is My Favorite Soap Opera,’ ” she said. “We all know at least one person who performs their love life. You know when they go on the first date, you know when they become official, you know when they’re fighting because they start throwing Maya Angelou quotes up there.”
Ajayi was born in Nigeria, where she lived until she was 9. Her family moved to Chicago when her sister was approaching college age, so she could study in the United States. Ajayi graduated from Whitney M. Young Magnet High School and the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, where she studied psychology.
Appropriate, I told her, given her ability to dine out on our psyches.
“My one regret is I didn’t keep my Psych 101 textbook,” she laughed. “I should have saved that instead of selling it back for, like, $5.”
She even got Oprah talking.
Producers at the Oprah Winfrey Network tapped Ajayi to interview Winfrey and the other cast members from “Greenleaf,” a new show on OWN TV.
“Oprah’s character has this epic Afro, and I told her that, up until a few weeks ago, I had hair down my back,” Ajayi said.
“I told her I was entering a new phase in my life, and I just wrote a book, and that’s when she palmed my head. I was like, ‘Oh my God. Oprah’s grabbing my head.’ ”
“CHILE I FELT ANOINTED,” Ajayi blogged later.
Because she’s so prolific, Ajayi’s fans have the sense that they know her, even if they’ve never met her in real time. Ajayi said she uses that sense of intimacy to get people talking about difficult topics.
“Chicago’s one of the most segregated cities in America,” she said. “Everybody lives in their own silos and vacuums.”
Social media can bridge that divide, she hopes.
“We have to have uncomfortable conversations,” she said. “What I hope is happening is when you go offline, it makes it easier to continue those conversations. I hope it’s not just preaching to the choir, because that’s a giant waste of time.”
She wants her writing to inspire her followers to mix it up with people who don’t all look and think alike.
“People need to seek out some diversity in their life,” she said. “One of my friends is a pig farmer in Michigan, and even she has black friends. She’s in the middle of nowhere, the closest airport is, like, three hours away, and she manages to connect with black people. If you live in Chicago and you don’t know any black people except service men? That’s a problem.”
Ajayi will be in conversation with essayist Samantha Irby on Oct. 4 at the Swedish American Museum, in Chicago an appearance sponsored by Women and Children First bookstore. The event is sold out, but fear not: I think we’re a long way from seeing the last of Luvvie.