Please Don't Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes: EssaysPlease Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes: Essays by Phoebe Robinson
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having enjoyed phoebe robinson’s stand-up and sketch comedy, i picked up this book in the middle of a bleak-week, hoping to be wrenched out of my mood with laffs. but it’s not that kind of book. it’s less a humor-humor book than a book of essays written by a humorous person—the subject matter is often serious and important, but she softens the blow(s) with her comedic sensibilities.

written during the quarantimes, many of the essays address the concerns that had us all glued to our newsfeeds throughout that whole experience, nursing our collective anxieties with increasingly horrific stories about the pandemic, BLM marches, escalating violence, and police brutality.

we were all put through an emotional wringer by the events of 2020 (and its ongoing repercussions). some people used that time for introspection and clarity, and some used it to marathon The Great British Baking Show and Grey’s Anatomy. twice. each.

phoebe robinson falls into the first category, and even though everything’s still fragile and uncertain, she is Doing Her Part to help us all heal just a little bit.

The best I can offer at this moment is that I am a funny person and if I can make you laugh and forget your problems for a moment then I did something. Although I’m not on the front lines, I’m still living in this, too, and it’s probable that my way of looking at life could be of use to someone who just needs to laugh. I crave levity because I don’t want the time inside to rewire my brain or convince me to lose all sense of optimism. Because in the face of it looking like we’re all fucked, giving up would be letting down those in my family and friends who haven’t. So I won’t give up today. And I’ll try not to tomorrow.

to that end, although she doesn’t shy away from examining any of 2020’s Big Bads, she also shares her reflections and insights about topics as varied as pooping in quarantine,* the importance of wearing matching underwear, and the social media trend of celebrities posting culinary videos during lockdown, proving that US magazine got it wrong—stars are clearly NOT just like us, because they’re prepping weeknight-prawns while we’re over here scrabbling for toilet paper.

the essays are voicey and entertaining as hell, even though i frequently had no frame of reference for their subject matter: tips for running a business, traveling the world, the challenges of 4C hair, being pressured to start a family or get a dog, etc etc. the venn diagrams of our respective experiences rarely overlaps, but it doesn’t matter because she’s an engaging writer with a strong personality so i could appreciate it without relating to it.

as an aside: i’m not an audiobook person, but i think i would have enjoyed listening to this one, because the cadence of her writing is very conversational, and her fondness for hashtags, phonetic spelling, and truncating words (nash anth), might be less distracting in an audio format. #I’mSoOld

in any medium, she’s an impressive powerhouse of a human being. she started a production company called tiny reparations, which now includes a publishing branch—tiny reparations books—and this book marks the imprint’s debut. not even a pandemic can stop this businesswoman handling her business, and it’s all kinds of aspirational and intimidating: she’s got her shit together and is doing everything with her time, building an empire while i’m sitting over here writing silly book reports that no one’s gonna read instead of figuring out a way to make some money. #PhoebeRobinsonPleaseMentorMe.

i want to call out two particular, and wildly dissimilar, essays.

first, the titular essay: Please Don’t Sit on My Bed in Your Outside Clothes.

so let’s talk outside clothes.

while the concept of “outside clothes” is not unfamiliar to me, i thought it was one of those antiquated notions from a bygone era, but nope! phoebe robinson, about a decade younger than myself, is a staunch proponent of outside clothes, so much so that she asserts:

We need to start redlining heaux and if you don’t have outside clothes, around-the-house clothes, and in-bed clothes: YOU. CAN’T. VOTE.

i live in the same new york as she does, but even though my brain knows (and has become more paranoid about during this whole pandemic thing) that subways are germy and the outside world is dirty, it has never once occurred to me to put on a whole ‘nother outfit just to go to the store.

some of the material for this essay is drawn from social-media conversations between the author and folks who are, apparently, as disgusting/careless as me:

So wait…say I get up in the morning and decide I want to pop out and get a coffee. I’m supposed to change into full “outside clothes” to go across the street for my coffee and then back into my pajamas when I get home? And then later when I need to run to the store or take out the garbage, I’m supposed to change into new outside clothes and then back into my pajamas when I come inside again? WHAT KIND OF MADNESS IS THIS??? I get up in the morning and get dressed for the day, no matter how many times I go outside during the day. My pajamas only go on when it’s time to eat.

Oh, boy. This. Is. Rough. And no, we’re not “hanging tough.” #MomJoke #NewKidsOnTheBlockForever. For real though, I’m at a loss for words. If you’re going outside multiple times a day, just have an “outside clothes” outfit by your front door that you change in and out of and then put it in the laundry bin at the end of the night. Why are we acting like that’s not an option? Why are we behaving as though changing in and out of PJs is akin to doing high school trig?

although this essay made me feel chastised (don’t take away my vote please!), the thought of switching between public-facing and private clothing multiple times a day seems exhausting.**

even though i am always on my best behavior and mindful of other people’s house rules, in my own life i guess i’m just a sloppy person. i have never, for example, in all my years of having boobs, washed a bra. not once. but i do take my shoes off before walking around my apartment—i’m not an animal. shoes touch places where animals (and people) pee, but how is my hoodie getting contaminated on my two-block journey to key food?

i thought that outside clothes was a generational thing, she claims it’s a cultural thing that white people don’t get (an informal poll of my social circle suggests that we’re both correct—black grannies are ON BOARD with this), but even though that’s never gonna be my life, i adore her passionate stance on this matter.

We Don’t Need Another White Savior

this was my favorite essay (and, yes, i DID initially read that title to the tune of We Don’t Need Another Hero, which she declares makes me “[her] kind of person,” so maybe i can has my vote back now? if she’s willing to overlook my unwashed bras, i’m willing to overlook how she uses my name as a pejorative several times in this book).

on that note, i’m a white girl named karen, so obviously i’m the last person who should be weighing in about racial matters on the internet, but this chapter, which is about virtue signaling and performative allyship, is worth a thousand empty gestures inspired by White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk About Racism, so i’m just gonna hand her the reins:

Reading, highlighting, and posting prompts on social media for robust discussions in the comments section can be fun and get the adrenaline pumping, but ultimately wind up being nothing more than empty exercises the majority of the time. I can think of two main reasons why.

One, many performative allies operate as though racism is this abstract, philosophical debate that doesn’t have stakes in their world. The corporations need to step up. The executives need to do better. These celebrities should be canceled for [insert racially insensitive comment]. This white person is so unbelievably racist in a viral cellphone video. These books are teaching me about past racism and discussing hypotheticals. The racism is always somewhere other than where anyone is. Like what is racism? Fucking Nickelback CD’s? The band has sold more than 50 MILLION ALBUMS, but nobody owns a copy? LOL. Okay. Similarly, there is no audacity to perform racism in any and all of its ugly forms without a system, meaning people to support it. So somebody’s out here “racisting,” but if folks can’t even acknowledge the ways in which they intentionally and unintentionally hold up systems of oppressions, how can they change their behavior? Simply put, they can’t.

So what ends up happening is the cycle of white guilt, which leads to the task of self-improvement then goes back to white guilt because change isn’t happening fast enough or at all. And as we all know, guilt is never a good motivator to rectify behavior, but a license to wallow in the pity, which leads to more guilt about their participation in systemic racism, which is now combined with them feeling bad about the fact that they feel bad. Basically, white guilt is a Cathy comic, y’all. Like that bitch always has a sob story. Constantly caught up in the drama without realizing she’s a key architect of the spectacle that is her life. Always getting fired and acting like she doesn’t know why. It’s like, “Cath, Jamba Juice let you go because you were making smoothies to bring home to your cats.” (her footnote: That is a real plot from the comics. Normally, I choose a side, but I’m Switzerland this time because cats need a balanced diet.) #ThisConcludesMyAntiRacismSeminar #CanIGetPaid40K?

The other reason why most of performative allyship is ineffective is that folks move in extremes and go from zero to one hundred as an antiracist. One day, they were unaware how pervasive racism is and the next, they’re flooding their social media with information, showing up at marches and protests, screaming about supporting Black businesses. WHERE DID ALL THESE WHITE PEOPLE COME FROM?! I’m serious. You ever throw what you thought was going to be an intimate get-together and it turns into a full-fledged house party and a bitch who was not invited, but showed up with napkins and red Solo cups, now acts like they call the shots and pay your property taxes? That’s how this aggressiveness in being antiracist comes across sometimes. And while I’m sure a decent amount of it is well-intentioned, intent doesn’t matter when it’s causing more harm, and from what I can see, as the number of non-POC participants in antiracism increase so does the “May I speak to your manager?” energy. The revolution cannot and should not be Karenized.*** That vibe wants fast results, placation, and constant positive reinforcement, and recontextualizes easy wins as major victories, so that when the wins don’t quickly happen or happen at all for the weightier and messier issues, disappointment and frustration settle in, threatening to dissuade future efforts.

To me, lacking patience and expecting results immediately for both the micro and macro issues that plague America shows a complete lack of understanding of how pervasive and fundamental racism is to the foundation of our society. Truth be told, systemic racism will most likely not be dismantled in our lifetime. While I would like things to change so that all my Black brothers and sisters and I can live in a better world, I know that’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is that those who come after me will not have to experience even a tenth of what I have. Achieving that goal requires a level of acceptance in the face of glacial progress and that is, in part, what prevents burnout and allows one to stay the course.

Too often what we’re seeing is people blowing off steam at the first sign of adversity and then not rolling up their sleeves and jumping back into the fray. And that combination of impatience and losing interest because massive change has not happened since they decided to get active when there have been people on the front lines for years and decades doing the exhaustive work to dismantle racism is the opposite of staying the course. It’s participating in a trend, in a moment. This is not a trend. I repeat: This is not a trend. We have to undo every single institution—both big and small—in our country. And if the expectation is permanent change, then we must understand that the system cannot change unless the people in it, particularly the ones who benefit from it in myriad tangible and intangible ways, change as well.

this whole essay is GOLD. long may her empire flourish.

so, it’s maybe not a book that’s going to help you forget the current challenges, but you get wisdom and laughter, so it’s well worth the read.


* best opening to an essay…ever?

I’m not saying you should shit yourself in front of your significant other (IS THIS THE MOMENT WHERE I RUIN ANY CHANCE OF BEING AN OPRAH BOOK CLUB SELECTION? I. FUCKING. THINK. SO.), but I believe that unless you do mortifying things, accidentally or not, that make your partner pull a Walter White and get a burner phone so they can create a Raya dating profile to search for fresh peen or vajeen, then, frankly, you aren’t in a relationship.

** although, to be fair, much of her type a/git-er-done life sounds exhausting to me

*** hhmph.

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