Book Review: Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist by Franchesca Ramsey
Like many black girls in 2012, I loved the video Shit White Girls Say…to Black Girls, posted on the channel Chesaleigh. It was funny and on point, and to be honest I forgot about it within a year or so, too busy living my own life to pay much attention to the internet. Meanwhile Franchesca Ramsey was living her life, which I had the pleasure of reading about in her new memoir Well, That Escalated Quickly: Memoirs and Mistakes of an Accidental Activist. This memoir chronicles the rise to fame that Ramsey underwent after her video went viral and the many ramifications of becoming, as she says, an accidental activist.
I have so many feelings about this book that it is hard to begin, but I have to say that what most struck me was how easy a book this is to read. The marginalization and othering of minoritized groups can be a distressing topic, and while it is one that I consider to be worthwhile, it can take its toll. While I have not watched many more of Ramsey’s videos beyond “SWGSTBG” and a few episodes of her and MTV’s web series Decoded I can tell from this book alone that Ramsey has the exceptional quality of disseminating and explaining simply concepts that are not-so-simple. She does so throughout the text, using her own missteps and sometimes cringeworthy actions and experiences to show the reader where she went wrong and how we can use those experiences to better our own lives and everyday reactions. The book alternates between showing what to do and what not to do in a way that is hilarious but in no way cheapens the importance of the topics discussed. Ramsey throws plenty of shade at her former self, in no way absolving her actions of their impact, but instead showing us how we can be better.
One topic she discusses at length is how there have been numerous accounts of what she at times calls “black-lash” of fellow black people who thought that she betrayed them with her handling of certain events. The first instance of this was after her interview with Anderson Cooper about the “SWGSTBG” video, and how she felt “crushed” by what people were saying to her, and it was only because of the people who were willing to help her discover her mistakes and where to do better that she was able to become the activist that she is today.
Toward the end of the book, Ramsey has a section dedicated to eulogies for phrases that should no longer be uttered, and while it was hilarious, I also liked the section because it does a very good job of explaining why said pieces of rhetoric are outdated or just plain wrong, and how their impact can be remarkably harmful. Each phrase is bolded, followed by three separate points: where it is commonly heard, why it needs to go, and a comeback for those who respond. A couple favorites of mine among those that need to be laid to rest are “It’s just a joke” and “Well, I don’t see color”, both of which have funny but thoughtful explanations for why those lines of thinking are inherently flawed.
As someone who is also in an interracial relationship, I particularly appreciated Ramsey’s chapter about her relationship with her husband (who is white) and how other people have reacted to it. In the vein of people’s reactions to things that aren’t their business, another favorite chapter of mine chronicled the best and worst ways to end a friendship with someone, particularly as it pertains to Facebook. Sad drama mask icons denote a scale of one to five in terms of how much drama one faces by unfriending the group of people described, and at the end of it all Ramsey even includes a flowchart that is not only funny but practical.
I could go on and on about my favorite parts of the book (which, let’s be honest, is most of the book) yet I want to take a step back and refer to chapter four, where Ramsey calls back to her relationship with her hair through the years, and references an (unsourced) quote, which is “Be who you needed when you were younger.” That simple message, more than anything, is what gets to the heart of this book. As a memoir reflecting on past mistakes, Well, That Escalated Quickly is inherently a volume of information that would have been incredibly useful for a younger Franchesca Ramsey, and is therefore an excellent resource for young folk everywhere.
I’ll admit that this book isn’t for everyone. It takes as its premise that the reader is curious and open toward being an activist in their own right, and the style of humor is brash and unflinching, which I liked but I know might throw some people off. That said, I wholeheartedly believe this book to be an excellent resource, especially for those that are at entry-level for activism, and are eager to learn but aren’t quite sure where to start. And even if you have started, there is always room to improve.
The last section before the acknowledgements is a glossary for those who might be unfamiliar with certain terms, and is as informative as it is funny, and includes the message (under the word “woke”) that “’Getting woke’ should be a moment on your journey, because we never stop having our eyes opened to experiences that we don’t have because of our own privilege or biases,” (p. 240). So keep learning, and if you want my advice, start with this book.