Powerful Exploration of Gender and Race in America

filled star filled star filled star star unfilled star unfilled
vgfoster Avatar


In Punch My Up to the Gods, Brian Broome explores the pressures that Black men face to perform a certain kind of masculinity—one that he found particularly damaging as a Black, gay boy growing up in rural Ohio. In a series of stories organized by theme around Gwendolyn Brooks' poem "We Real Cool," Broome reflects on the way these requirements to "be a man" damaged his relationship with his family, complicated his efforts to find queer community, and resulted in longterm struggles with anxiety and addiction.

I found Broome's efforts to untangle his challenging memories of his mother and father especially poignant and profound; throughout the book, he traces how their fear of the real and ever-present danger he would face as a Black man growing up in America led them to police his gender identity and sexuality in harsh and sometimes violent ways. Broome's thoughtful exploration of the fraught relationship between love and control is an important reminder of the way that American racism requires Black parents to make impossible decisions to try to keep their children safe.

While I appreciated some of the fruitful juxtapositions offered by Broome's thematic narrative structure, without clear forward momentum the chapters sometimes fell into a bleak pattern of hope, humiliation, then defeat. Punch Me Up to the Gods reads a little like spying on confessional, and though it's evident by the end of the memoir that Broome finds in the sum of his experiences a clearer understanding of both himself and America, I needed a stronger connective thread to the realizations that define the final chapter. Nevertheless, Broome's story is an important one. I'm grateful that he shared it.