I picked this book up in September last year, when I was obviously already collecting some of the excellent books about race in the UK and around the world that so many people caused to sell out (hooray!) when the BLM movement hit during lockdown. Not to be performative about it, but just to acknowledge I’ve always been interested in other people’s lives and experiences. Out of these three arrivals I’ve already read and reviewed “I will not be erased” by gal-dem and I’m sure it won’t be long until I get to “The Good Immigrant”. Meanwhile, while it might appear that the bio of the culture guy on Queer Eye might be a bit of a lighter read, it was heart-felt, moving in places, and searingly honest about the bad choices he’s made as well as the good ones.

Karamo Brown – “Karamo”

(24 September 2019)

A great autobiography, written with Jancee Dunn, who is credited as his co-writer in the acknowledgements and named on the title page. It tells it apparently completely as it is, no holds barred and totally open – even more than he is on Queer Eye. We read about his path through addiction and issues with anger and violence, how he came to have two sons and how he put his life back together.

I found reading about his experiences at a Historically Black College/University, where he found people could at last pronounce his name and he saw people of his darker skin tone in positions of power and authority, fascinating, as that’s not a milieu I really recall reading about before. He details his experiences of racism both outside his community (the name thing, playing Streetfighter and finding that the evil twins were always a few shades darker than their counterparts …) and inside it (his grandmother pleading with him to keep out of the son and other confusing episodes of colourism generated by internalised racism) and explains how that all helped him develop into the aggressive and oversexualised person he saw he was expected to be. It is very moving that he basically sorted out his life when he discovered he was a father, and the respectful and loving way in which he took over the care of his son and his brother stands out noticeably against the stereotype of absent Black fathers. He’s also very clear on the failings but also the positives of his own dad, who was not the best role model but who he strives to respect.

There’s the obligatory interaction with the original Fab Five – after Karamo had been on The Real World Philadelphia, he was given an award by GLAAD that they shared with the original QE cast and he got a word from Carson. The chapter on his QE journey is fascinating, detailing how he has fought to make “culture” less about random activities and more about life coaching – although he’s clear on not criticising the original series for being a bit lighter and only really treating the external aspects of the heroes. He’s obviously hugely proud of what he’s achieved, even when this didn’t really come across in Series 1, and he’s honest sharing where he feels he went wrong in not discussing what he wanted to do with the producers. I love the tales of the audition process and how the five bonded and supported one another while others auditioning were more competitive.

The book ends with a call to be kind, to say hello to people who might think differently to you and really listen to them, to see people properly and in the moment and to be selflessly kind in a divided age. A decent book by a decent man.