If You’re Black and in the Polar Vortex Today, You Have God’s Permission to Be Ashy (For a Day)

Illustration for article titled If You’re Black and in the Polar Vortex Today, You Have God’s Permission to Be Ashy (For a Day)
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There’s a bit in The Broke Diaries—Angela Nissel’s iconic and hilarious memoir about her time at the University of Pennsylvania—where the perpetually hungry Angie is probing her kitchen for something to eat, cheers when she finds a box of grits but discovers (sadly) that the box contains just one solitary grit. I have never been teased by a grit box before, so I can’t say that I know how that feels. But right now, the temperature in Pittsburgh is exactly one degree, and that bitch-ass degree is a similar taunt. Like the weather’s saying “nah-nah-nah-nah-nah” and throwing spitballs at my neck.

Of course, it could be worse. I could be in Chicago, where the temperature today is FuckThisShit below zero. And apparently it’s not going to be as cold in the Burgh as it was predicted to be last week, so I guess that’s a silver lining. But still, it is colder than it has any business being. It’s the sort of weather that doesn’t just brace skin, it hurts feelings. I’m not just cold, I’m insulted. This shit is vengeful, shameless, petty and cruel.

The effect this is having on us (black people) is especially egregious, for reasons both emotional (“Netflix and Chill” isn’t supposed to be literal) and spiritual (Jesus didn’t die for us to live in a snow globe). For instance, I had a doctor’s appointment this morning and happened to walk past two different black people on the block-long walk from my car to the office. The first black person (a woman who looked to be in her 40s) locked eyes with me, shook her head and blared “Fuck!” The second black person (a man in his 70s) was just walking and cackling. The cold is so traumatic that it brought this sweet old man to literal hysterics.


This in mind, if you happen to be experiencing this polar vortex, today is one of the few days in your lifetime that it will be perfectly fine to leave the house ensconced in ash.

Mind you, this is a practical consideration. I’m not saying to completely forgo lotion. It’s just that when it’s this cold and even a sliver of your skin is exposed, even the most nuclear of Lubriderms won’t stop it from going Full Casper. Usually, existing in the vicinity of ash—or even just ash-adjacent—is cause for shame and social ostracization. But as the ancient saying goes, “If everyone is ashy ... no one is ashy.”

So if you’ve ever fantasized about sitting at your cubicle with your name etched in ash on your forearm like a tattoo sleeve, today is the day to follow your (strange) dream. You are justified, today and only today, to be your best and ashiest self, as a silent and itchy protest against those jive-ass degrees.

Damon Young is the editor-in-chief of VSB, a contributing opinion writer for The New York Times, and the author of What Doesn't Kill You Makes You Blacker (Ecco/HarperCollins)

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If you’re in a city affected by the polar vortex and spot a homeless person, please make sure to call 311 to help get them transportation to a shelter. Dying frozen on a sidewalk or bench isn’t that much fun.

(Now back to your regularly scheduled commentary on feeling some kinda way about other people being ashy.)