I'm Allergic to Hennessy

Illustration for article titled I'm Allergic to Hennessy
Photo: Noel Vasquez (Getty Images for Hennessy)

I don’t neatly fit into many of the cultural lines set before me—much like many black millennials. It’s almost derivative to say I love anime in an age where black people’s love of anime now spans generations. I grew up listening to Paramore and Van Hunt and Yo-Yo Ma. It’s now Ben Howard and Valis Alps and Gunna (how the music scene has adjusted to this melding of culture is fascinating and worth a separate article, as well). Of course, that’s not all I listen to but this is illustrative. I was homeschooled but went to public school, too. I was raised vegetarian and especially dislike chicken. I’m tiptoeing across the lines of “typical blackness” and I’m sure you all can do the same. We aren’t as culturally neat as we “used” to be as a people.


Now, the story. I’ll set the scene for you: Terribly lit apartment, the kind that’s big enough to cause a fire safety concern but small enough where you constantly bump into shadowy figures of people that you may a) only kind of know or b) have never seen before. It’s mostly guys, but that’s almost always the case. The women are in their coteries of five to six, huddled near wall outlets and couches. It’s loud and Future, The Weeknd and Kendrick Lamar play incessantly (look, it was like, 2014).

It’s a typical kickback. The exorbitant collection of alcohol is strewn across the counter, and by exorbitant I mean Hennessy (Henny) and sodas, and I think some loser’s Ciroc. I’d like to tell you that at the time I had a sophisticated palate for alcohol and had already matured out of peer pressure, but sadly, that was not the case. The goal was to “get lit” by any means necessary, and if that meant our friends had to lose their deposit for their apartment to accomplish that, we were determined to do so.

Did I really know what I was doing? Of course not, but the point was that I had to look like I did for as long as possible. I took a bottle of Coke, poured an indiscriminate amount, grabbed the bottle of Henny and added to my concoction. With the smirk of a seasoned alchemist, I took a sip. It wasn’t that great. Swirled it in the ice a bit. Took another sip. If you can, I’d now like you to imagine any meme with someone clutching their chest. That was me. Me times 100. If I was indeed gone off the Henny, this wasn’t it.

Let’s pause here.

If you’re not aware, Hennessy is a brandy that has some years behind its name. Specifically, it is a variety of brandy called cognac, named after a town in France. The flavor of cognac varies, but it is characterized by combining nuts, fruit, caramel, honey, and an assortment of other spices. Also, there is something crucial that you should know about me: I have a severe nut allergy. And by nut, I mean every nut you can think of: Peanuts, cashews, pecans, walnuts—everything. The best preventative measure for me is to read the contents of anything suspicious if it’s never before been consumed. I’m religious when it comes to this and my success rate is phenomenal. I always do it. I never forget to do it.

That night, in that poorly lit apartment, I 100 percent forgot. Why? Because if there was a list of the night’s goals, it would look something like:

1. Getting lit

2. Being cool

3. Getting women’s attention.

And checking the labels for any allergies was more like:

1,593. Check for allergens

You’re probably mouthing “Oh my God” right now and I can assure you I mouthed something similar at that moment, but it wasn’t that. I found a wall to hold me up and I slumped against it, questioning my next move. Let’s just say the math wasn’t checking out. I got a lot of “You good?” And daps during that time, and I promise you I answered every one with a slap of the hand and a head nod, but I’ll have you know I was 100 percent not good. I knew my best option would be to go to the bathroom and throw up and rummage for Benadryl. So, that’s exactly what I did.

I excused myself to the bathroom and dizzied myself with the bright bathroom light. Like a vampire, I winced and knelt over the toilet and let all the pizza and Coke and Hennessy go. I borrowed a couple Benadryl from whoever’s apartment that was and looked in the mirror. Was I scared for my life? No. Was I concerned that I threw up on my Commes des Garcons shirt? Yes. Was I looking for my Epipen? No. Was I certain that my Black Card was now revoked? Yes.

I swore myself to secrecy that night that no one would ever know that I, Justin the Blackest, was allergic to arguably the most culturally black drink of the modern era. I couldn’t take that hit. I couldn’t let my record be tarnished in that way.

But eventually, I grew up. I valued sleep and dental appointments and better walking shoes and standing desks and drinking enough water for just the right color of pee. I became more open about my allergies; not because I was actually self-conscious, but more so because I stopped caring. I’m allergic. Big deal. I still can recite the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air theme song.

But the thoughts of what that meant culturally and how society would respond to it, still lingered. Recently, when I told a good buddy of mine that I was allergic to Henny (in an extremely casual tone) I got a huge “WHAT?” and was reminded once again that my allergy was an iconoclasm. But it’s completely fine. The examination of these things and the discussion around what makes black people “black” is always interesting.

Author of 'Sight', 'Human', and 'the World'. Co-creator of the Pigmented Perspective podcast.


The Ghost of James Madison's Rage Boner

Holy shit, my kid has a severe nut allergy and the fact this could extend to alcohol never occurred to me. Good to know.