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How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston (2012)

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WHAT IS IT ABOUT?

“How to Be Black” by Baratunde Thurston is part memoir, part humorous social commentary on race and identity related issues in America. Despite being raised by a Pan-African single mother in the inner city of Washington, DC during the drug wars, Thurston not only stayed out of trouble but also graduated from a private, primarily white Sidwell Friends School and later form Harvard University. Along the stories about the origins of his name, the tofu-eating hippie of a mother and the murder of his drug-abusing father, Thurston shares his expertise in how to be a black friend, a black employee and even a black president. To provide an additional perspective, the author also engages a Black Panel - six successful black American artists/comedians and one white Canadian - in a provocative conversation about race and identity.

THUMBS UP:

1) Educational.
Thanks to “How to Be Black,” now I have a much better understanding of African-American culture and race-related issues in the United States. In addition to bringing to light quite a few interesting cultural aspects and stereotypes that I wasn’t aware of, Thurston also helped me to grasp the gravity of external as well as internal conflicts African-Americans have to face in America as a minority group.

2) Audacious and optimistic.
Thurston not only bravely addresses very sensitive issues such as racial stereotypes and discrimination but also dares to make fun of them. The author clearly is one of those people who turn lemons into lemonade, and thus, despite the fact that most of the racial problems are quite grave, the tone of “How to Be Black” is rather hopeful.

3) Encouraging.
Through his personal memories and humorous social observations, Thurston encourages conversations about racial differences in order to stop interracial as well as intraracial conflicts that stem from ignorance and misinformation. The author also offers a more universal advice to ANYONE who has ever felt like an outlier, no matter of the race, gender or ethnicity: simply be yourself, embrace your interests and just be happy.

COULD BE BETTER:

1) Humor.
Even though certain passages made me smile and nod in approval, I didn’t find this book laugh-out-loud hilarious. To be honest, quite often I felt like the author is trying too hard to be funny and sometimes his humor would even strike me as arrogant. To make matters worse, some jokes didn’t seem funny to me simply because I didn’t get them: occasionally, I wasn’t sure whether the author is being serious or mocking something, and certain satirical passages seemed overdone and out of place (for example, the final five pages in “How to Be The (Next) Black President” chapter).

2) Not for everyone.
Contrary to the author’s claim, “How to Be Black” is NOT for everyone. I bet if I were African-American myself, or at least more American, it would be easier to relate to the author’s experiences and to understand and appreciate historical, political and social references. Since Thurston doesn’t bother to explain the original subject he is referring to, I am sure I missed quite a few jokes as well as some more serious points. For example, the author spends the whole PAGE advising a black employee on how much watermelon he should eat at a company holiday party. Unfortunately, this page made very little sense to me because, apparently, I was not aware of a common stereotype (which the author fails to mention) that black people LOVE watermelon.

3) Writing and editing.
Although I love the main message of the book, some other Thurston’s arguments could have been developed better. To be honest, sometimes I had a hard time understanding how certain stories are relevant to the point the author is trying to make (for example, the encounter with a recruiter from the navy), or even whether there IS a point. I also wished that the Black Panel answers were shorter and more to the point.

4) Impersonal memoir.
Although funny, optimistic and potentially inspiring, Thurston’s memoir seems rather impersonal and thus not very captivating. Apparently, it’s not enough to have a good story; you also have to tell it well.

VERDICT: 2 out of 5

In addition to being a memoir, “How to Be Black” by Baratunde Thurston is also a brave, educational and entertaining insight into racial issues in America. However, historical, political and social references as well as the author’s humor and writing might not be accessible to everyone. ( )
1 vote AgneJakubauskaite | Apr 28, 2015 |
A good book. At first I thought it would be mostly comedy and satire, but the author is serious about growing up black and the racism that exists in this country and doing something about it. Well written and the parts about the Angry Negro, How to be the Black Friend and the Black Employee are terrific. ( )
  annbury | Feb 19, 2015 |
I loved this book. I am 50 years old, I thought I thought I had the ins and outs of being black mastered. Nope. Age does not give you a pass. I learned so much from this book it caused me to shake my head and go how did I miss this? The chapters that I am truly fond of are: about black people swimming
"The Destruction of Afrikans and the U.S. Propoganda: A Middle School Paper."
"The (Next) Black President" must read for any black child who wants to be president.
and "How to Be The Black Employee" painfully funny.

Now if someone who is black and not a Ivy League graduate could write the next black comedic book, I would greatly appreciate it. :). ( )
  seki | Sep 8, 2014 |
This book is art how-to guide, part memoir, and part manifesto from a collective (menacing sounding!). It's not nearly as ranty as one might expect. I give it a touch over 3.5 stars for its perspective on modern life. I would have liked maybe a little more on the geeky stuff but maybe that's for another time. ( )
  rmagahiz | Dec 21, 2013 |
I can't tell you how much this book helped cheer me up by using satire when confronting many of the racial microaggressions (and not so "micro" aggressions) I have to deal with.

Whatever your race, go read this book.
Actually, if you're white, you really should read this book. ( )
  Isa_Lavinia | Sep 10, 2013 |
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0062003216, Hardcover)

If You Don't Buy This Book, You're a Racist.

Have you ever been called "too black" or "not black enough"?

Have you ever befriended or worked with a black person?

If you answered yes to any of these questions, this book is for you.

Raised by a pro-black, Pan-Afrikan single mother during the crack years of 1980s Washington, DC, and educated at Sidwell Friends School and Harvard University, Baratunde Thurston has over thirty years' experience being black. Now, through stories of his politically inspired Nigerian name, the heroics of his hippie mother, the murder of his drug-abusing father, and other revelatory black details, he shares with readers of all colors his wisdom and expertise in how to be black.

Beyond memoir, this guidebook offers practical advice on everything from "How to Be The Black Friend" to "How to Be The (Next) Black President" to "How to Celebrate Black History Month."

To provide additional perspective, Baratunde assembled an award-winning Black Panel—three black women, three black men, and one white man (Christian Lander of Stuff White People Like)—and asked them such revealing questions as:

"When Did You First Realize You Were Black?"

"How Black Are You?"

"Can You Swim?"

The result is a humorous, intelligent, and audacious guide that challenges and satirizes the so-called experts, purists, and racists who purport to speak for all black people. With honest storytelling and biting wit, Baratunde plots a path not just to blackness, but one open to anyone interested in simply "how to be."

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:17:58 -0400)

(see all 2 descriptions)

Have you ever been called "too black" or "not black enough"? Have you ever befriended or worked with a black person? If you answered yes to any of these questions, this book is for you. Raised by a pro-black, Pan-Afrikan single mother during the crack years of 1980s Washington, DC, and educated at Sidwell Friends School and Harvard University, Baratunde Thurston has over thirty years' experience being black. Now, through stories of his politically inspired Nigerian name, the heroics of his hippie mother, the murder of his drug-abusing father, and other revelatory black details, he shares with readers of all colors his wisdom and expertise in how to be black. Beyond memoir, this guidebook offers practical advice on everything from "How to Be The Black Friend" to "How to Be The (Next) Black President" to "How to Celebrate Black History Month." To provide additional perspective, Baratunde assembled an award-winning Black Panel--three black women, three black men, and one white man (Christian Lander of Stuff White People Like)--and asked them such revealing questions as: "When Did You First Realize You Were Black?" ""How Black Are You?" "Can You Swim?" The result is a humorous, intelligent, and audacious guide that challenges and satirizes the so-called experts, purists, and racists who purport to speak for all black people. With honest storytelling and biting wit, Baratunde plots a path not just to blackness, but one open to anyone interested in simply "how to be."… (more)

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» see all 2 descriptions

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