I’m not sure when I first saw How To Be Black (2012) by Baratunde Thurston. I’m pretty sure this book must have popped up on Amazon at some point. I was drawn in by the simple, striking cover and intriguing blurb:
“The Onion’s Baratunde Thurston shares his 30-plus years of being black, with helpful essays like “How To Be the Black Friend,” “How To Speak For All Black People,” “How To Celebrate Black History Month,” and more, in this satirical guide to race issues–written for black people and those who love them. Audacious, cunning, and razor-sharp…”
Thurston has an easy-to-read and thoughtful style of writing that I appreciated. He brings up some details of his life while he discusses what it’s like to be black in America. In order to get a wider perspective, he brings in his own panel of “experts”–mostly friends he’s met through his work, including the white Canadian and author of “Stuff White People Like.”
My favorite parts of this book were when Thurston simply discussed his own experiences. I wouldn’t mind reading an entire autobiography from him. Although I found the opinions of the panel interesting; they were too short and I didn’t know enough about the authors. I couldn’t keep them straight in my head, so I didn’t have a clear through-line of who thought what as I read.
Although this book was written tongue-in-cheek, I found it kind of depressing. Mixed in with some of the annoying, at-least-kind-of-racist people I’ve had to work with lately, I’ve never felt so hopeless about race relations in America. Thurston really got the idea across of how exhausting it is to be a minority, with so many expectations and stereotypes hemming him in from all sides,–especially when he was the extreme minority in the corporate world. Yet Thurston isn’t a negative writer at all, and he ends with a very hopeful and pragmatic chapter on his ideas for some real change.
I also found Thurston incredibly relatable. He’s only a couple years older than me. He attended Sidwell Friends School (Chelsea Clinton’s school) before getting an undergraduate degree from Harvard. He has the smart, thoughtful, the-world-can-change-just-let-me-explain-how attitude that I’ve decided those schools try to instill in all their students. And being an extreme minority in my current job, I could also relate to Thurston’s description of being the only black guy at work. Anyway, I had highlighted tons of text while I was reading, but the library stole my e-book back before I was able to write this review, so I guess I’ll just end it here.
The rest of my reviews are on my blog.