Date Completed: 3/29/16
WOW. What a satire. Baratunde Thurston hit the nail on the head with this book. Comedic relief for talking about race, Thurston tackles the bigger issues at play in race politics in this book with seeming ease. He’s not judgmental and expresses genuine interest in everybody getting to a place of comfort with race, but where the conversation is at currently in society is not a place of comfort with race, it’s a state of ignorance and frustration.
I liked how personal How to Be Black was, and how it was part memoir, part annotation of a panel of speakers, and part other history, jokes, and non-fiction. I felt like this book was very validating for me personally, because Thurston talks about race in a very tangible way and shares experiences that I have had with race that do in fact make me feel awkward when the topic comes up. The more we talk about race, however, the more we can recognize what specifically needs to be changed in society until we become comfortable with our racial differences and can move on to other things.
I really appreciate that this book exists. I believe it would be very accessible to readers of all backgrounds. I appreciate that Thurston also offers lots of other books and reading for his readers to sink their teeth into. And, oh, the History lessons and jokes are plentiful and wonderful. For example, this passage:
“During the Cold War, U.S. and Russian leaders installed a special direct communications device that came to be known as the ‘red telephone.’ They would use it to talk to each other in secret, explaining military movements and other actions that could be misinterpreted as acts of war. Black Friends are our red telephones. They are our covert agents. They are interracial code breakers, and in the Cold War, we had a name for the men and women on both sides of the conflict performing these functions. They saved lives every day with no expectation of recognition except by the few who knew their true names. We called them heroes. That’s what Black Friends are: heroes. America’s heroes.” – page 84
As a white person, I think two things I can do to reduce my ignorance around race and help other white people reduce theirs are 1) to intentionally pay attention to and discuss specifically racial topics and issues and intentionally become familiar with aspects of other cultures, and 2) to really listen to what people of color around me are saying, doing, and asking for. This book is an excellent way to explore both of those things without even having to talk to anyone about race, so it’s a good first step. Also, if you are reading this book in public, it may just spark an interesting conversation or two merely from somebody noticing you reading it. I’m really sad that I hadn’t heard about this book until a couple months ago. This book is wonderful and should really be talked about more often.
Baratunde Thurston is a comedian, writer, and cultural critic. He’s all over media including the Daily Show, the Onion, TED, and more. You will find out a lot about him if you read How to Be Black (as I recommend everyone do RIGHT NOW). You can also find out more about him here.