Tag Archives: baratunde thurston how to be black book

Is Being Self-Defeating A White Girl Problem?

19 Nov

As if any trait can be attributed to a single race, and not allowed for another.

I blew it.  I was at the tail-end of my weekend trip to NYC with my daughter Leni and her friend Grete.  We were there to celebrate Leni’s 13th birthday.  Never mind I had no business even going to the city since I am flat broke, and here is the shopping spreadsheet Grete studiously drafted, so you can see I was in big trouble before we even hit their starting point:  Fifth Avenue.


Yes I had fun being a fly on the wall while the girls ooohed and ahhhed their way through window shopping at Chanel, FAO Schwartz, and TopShop.  More fun for me of course was gorging myself on NYC eats–this time with the focus on sugar.  Violet macarons from Laduree, Jacques Torres chocolates, and the Bea Arthur specialty cone (vanilla soft-serve, dulce de leche, and ‘nilla wafer crumbs) at Big Gay Ice Cream.  These girls know how to live.  I just followed their lead.

We had just finished our last sweet run Sunday morning, a glazed apple cinnamon doughnut and delectable chai tea from The Doughnut Plant, and headed three blocks west to the High-Line, the westside NYC park created atop old train rail tracks. From there we were to catch the train back home to Providence from Grand Central.

As soon as we reached the top of the stairs to begin our walk through the narrow park, lo and behold, who do I see walking in our direction– […]

Buyer Beware: Reading Baratunde Thurston’s Book How To Be Black Will Not Magically Turn You Black

26 Mar

I just finished reading Baratunde Thurston’s new book, How To Be Black.  Baratunde is a comedian,  director of digital for The Onion, and as he says, has over thirty years of experience being black.

The book takes a humorous, satirical approach to the topic of race, and the many roles that black people take on, and how best to perform those roles.  For example, you’ll find chapters on:  How To Be The Black Friend, How To Speak For All Black People, and How To Be The Black Employee.


Baratunde also comprised a panel of seven writers, comedians, and artists, called, The Black Panel,in an effort to hear from other voices on the subject of race, and being black  in this supposed  post-racial era.  (While six of the panelists are black, one of the panelists is actually a white Canadian guy, and the author of the book, Stuff White People Like)

Interwoven with the How-To Chapters is Baratunde’s personal story of growing up in Washington D.C. with an inspiring, single Pan-African mother who  he describes as a tofu-eating hippie who introduced him to pro-black activism, camping, and swimming–things he hadn’t thought of as not being typical of what black people supposedly did.

Growing up in a neighborhood becoming increasingly unsafe due to the growing drug scene in the 80’s, Baratunde’s mother kept him busy with activities, and ended up sending him to  the exclusive Sidwell Friends prep school.  From there, Baratunde went on to Harvard University.  It seems the grounding in African and pro-black culture, juxtaposed with being a minority in the mostly white prep school, helped Baratunde to shape his own strong personal identity as someone both comfortable with his blackness, as well as with the nuances it takes to be black in a privileged white majority.

The use of humor to broach the subject of what it means to live as a black person in today’s world works well, allowing me to laugh and not feel too guilty for recognizing all the faux pas I’ve made as a white person–you know, like looking for my black friend to be the spokesperson for all black people, or asking a black friend if making a certain comment is racist.  While I laughed through much of the book, if one truly considers the revelations we are allowed to see through Baratunde’s storytelling, it’s clear that there are important messages to be heard.

Spoiler Alert:  I have to say the only disappointment in the book, and I really can’t be too upset, because he tells us right on the first page, is that you will not be able to change your race and turn black simply by reading the book.  Oh, well, at least I can feel cool that I have an inside look on what it takes to be black, and still retain all the perks of white privilege.

Thanks, Baratunde, for this wonderful, funny, personal and brave book.