In early March, I was wandering around the Radford University bookstore when I saw a title that really grabbed my attention. The book had a black cover with big, white letters that read How to Be Black. It’s not like I was shopping around for a new ethnicity to try on, but a title like that has to make you wonder what it’s all about.
Naturally, I bought the book on my Kindle, because the hardcover is a little pricey when you’re on a college student’s budget. Normally I don’t pay for anything more than $9, but this time I made an exception and I have to admit, this read was worth the price of a new Kindle book.
If you were wondering, the book came out in February in honor of Black History Month, and it even tells you so in the very beginning. The book’s author, Baratunde Thurston, is very realistic about how people feel the need to do something for Black History Month, so in this book he offers some suggestions.
It’s part guidebook, part life story and part panel discussion of some serious issues surrounding black people. Somehow it also manages to be shamelessly funny, but serious.
Thurston touches on subjects like how to be the “black employee,” the “black friend” and the “angry negro.” He stresses the importance of acting as a spokesperson for “blackness” by checking the way you act and speak around your white friends. Meanwhile, he explains to his white readers that no, it’s never OK to reach out and feel your black friend’s hair.
The panel serves to give multiple perspectives on issues surrounding the black community. Questions range from when they first realized they were black, to whether or not they can swim. To be fair, there is one white person on the panel. Author of Stuff White People Like, Christian Lander, was included as the white perspective, which was just as insightful as the rest of the panel.
A big part of the book are the bits about Thurston’s life. He was raised by his single mother, who made sure that he had the best education possible while still making sure he kept his ties to his people. A very interesting part of the book is when he describes his time at Harvard. He spent most of his education in schools that were overwhelmingly white, and he uses that as a way to discuss the issue of “not being black enough.”
How to Be Black isn’t just for black people or white people. This book is for everyone. No matter who you are, you can learn something from Thurston’s stories and the stories of his panel. Really, you could replace the word black with whatever you are and it will probably still make sense (unless you actually live under a rock, then you might not understand this book at all). Even so, it’s a rare find as far as books go. I’ve never been so challenged and amused all at once.