Archive for October, 2013

How To Be Black – A Review

October 18, 2013

“How To Be Black” is a satirical book by Baratunde Thurston, a comedian best known for his work at The Onion.

Well, actually, it’s about one-third satirical.  The book has three main strands – satire (example sections – How to be the Black Employee, How to be the Angry Negro), memoir, and ruminations on various black-related topics by groups of his friends (including the white Canadian author of “Stuff White People Like”),

The satire is very good, and I wish there were more of it (“Skiing, my sister?  Are you so obsessed with whiteness that you must frolic in it?”).  The memoir is O.K.  Baratunde has led an interesting and varied life (father killed in drug deal gone bad, lily-white private school in the week, Afrocentric youth group on weekends, Harvard, strategy consulting, and comedy), but one which lacks the access to important events you might find from a Barack Obama or a Spike Lee.  He is also a little guarded.  For example, as a teenager he was completely opposed to the military (and kind of obnoxious about it), but he implies that his consulting work included Defense Dept. business.  It would have been interesting to learn about his maturing (or selling out, from his original point of view).  And what is it like to write for The Onion?

As for the ruminations, these are generally skippable.  The friends are nice enough, but don’t generally come up with much more interesting than “If a black person does it, then it’s a thing that black people do”.  Maybe this is the “No False Scotsman” argument?  One of his friends is a (the?) black woman libertarian, who explains that she just loves liberty (as opposed to the rest of us Stalinists?)  We shouldn’t expect somebody to give a probing interrogation of his friends, but some questions could have been useful, such as “Is government action useful to remedy past injustices?”  “Should businesses have the freedom to racially and sexually discriminate?” and “Did you vote for Obama, or should we just tear up your black person card now?”

So should you buy this book?  The answer is yes, because black writers could use the sales (and, as the author notes, it will count as one point towards your Black History Month obligations).

Will you enjoy this book?  I suspect the answer depends on how close you are in background and outlook to Baratunde.  Are you black?  Do you like The Onion?  Are you proficient in Excel?  Do you remember Lynx and Pine?  The intersection of these sets is much smaller than it should be, but to delver deeper into that would take us into Angry Negro territory, and Baratunde has already done that, in a pitch-perfect satire suitable for all races.