“Say it Loud, ‘I’m Black and I’m Proud.'”
How to be Black
By: Baratunde Thurston
I was enamored with this book for a couple of days, but now that a few weeks have passed between my finishing the book and my writing this review, I have all but forgotten what was in between the pages. I became aware of How to be Black several years ago when one of my former English teacher posted a picture of her 14 month old daughter mock reading it on Facebook. I didn’t do much research, I figured if it was on her shelf I’d give it a read. I finally ordered the book last year because I saw a good deal for it on thirftbooks (I really recommend this site to people who like to read physical books) but I didn’t read it until this summer because I had the book shipped to my house rather than to school. I must say, the book cover makes quite an impression; the all black cover is not something one sees very often in a world full of flashy, bright book jackets. After reading the opening passages of How to be Black, I held out hope that the book could be added to my favorites list. I enjoyed Thurston’s wit and honesty, and braced myself for a beautiful racial satire. How to be Black, however, under-performed for me.
The writing style was a bit simplistic and some of the jokes seemed forced. Every now in then I read a joke that made me laugh out loud, but I don’t remember any of the punchlines anymore. Having read both Between the World and Me and Negroland, I found How to be Black to an excellent middle-man sort of book. Between the World and Me is deeply personal, emotive, and poignant while Negroland is stilted and icy. I deeply enjoyed both books, but for very different reasons. Between the World and Me tells the story of poverty and overcoming obstacles; Negroland tells the story of privilege. How to be Black illustrates the efforts of a Black mother to educate her son in Black culture while making sure he is educated by and interacts with White people. It’s sarcastic and light-hearted, and though there are excellent lessons woven throughout the narrative, the book as a whole shouldn’t be taken too seriously.
For those who are curious, yes, How to be Black does give step-by-step instructions on how to be Black. Thurston gives a to-do list for both Black and non-Black people, and even plays out a few hypothetical situations one might encounter in their quest for blackness. Obviously, all of his advice is tongue-in-cheek and some of it is based on stereotypes. Nonetheless, I believe Thurston handled the topic pretty well. I’m giving the book three stars because the book is good, but utterly forgettable. I’m not upset I read it, but I probably wouldn’t read it again. If you’re interested in ordering the book from Amazon, click the photo of the cover embedded above. Clicking through the thriftbooks link will take you to the website, where you can search for How to be Black.
Thurston, by the way, is an established comedian. He writes for The Onion, is “Jack” on Jack & Jill Politics, and has a solid stand-up career. I hadn’t heard any of his comedy before reading How to be Black, but I found the below video on YouTube and decided to share it. I’d say his stand-up comedy is pretty on par with his writing. Enjoy!