Stephen Matlock's Reviews > How to Be Black

How to Be Black by Baratunde R. Thurston
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Aug 10, 12

Read from August 03 to 10, 2012

OK, so I didn't know what to expect from the book, but I have been following this guy on Twitter for a while. I didn't know also that he was the "Jack Turner" behind the "Jack & Jill Politics" blog that I followed. (I don't pay attention to all that much, I guess.)

But this guy's name kept popping up on my Twitter feeds--another guy I follow kept posting about him and recommending him, and then his book kept appearing as well, so I picked it up.

First off, the book cover is fairly aggressive. It makes it difficult to read in public, because some random white guy sitting on a bus reading a book with six-inch-high bold letters announcing the title "HOW TO BE BLACK" can be a little weird. There are more than a few black Americans who ride the bus with me, and there was no scenario I could work out where I could explain what it was I was doing reading that book. So in an act of brilliant reasoning but perhaps moral cowardice I simply removed the dust jacket and read the book so as not to expose the spine too often.

The book itself is charming and funny and raucous and sincere. It is humorous to the point where you laugh out loud and then people on the bus want to know what you're reading (which then means you have to tell them "Well, there's this book I'm reading for research on what this all _means_, but you know, I'm not actually reading it seriously, but I'm also not reading it because I am making fun of anybody, and besides, I'm really a nice guy..." Well, you can see why it can be a difficult book to read in public.

It it also serious and sometimes poignant. Mr. Thurston had an amazing mother and life experience. There are so many moments when you are happy for the ways things work out for him--rather ordinary things, really, like planning for a college or figuring out a career--that take unavoidable importance due to the nature of being someone a lot of people just don't expect to have around. It doesn't seem to be something he avoids or something he uses as a badge: it just is, and he deals with it as it is.

And, there are the wonderful stories and recommendations. For those of you expecting a true guidebook with bullet points, lists, and exit criteria on How to Be Black, he provides them. For the Black Friends Auxiliary, he also gives helpful points. It is funny, it makes you laugh, and then you have to check yourself: Do I act like around my One Black Friend?

What a mess we've made in America of race and people and color and skin. It has caused a lot of grief and pain and heartache. But we can still look at directly, think about it, talk about it--and sometimes laugh at the absurdity, even the absurdity of owning a book you're not comfortable reading in public on a bus.
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message 1: by Meldon (new) - added it

Meldon As a Black author, I find these comments very encouraging.

Stephen Matlock Meldon wrote: "As a Black author, I find these comments very encouraging."

Thanks. It was a good book. I had been following Baratunde for a while so it felt like it was him just talking to me, and it had some good things to say to people like me.

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