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Not a Genuine Black Man: Or, How I Claimed My Piece of Ground in the Lily-White Suburbs

4.05  ·  Rating details ·  434 ratings  ·  88 reviews
Based on the longest-running one-man show in San Francisco history -- now coming to Off-Broadway -- a hilarious, poignant, and disarming memoir of growing up black in an all-white suburb In 1972, when Brian Copeland was eight, his family moved from Oakland to San Leandro, California, hoping for a better life. At the time, San Leandro was 99.4 percent white, known nationwid ...more
Hardcover, 272 pages
Published July 11th 2006 by Hachette Books (first published January 1st 2006)
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Average rating 4.05  · 
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Roderic Moore
Jul 27, 2011 rated it really liked it
This book has special relevance to me since my wife and I live in San Lorenzo adjacent to San Leandro and less than a mile from where most of the events in this book took place. My wife grew up in San Leandro and she actually hired Brian at a retail shop which she was managing when he was about 18 years old. So, this book was read by myself with a lesser degree of seperation than perhaps many of its readers. Having said that, this made the book all that more powerful, and literally and figurativ ...more
Reading this book was very engaging and a very quick read, it carries you along into Mr. Copeland's life and experiences. I loved the honestly, perspective and especially the humor. The initial outline of the back to back chapters alternates back to his childhood and then forward to his adult life was spot-on. I think it gave the entire book momentum and an unique perspective. Race, culture and prejudice has always been an interest of mine and this is one of my favorites, in short, an awesome re ...more
Jan 17, 2011 rated it really liked it
Like most good comedians, Copeland knows how to weave together comedy and tragedy. This results in a memoir that is both hilariously entertaining and also a painful window into post-civil rights era racism in the U.S.

On a totally random note, I appreciated that Copeland only mentioned in passing his divorce and never disparaged his first wife. Too many memoirs (especially "celebrity" memoirs) seem to be used as an excuse to throw friends/family/colleagues under the bus. Copeland never does this
Mar 10, 2009 rated it really liked it
Have you ever lived as the minority? Wheter its skin color, height or size? Brian Copeland faced this first hand when he and his family (african american) moved to San Leandro, a place that is 99.99% white.
Not a Genuine Black Man "My life as an outsider" takes us on trip throught th life of Brian Copeland and his kind of flip flopped family. Their struggles, hardships, and success stories while living in a town that rejeceted them.This book has constant themes of raciscm, retalliation, and ident
Feb 11, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Excellent depiction of life growing up as a black male in a white suburb in the 1980's. Brian Copeland adds humor and warmth to the frustrations (an understatement, yes) in growing up under covert and overt racial discrimination in various aspects of life--Catholic school, housing, walking down the street, boy scouts, interaction with law enforcement, and in making friends. The strength of this book is that it is real, not just a bunch of statistics and generalizations, so the reader can see the ...more
Jan 13, 2019 rated it really liked it
Brian Copeland wrote a memoir on his life experiences that highlight the racial slurs, bullied-fights, the touching of his hair (Brillo Pad, roughness emphasized) to changing it to a textured style for acceptance, and even facing social and emotional effects while living in Oakland and San Leandro. These two neighborhoods differed between the demographics, where Oakland has mainly Blacks and San Leandro was predominately Whites during the 60s and 70s (unsure how it is today). Once his family mov ...more
Bob Schmitz
Aug 04, 2015 rated it really liked it
My friend Gordon Imrie whose new wife lives in Hayward, CA was explaining the diversity and richness of the town and mentioned this book about one of it's long time residents. Brian Copeland, now a successful comedian, tells a horrible, sad story of racism toward a good family and remarkably decent boy in a painful, funny manner.

Copeland moved to San Leandro with his mother and grandmother in 1972 when he was 8. San Leandro, bordering Oakland on the North and Hayward to the South was 99.99% whi
Feb 28, 2008 rated it really liked it
This is one hell of a book. It should always be read as a companion piece to James Loewens "Sundown Towns". It is the micro, Brian Copeland's story of growing up as the only Black in a white Sundown Town, to Loewens macro study. It is nothing at all like what I expected. I thought I was going to get a comedy routine, (the author makes his living as a comedian) but instead got a tale of heartbreak, brutality, inhumanity, and racial bigotry only slightly leavened by humor. The book is sometimes ma ...more
Jun 26, 2008 rated it really liked it
I am not a fast reader but I ended up powering through this book in a couple of days. Brian Copeland has an important story to tell and he does it pretty well! It is heart wrenching to read what he had to deal with at such a young age but it is ultimately a tale of triumph. One of the reasons I have enjoyed life in Northern CA is the diversity and tolerance I perceived. He serves us well by educating us that bigotry and racism can and does happen anywhere and everywhere. Tying his story to his a ...more
Apr 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: cultural-studies
As I said in one of my status updates, everyone should read this book. He explores with humor, raw honesty, and genuine curiosity the racial prejudice he experienced growing up in San Leandro, and encounters today. It is a book that will really debunk some of the misconception about how liberal California is with respect to race, and will highlight how racism is as prevalent here as anywhere else in the country. Frankly, the history of deliberate racial segregation instituted and enforced by the ...more
Sep 03, 2014 rated it liked it
Shelves: 2014-summer
My sister, a UC Berkeley pre-law student, recommended this book to me after one of her courses led her to Copeland's play and a book signing where she met him and spoke with him of our father- his life, and the perspective we have as his daughters. A short conversation with Brian had her enthused and more deeply invested in her history, our fathers history, and the histories of other black families in her surroundings. She insisted I read the book, and once I picked it up I didn't put it down un ...more
Yumiko Christine
Apr 29, 2009 rated it really liked it
Both hilarious and poignant, as it is written by a comedian who has attempted suicide and addressed firsthand the tragic difficulties of being black in a white world.
Excellent book, highly recommended.

As a San Francisco bay area resident (but not for that long), it was also incredulous/interesting to read about this history of San Leandro of which I had no idea.
From Wikipedia,
San Leandro was an 86.4% white-non Hispanic community according to the 1970 census. And in 1960 census, San Leandro was
May 26, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: biography
Wow. This is quite a book. It had me laugh out loud and tear up as well. Brian Copeland's childhood and youth is unimaginable, and the way to adulthood is quite a rocky road. I was impressed by his relative neutral tone of voice, which allows for the reader to develop an own reaction to the content. The injustice endured, narrated matter-of-factually, just appears the more monstrous and arbitrary this way. The book got me thinking about fitting in and being an outsider and how this must be one o ...more
Dec 17, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: memoirs
I was very impressed by the depth of this book, especially considering it was written from a comedian and humor was present throughout, which kept it very entertaining and still got down deep inside of him. I've ready other first-person narratives about the suppression of blacks, and I've never identified with the author like I did with Brian Copeland. He gave personal, private examples of bigotry and racism in today's society -- a world that I actually grew up in and can relate to. His issues w ...more
Jul 19, 2008 rated it it was amazing
Very good book. Ever been called a coconut, twinkie, orep etc? This book is a really heartfelt and at many times totally gut wrenching exploration of what it really means to be a "genuine" black person, or mexican or chinese.... It made me sad at times because he really went through some tough stuff, but I totally recommend it. Cant wait till the book club meeting when I get to discuss it with all the white older women in the group ( I am the only non-white person in the group and the only one y ...more
Feb 24, 2009 rated it really liked it
Shelves: non-fiction
This is the book that all of Santa Clara County (Bay Area) is reading for 2009. There have been multiple events around this. Brian Copeland was my favorite on Channel 2 (KTVU) news back in the 90s. Who knew that he hated the job, was in pain, and even tried to commit suicide. This book is funny and at times heartbreaking. I had no idea that the Bay Area was so segregated in the 70s. It's an important read. It was particularly interesting to read right after I finished Barack Obama's Dreams From ...more
Aug 16, 2009 rated it really liked it
Brian pulls us into his life as the outside, hated punching-bag child and as a man who finally hits the wall via depression. I'm not quite sure how he is such a decent human being after such treatment--he certainly didn't learn it from his abusive, negligent father or the string of unbelievably cruel adults he encountered. What I did gain from Brian's book is that how individuals treat and interact with others is incredibly important. Thank goodness there were a few good and decent people in his ...more
Pamela H
Sep 06, 2007 rated it really liked it
This book is sad but very good. It is the real account of the life of Brian Copeland who grew up in a white suburb that was dedicated to keeping black folk living outside of its borders. He was put in the back of a police cruiser and taken home at the age of 8 as he was on the way to the park to play and it didn't get much better than that through his whole life.

He's a survivor, though and the book is both touching and insightful.
Sep 08, 2008 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction
It shocks me to hear about the racism that stills exists in my area of the world. Somehow I always think the worst of it passed before I was born and occurred in other parts of the U.S. This is a funny/sad/sometimes shocking andvery personal account of this man's experiences growing up black in a white and often racist community in the Bay Area and the damage done to him and how he found some healing. I was surprised to find out he still lives there! ...more
Jun 16, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Awesome. Funny and shocking - a little piece of local shame and victory. Highly convicting without descending into lecturing, Copeland lays out his childhood experience and lets the reader decide how to feel about them. He's funny enough that I found myself laughing, even as my brain yelled "Hey! That's not funny; it's horrible.", and his humor made the shockingly serious moments even more effective. ...more
Mar 31, 2012 rated it it was amazing
It was just amazing how Copeland tells his own story as a black guy that suffered all the prejudices since he was a kid. The book is a good source of knowledge of how the life was for black people in the 60's to 70's in a small town, San Leandro - San Francisco Bay Area. I strongly recommend this book because the way it was written, because of the presence of Copeland's humor all trough this book and also because the emotional moments of a true story that really touched me. ...more
Oct 05, 2009 rated it it was amazing
Its a story on racism in United States... the author's true story, based in the East Bay, California. Its a well written book with a lot of humor, at the same time it reaches your heart.

There are some stories of discrimination that a lot of people can relate to. Like the time BC talks about service at a restaurant .... "Is it just bad service or is it me." ...
Mar 15, 2020 rated it really liked it
Lots of feelings vying for uppermost spot in my brain after reading this book! For the first half of the book, I was going to give this a solid 3 stars, as I was pretty put off by all the profanity. (I was lucky enough to hear Copeland speak at my place of employment. I REALLY enjoyed his talk, and no profanity!) But as I continued, I was struck by how much pain is described in this book. There's a lot, and Copeland does a great job of describing what led up to his pain, how it affected his day- ...more
Jun 06, 2020 rated it it was amazing
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
Georgia Simmons
Nov 21, 2020 rated it really liked it
I’m rating this book 4 stars, but really I feel like it is very close to 5.
In the beginning I wasn’t feeling the book that much but I’m glad I finished it. I really appreciate how honest and vulnerable Brian is in sharing his experiences and for also including research on the history of structural racism in San Leandro. I think it is a very important read and opens up conversations around the history of racism/segregation in “liberal” California as well as the generational trauma and chronic st
Apr 18, 2018 rated it really liked it
Definitely worth reading, especially if you live in the Bay Area, as the author grew up in the then lily white San Leandro. His description of the racism thriving in a neighborhood just across the street from Oakland is horrifying. His struggle to survive and his ode to his mother and grandmother are well done and compelling.
Mar 02, 2021 rated it it was amazing
Brian Copeland's book had me weeping in despair, laughing out loud, and all the while bringing to life his incredible journey. He is admirable on every level. His tenacity in the face of so much adversity and hate is laudable. ...more
James G.
Jul 16, 2018 rated it it was amazing
I really enjoyed this book, and thought it was a winderful example of a thoughtful memoir about race, personhood written with humor and grace at a perfect pace.
Jul 23, 2019 rated it it was ok
The writing is perfectly serviceable, though without any distinguishing characteristics. It's like those MFA bores all are.
Jan 11, 2009 rated it really liked it
This review has been hidden because it contains spoilers. To view it, click here.
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