Monday, March 11, 2013
Vermillion’s #CBR5 Review #02: How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston
Okay. My last review was...disappointing. I really liked that book, but in my efforts to not drown you in fanboy zeal, I instead gave a stilted, disjointed list of pros and cons with little to no real context. I failed to do what a review is supposed to do, which is get you ineterested in the book. And even if I did (somehow), and you were satisfied with the review, I wasn't. It wasn't good enough for that book or for CBR. So I am throwing all caution out the window. I am simply typing my thoughts on the books I read, with no editing outside of general spelling and grammar, as well as factual corrections. I am sorry you had to read that mess, and I hope this will fit better.
With that out of the way....
Hello, everyone, My name is Vermillion, and I am Black.
For some people, that is a real shock. For at least one person, I was apparently a cartoon mouse (Hi, Jeremy!). But yes, I am black. But I did not realize how black I was until I read this book, How To Be Black, by Baratunde Thurston.
Thurston may not be a name you recognize right off, but he is mainly known for having co-created of the political blog Jack and Jill Politics (he's Jack). If you, like I, have ever spent tike perusing The Daily Banter or, more likely, Deus Ex Malcontent, you make have seen the site in the blogroll.
Thurston is also Black. I know, shocking right?
Thurston saw that the world needed a trusty guidebook to the wonderful world of blackness. What we got was this.
Let's get something straight: How To Be Black is satirical in nature. It is not to be taken 100% seriously. While it is part memoir (thurston uses a lot of his life experiences to highlight certain chapters, including an extended bit in the middle of the book), this does not mean everything in it is to be taken literally. I say this due to him being a former writer for The Onion, and considering the (at this time) recent bullsh*t drama around that organization and the Oscars, I just want to make sure this was made clear.
The book starts off by thanking the reader for reading this book for Black History Month, which is appropriate because the initial release was in February (funnily enough, I did start reading it on the 28th, thereby getting the joke right under the wire), as well as butchering Shakespere and giving a full list of activites that both the black and non-black person alike can do to truly celebrate (read: barely and/or awkwardly acknowledge) the reason for the season, one would say.
Probably my favorite part of the book (I msut admit, mainly for selfish personal reasons) is the chapter "How To Be The Black Friend". Now, while a lot in this book hits home for me, in hilarious and painful ways, this chapter is probably the greatest treatemnt of the concept I have read. Instead of the default ridicule that many others would indulge in, Thurston instead takes a much more affectionate approach, treating the Black Friend as part racial ambassador, part spokesperson, and all around underappreciated yet essential role for black people to play in America. But don't think that this is the only possible role for black people to play. Thurston makes cases for all versions of black people in America: the Angry Black Man, the Black Employee, and even the Second Black President (actually much more important than the First, since it proves that it wasn't a fluke) all have their time to shine, and Thurston makes quite hilarious and honestly assessments of them.
But Thurston's isn't the only opinion we get on the matter: he convened "The Black Panel" aka some of his freinds and associates in the blogsphere and beyond, including Cheryl COntee (the Jill from Jack and Jill Politics) and, oddly fittingly enough, Christian Lander of Stuff White People Like fame (I'll get into why this is especially funny to me at the end), who gave his self-described ultra-white viewpoint.
Even though the book is good for a laugh, Thurston's does include some seriousness with it. He talks about his childhood, with a single mother living in D.C. durign the height of the crack epidemic. He talks about attending the same school as Chelsea Clinton and the Obama girls (not at the same time) and evetually going to Harvard, and the unique experiences his life had brough him. He talks about his mother with utter reverence, and she sounds like a pretty awesome person. On the less personal end, near the end of the book, he does outline some ideas from himself and The Black Panel about how to improve and develop the idea of blackness in America for the next generation to come. There are some very good ideas, and I kind of wished I heard a bit more elaboration on them, but it was a short book (barely 250 pages paperback). Besides he had to leave room for his plan for reinsituting white slavery I mean, his plan for better racial relations. Yeah.
All in all, a very enjoyable book, and while the title and the tagline ("If You Don't Buy This Book, You're a Racist") may seem alienating to some, it is full of heart, really good natured, and truly intended for people of all creeds and colors to read. So, please, go find this book and read it cover to cover. Unless you're white. The stop reading at the last chapter. Nothing important for you there. Certainly nothing about your eventually downfall to your new Nubian overlords. Nope, nothing.
As for me, I am going to ahve to buy another copy. I have a nice white friend in Colorado who gave me the Stuff White People Like book as a gift before his departure to that monochromatic land, and now I have something to repay him with. See? I told you I would clarify the Lander line.
Also, you can find Thurston on Twitter as @baratunde, and the book's hastag is #HowToBeBlack.