Book Review: How To Be Black

After reading The Hunger Games in March I got on a large reading kick, so i think I’m going to post a few book reviews in the upcoming days about the books I’ve read recently.

First up, “How To Be Black” by Baratunde Thurston. I decided to read the book after I watched this talk he gave at the Skillshare Penny Conference in April. (watch it!)

Until a few weeks ago Thurston was the director of digital at The Onion, and there definitely a lot of satire to this piece. Obviously no one can actually tell you how to be black but throughout this book you see that is exactally what all people, black/white/other,  do to black people constantly in our society. Thurston himself actually comes from a really interesting background; he grew up in a bad area of DC and his father was murdered when he was young. During middle school his mother decided to move to a nicer area and sent him to the same private school Chelsea Clinton and the Obama girls both attend(ed). His mother also gave him a Nigerian name (he is not Nigerian) and made him go to African Culture classes on the weekends. Finally, he went to Harvard, worked for The Crimson (the collegiate paper at Harvard) and eventually became the director of digital at The Onion and helped start the Jack & Jill Politics blog. He beholds a really nice mix of several different stereotypical qualities  you might attribute to what black people are like (whatever that means).

In the book Thurston also interviews other prominent comedians, authors, and political activists who are black and tend to discuss their race in writings/speaking. While I greatly enjoyed Thurstons personal stories in the book, the anecdotes from other people did nothing for me. Perhaps it’s because I didn’t know who they were so they all kind of jumbled into one or two people for me.  (It’s on my to-do list to look of their work, especially the stand up comedians he interviewed.) Near the end of the book the content focuses a lot more on the people he’s interviewed and less on him, and I guess I just really wanted to read about him most of the time.

This book is funny and honest, a quick read, and for most of the book it is very entertaining. I would definitely recommend it to anyone interested. I still struggle with the issues of race and what it means for me, a white middle class girl in this country- I have no answers for you now. But I enjoyed reading about Baratunde’s experiences, and I appreciate him sharing them with us.


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