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Being Black: The Formula to Blackness

Being Black: The Formula to Blackness

The book How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston is a persuasive book based on the thoughts and ideas the author and a panel (consisting of seven of his colleagues) have had pertaining to black ethics. In certain chapters he asks questions and gives his panel – of different races – the opportunity to answer with their personal experiences. In this book he titles the chapters to describe the essence of each chapter, such as “When Did You First Realize You Were Black?”, “Mama Thurston” and “How Black Are You?”   With these chapters, Baratunde expresses his definition of blackness or how black people should act in various situations for both black and white people. The general purpose of the book is to inform the reader “about the ideas of blackness, how those ideas are changing, and how they differ from the popular ideas promoted in mainstream media and often in the black community itself.” This is best shown in one of the most effective chapters, “How To Be The Black Friend”, which is a description of his own guidelines of the correct way for each race to interact with the other. Conversely, the least effective chapter was “How To Speak For All Black People” because this chapter contradicts his thesis and he asserts  that black people do not speak well.

One of the most effective chapters “How To Be The Black Friend” is about the “assets you must possess to serve as a good Black Friend,” towards non-black people. This chapter fits in with the thesis because although the mainstream media puts the black community in a certain category, the author explains how to be set apart from that category and connect to other races without the stereotype. Here Thurston is trying to emphasize that even though it is important to have relationships with people who are not black, it is also important not to “overdo it by trying to be too black,” but at the same time if you aren’t “black enough” your role of being the black friend wouldn’t be effective, meaning people would not respect you as someone trying to reach out to other races but instead view you as a sell out and not being content with who you are.

This chapter is effective because it teachers the reader (if they are black) that as a good black friend you must have certain qualities, such as, cultural authenticity; the ability to have “knowledge of black culture”, physical authenticity; being able to do “black things [like] rapping, dancing, grilling or frying meats, and running or other stereotypically black sports.” You must have a sense of humor he says, “for example if you’re getting in the car with them and you end up being directed to the backseat, you can yell, ‘Why do I have to seat in the back? Is it because I’m black?!’ They’ll be nervous for a moment, but then you’ll laugh, and they’ll laugh, [. . . ].” You need to have patience, because being the black friend will not be easy. A lot of questions will be asked relating to the question “Is this racist?” Most importantly, you must have access to other races because you can’t be a “good Black Friend if you don’t have access to non-black, and especially white, people”. This is from the perception of a black person who wants to portray a positive image for all black people.

The least effective chapter “How To Speak For All Black People” is about black ethics and what a black person should say and do to represent all black people if they are ever placed in a forum to speak in front of a large group of people. This chapter does not fit in with the thesis because Thurston gives a guide on how to dodge the question at hand and include black history facts to derive from the original question. He uses this method as an alternative for not being intelligent or having an answer for what is really being asked. One of the things that makes this chapter least effective is Baratunde’s juvenile tactics to gain the audience’s attention. For example, he says, “Have Slogans. Make sure they rhyme. [. . . ]. Never underestimate the media’s hunger for a rhyming negro.” He asserts that slogans and rhyming are the essence of a speech rather than the actual content; he feels that slogans are amusing and catchy. Another point that weakens this chapter is sexism; Thurston expresses that women aren’t taken seriously in the media so instead of them representing themselves on the news, debates, etc, they should “focus on identifying an appropriate black male to represent you [them] to the media.” The last area that makes this chapter least effective is his idea of “the black resume.” He feels that in order to have a great “television appearance” you must be “deeply in touch with the black experience.” For example, when being introduced as a black person, your accomplishments should only express your attributes to the black community, like trying to raise awareness against gang violence or advocating for welfare. This contradicts his thesis because one of the main views of black people is that they use their being oppression as a reason for why they are not successful and this chapter teaches how to make ignorance sound like intelligence.

In conclusion, this book was a success in vividly describing and giving examples of black experiences and the road to becoming a better black person. The book benefits people who want to learn more about black ethics. The chapter entitled “How To Be The Black Friend”  is typical of the whole book because it tells black people how to present themselves to non-blacks and certain qualities they should possess in order to make the most positive impression to represent themselves and the whole black community at large. “How To Speak For All Black People” in contrast is not typical of the book because it gives black people an alternative; instead becoming a better black person this chapter teaches black people how to fake their way to the top.

written by La’Risa Black 2013 Clark Atlanta University


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