And it is.
Note: I have always said that I would tell you if I got a product or service for free either through other methods or specifically for review here. I did get an e-copy and later a physical book for being on the street team. Just so you know: I am likely to be more strict on a product I receive this way. And I still loved this book. So take that as you will.
How To Be Black is the brain child of Baratunde Thurston, you can find his other information here. One of the first stories he will tell you in HtBB is how he got his name, what it means in general and what it means to him. Baratunde is a master story teller whether it is as an editor at The Onion, getting political at Jack and Jill, or his various media appearances (including multiple appearances on Blacking It Up - shout out!). I only needed to listen to his voice and his manner of storytelling to know I would sit there as long as he kept talking.
The title is joking in one way - reading it cannot make you black; but it seems to me that in another it is very serious - it does delve into how Baratunde has approached his blackness through the years, how he was taught what it meant by family members and through educational institutions. My crippled white lady ass was just as pale when I finished as when I started; but I felt my empathy stretch and grow with ease during humorous tales, and with heartache through the more touching ones.
I have told you that this fibro/lupus cocktail with trimmings leaves me bereft of higher cognitive function at times. Lately I have bounced from flare to flare to finally settling into the one currently fucking with me. But right now I have a rare mid-flare cognitive window that I am going to take advantage of to write this and hopefully several other pieces to tide us through at least some of the duration.
I am (now, post the suck onset of my illnesses) usually only able to read sort pieces without some sort of mimetic hook - another part of the mind to hang the process on in my head. Practically this means my best reading is done when I have some other memory of the subject or author. I could read a Halo or Mass Effect novel, but not a Gears of War book. I can read Rachel Maddow or Melissa Harris-Perry, but not Piers Morgan (Dom Lemon, maybe). I spent some time on the web, specifically YouTube, to become familiar enough to be able to retain this work.
Even though I live far away from NYC, I was familiar with Baratunde Thurston. I first found him doing YouTube video hopping looking for humor about race in America (if you care about race in America, sometimes you need humor to keep you from the abyss of despair). My enjoyment and respect deepened when he was on my favorite podcast, Blacking It Up. He is suave and erudite, but able to make connections with people that are neither - a skill most do not bother to learn, not even most entertainers.
So I had high expectations for HtBB, and not a single one of them was disappointed. I was, of course, entertained. I was, at times, surprised at the personal depths he was able and willing to plumb with and for us. His stories were engaging enough to be a gripping tale. But he did not settle for just tales from his own life, he also gives us his Black Panel, which he consults throughout the tome. The panel includes the following:
- Cheryl Contee, the Jill to his Jack of Jack and Jill Politics.
- damali ayo, the satirical genius behind Rent-A-Negro, among many other of her projects.
- Jacquetta Szathmari, another comedy mastermind and New Yorker.
- Elon James White, again a comedian, again in New York, but singular in the wit and the people he brings to his brand of social justice through a much needed comedy lens.
- W. Kamau Bell, a comedian for which I have a Google alert. If The W. Kamau Bell Curve: Ending Racism in About an Hour comes to my town I am going come hell or high water.
- Derrick Ashong, a musician (see Soulfege) and transplant from Qatar to New Jersey.
- Christian Lander, the comedy wellspring from which sprang Stuff White People Like and the only white person on the panel. You will have to read the book to find out why and how that works!
The book does not need a panel for filler, which is good because he uses the panel for content, and it is a rare treat to see several different opinions about some of the tender topics raised in the book.
I have been looking for that perfect pull quote, but no single one would really do justice to the whole thing. The book is poignant, real, funny and also just a damn good read. The overall tone is conversational and accessible.
Reading How to Be Black did not make me black, but I think I am a better person for it. I reached out to understand someone else's story, and he trusted all of us with it. I recommend buying maybe even two copies of this book, because you will probably have a friend you will rec it to before you are done.
Wait! I found a good quote!
"If you don't buy this book, you're a racist." - Baratunde Thurston
I wonder if my neighbors will judge me if I get the #HtBB hoodie...
Edit: 11:40am 4/6/12 Grammar
Edit: 11:40am 4/6/12 Grammar