The Onion’s Baratunde Thurston shares his 30-plus years of expertise in being black, with helpful essays like “How to Be the Black Friend,” “How to Speak for All Black People,” “How To Celebrate Black History Month,” and more, in this satirical guide to race issues—written for black people and those who love them. Audacious, cunning, and razor-sharp, How to Be Black exposes the mass-media’s insidiously racist, monochromatic portrayal of black culture’s richness and variety.
I expected to love this book. I saw it at the store, and a short gasp and a wild dive later it was in my hands, ready to be purchased. As a card carrying Black myself, I was absolutely ready to laugh, nod excitedly as I exclaimed “yaaaasss”, and possibly even cry at all the appropriate moments. I was not let down.
“My name is Baratunde Thurston, and I’ve been black for over thirty years.”
The first few chapters of this book were absolutely hilarious. Every few sentences I would look over at my sister and say, “I have to read this to you.” I ended up reading her most of the first few chapters. While Thurston does have a panel to help him fully explore the topics he discusses, his wit and intelligence place him securely as the star of this book.
His goals for this book were, in my opinion, threefold: 1) To both celebrate and discuss Blackness, particularly in the US, 2) to outline his personal experiences as a Black man, and 3) to make people laugh. In all three areas, he was successful.
Overall, this was a refreshing read. It was engaging (for the most part), witty, funny, and incredibly well informed. In addition to that, it official broke my reader’s block. I laughed, yaaaaasssed, and man did I nod. I loved this book, and I really felt that in all it’s Blackness, it loved me back.
There’s nothing about this book I would necessarily call ‘bad.’ That said, the book lags. Through the middle and leading up to the end, it feels less funny and less engaging than in the beginning. While it remains funny and engaging, the book places itself on a steady decline in both of these areas until the last chapter. That is not to say each chapter was notably worse than the last, rather, the satire didn’t hold up as long as one might have hoped.
There was nothing about this book that I hated. This is my first review on this blog, so many of you probably don’t know that this is quite rare for me. I’m a hateful shit.
Rating and Recommendations
Overall, I would rate this 4 out of 5 stars. Though me and this book have a pretty special relationship, it lagged long enough for me to feel obligated to knock out a star.
I would recommend this book to white Americans in particular. I would also recommend this book to anyone looking to engage with race in a way that is slightly easier than reading Malcolm X’s complete works. This is a tip your toe in kind of book that sort of holds your hand with its own self awareness. I see many people really appreciating that.
Have you read this book? Are you adding it to your TBR shelf? Let’s discuss it in the comment below!