The book takes a humorous, satirical approach to the topic of race, and the many roles that black people take on, and how best to perform those roles. For example, you’ll find chapters on: How To Be The Black Friend, How To Speak For All Black People, and How To Be The Black Employee.
Baratunde also comprised a panel of seven writers, comedians, and artists, called, The Black Panel,in an effort to hear from other voices on the subject of race, and being black in this supposed post-racial era. (While six of the panelists are black, one of the panelists is actually a white Canadian guy, and the author of the book, Stuff White People Like)
Interwoven with the How-To Chapters is Baratunde’s personal story of growing up in Washington D.C. with an inspiring, single Pan-African mother who he describes as a tofu-eating hippie who introduced him to pro-black activism, camping, and swimming–things he hadn’t thought of as not being typical of what black people supposedly did.
Growing up in a neighborhood becoming increasingly unsafe due to the growing drug scene in the 80’s, Baratunde’s mother kept him busy with activities, and ended up sending him to the exclusive Sidwell Friends prep school. From there, Baratunde went on to Harvard University. It seems the grounding in African and pro-black culture, juxtaposed with being a minority in the mostly white prep school, helped Baratunde to shape his own strong personal identity as someone both comfortable with his blackness, as well as with the nuances it takes to be black in a privileged white majority.
The use of humor to broach the subject of what it means to live as a black person in today’s world works well, allowing me to laugh and not feel too guilty for recognizing all the faux pas I’ve made as a white person–you know, like looking for my black friend to be the spokesperson for all black people, or asking a black friend if making a certain comment is racist. While I laughed through much of the book, if one truly considers the revelations we are allowed to see through Baratunde’s storytelling, it’s clear that there are important messages to be heard.
Spoiler Alert: I have to say the only disappointment in the book, and I really can’t be too upset, because he tells us right on the first page, is that you will not be able to change your race and turn black simply by reading the book. Oh, well, at least I can feel cool that I have an inside look on what it takes to be black, and still retain all the perks of white privilege.
Thanks, Baratunde, for this wonderful, funny, personal and brave book.