Tag Archives: african-american writers

Not a Literary Critic Learns “How to Be Black” yeah, that’s #howtobeblack by Baratunde Thurston

Leave it up to an untimely illness I missed the opportunity to see the author live, but said illness did allow me time to finish reading the book.

It was through social media, i.e Twitter that I learned of the author.  Twitter opened me up to his work on Jack and Jill Politics, The Onion, Netroots Nation and appearances on networks like MSNBC.  He’s known for his comedic chops and is (in my opinion) a political activist technologist, who analyzes and then communicates, the political, the technological and the racial in a comedic and palpable way.  Needless to say that I was pleased as punch regarding the release of How to Be Black, and even more pleased after reading it.

How to Be Black is a memoir/manual  about Thurston’s black experience in America and and that of his selected panelists, including a white Canadian.  The story is told as sort of a comedic instructional manual on blackness that left me laughing out loud as well as shaking my head in agreement with some of his examples. The “manual” portion of the book including how to be the black friend (maintaining your cultural connection and serving as intelligence for your home base, while educating white folks), the black employee (doing the job you were hired for, while making the company, diverse, non-racist and cool) and in this particular season, the next black president (with an extensive list of duties).  These roles are all easily identifiable and their descriptions are both humorous and sad because they all delve in to the navigational issues encountered while being black in America.

Interspersed through the manual are not only Thurston’s experiences but those of his panel. Of particular interest to this reader was the question of when Thurston and each of the panelists realized they were black.  In some instances, blackness or the knowledge of one’s blackness was based on the blackness they lived in and were surrounded by versus the blackness that was used divisively, as in the case of Cheryl Contee who described herself as beige (based on the proximity of her physical color to it) when a white nursery school mate informed her that she indeed was black. Contee was introduced early to “othering”.

I found How to Be Black not just entertaining but found it to be first: a model for educating in blackness which was best exemplified by Thurston’s mother’s multi-pronged approach to his education, one that would get him to Harvard (via Sidwell Friends school), and one that would constantly envelope him positively in his blackness (via the Ankobia program, and a collective of his mother’s black and brown friends and;  secondly and most importantly that being black and experiencing blackness is not a singular thing.  There’s not one way to be black and not one way to do it.  Being black is being yourself and doing those things that are critical to your own experience, not something that is prescribed.

If you haven’t read How to Be Black yet, I suggest that you do.  You will be enlightened, entertained and will recognize some portion of the experience because it is part of your own.
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Review: Kindred by Octavia E. Butler

It’s June 9,
1976, Dana is celebrating her 26th birthday with her new husband
Kevin in their new home in Altadena CA. 
Two writers, Dana a black woman, Kevin a white man beginning to build a
life together, when that life is interrupted abruptly by a call to a time and
place that both had only known through the history books. Dana was called back
to her ancestors by one who is critical to her very birth, Rufus Weylin.


Rufus, the
son of Tom Weylin a slave owner in Maryland has called Dana to him. She arrives
and has no clue where she is.  She sees a
young boy drowning, pulls him from the water, resuscitates him and as thanks
ends up looking down the long barrel of a shotgun. The language she hears is
different, the dress is different, the time, she does not yet know is
different, not until Rufus calls her back again because he’s in trouble again. At
this second calling, after putting out a fire, she learns from Rufus (Rufe)
that she has landed in 1815 on his father’s plantation and that she is a
nigger.  She realizes too that as long as
he’s in trouble he’s going to call her. 
Thus begins her mission.  She must
keep him and the person with whom he father’s the child Hagar alive.  Over months in her time and decades in their
time, Dana returns repeatedly to Rufus learning the hard lessons of slave life,
the hard lessons of love and loss and the hard lessons of betrayal, and what
the desire to be free really looks like as well as its costs.


Kindred is
cunning.  Butler uses the fantasy/science
fiction element of time travel to address the legacy of slavery, racial
stereotype, gender roles and love relationships in one fell swoop.  How this novel escaped me for so long is a
wonder because Butler’s style, her language and the manner in which she
grapples with issues that we grapple with to this day is really breath
taking.  I highly recommend Kindred and
further reading and study of Octavia Butler’s work and person.


Rating 5 *****stars.


For more on
Octavia Butler a good place to start is her wiki and the links contained
in it. Butler was a vanguard someone we should all know more about.

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