Tag Archives: black

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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Not a Music Journalist doesn’t do Award shows

But thanks to Twitter I can get real-time results on them and flip to see performers I like. But, seriously I don't watch award shows. I went started boycotting them in 1989. I've watched two all the way through since then, the Source Awards the year Suge Knight dissed Puffy (yeah he was Puffy back then) and last years BET Awards in hopes of a Michael Jackson tribute, which was awful and to see Maxwell after his long hiatus (he was last).  In fact I probably haven't been really excited about music award shows since MJ's Thriller days and Prince's Purple Rain days. What I found is that the people that I like never won and the shows were always too long and showed categories that I had absolutely NO interest in.  As for 1989, two egregious things happened that turned me off FOR GOOD!

I was watching the American Music Awards with my sister. The category was Favorite Male Vocalist Soul/R&B, the nominees were Michael Jackson, Bobby Brown and George Michael. George Michael won now granted this was his first solo joint it was hot but he was NOT R&B. My reaction and I'll never forget it, "a white boy who ain't even from here  won best R&B male. My mind was made up I was THROUGH with music award shows.  But this was a double whammy year.  The biggest whammy of all came from the Grammy Awards. 1989 was the first year that Hip-Hop was category at the Grammys, the category was a mash-up called Best Rap Performance. The nominees were all over the place, JJ Fad, LL Cool J, Salt-N-Pepa, Kool Moe Dee and DJ Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh.  Hip Hop had ARRIVED or so we thought, the revolution would NOT be televised. The award was not televised and Public Enemy, Jazzy Jeff and the Fresh Prince and more boycotted the Grammy's. I joined them. The music was too important, it was moving a nation of young folk, urban folk, black folk and white folk. I was appalled and I still am.
Seems not much has changed since then.  It's 2010 and as I watched the tweets roll by I didn't see ANYTHING about the hip-hop categories being televised. I then lucked up and saw one, best Rap/Sung collaboration (who comes up with these things?) Jay-Z won it and he was there to accept it, but Kanye wasn't.  The story as far as I'm concerned remains the same. The folks you want to win usually don't, people who have zero skills usually do and the categories that the fan really cares about are not televised.  That's the surface stuff. The beneath the surface stuff is that OUR music, music created by US, originated by US STILL after all these years and now gazillions of units sold and gazillions of $$ into the majors pockets and we still can't get air time.  
That's why I don't watch. I can take your word for what happened or read about it on the web later.

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