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TatianaBoshenka

TatianaBoshenka

How to Be Black - Baratunde R. Thurston How can this book deserve the coveted 5 star award, you say? Simply this: it made me laugh a whole lot, it's hopeful and wonderfully good-natured, and it inspired me with the energizing realization that the world is changing right this very moment in crazy, unforseen, wonderful ways that mean we all are stretching and changing the definitions of Blackness, Whiteness, Femaleness, Chineseness, Fatness, or whatever else we are -- to whomever we honestly are and whomever we intend to become! I just got this wild heady sense of freedom and endless possibilities even while I was tearful with anguish and joy over the past and future of Blackness in America.

I should quote at least one thing that made me laugh out loud. (Note that these quotes are often internal quotes from The Black Panel, seven of Baratunde's friends and colleagues whom he feels "do blackness well.") From the chapter The Future of Blackness: "Then when you turn a certain age, you get to have a ceremony or something, and then you're black! And then no one else could ever take that away from you, no matter what you do. No matter if you go and work for Booz, Allen & Hamilton. Doesn't matter."

Also one thing that brought tears to my eyes. "Our early existence in America exposed the nation's shortcomings from the start, and thanks to our struggle, America has become more of what she has the potential to be. As Derrick put it, black people in America 'have literally been the physical embodiment, the manifestation of the ideals that the Founding Fathers said they believed in, thought they believed in. But they didn't exist until us. That's something to be proud of.'"

The idea of the outsourced struggle is brilliant. "I've done workshops where I have literally taken all the people of color out and left the white people and said, 'Your job is to end racism, and I'll be back in twenty minutes. You set it up. Take it down.'"

And even better is the idea of the collaborative struggle. "I think that all people who are fighting for oppressed people should only be allowed to work for the group that's one over from them. Black people should only be allowed to work for the Mexican immigrants' struggle in America. Mexican immigrants should only be allowed to work for gay marriage. Gay marriage should only be allowed to work for black people. I feel like if we all just stepped one group over, I think we would get things done a lot quicker."

I felt a little sad and neglected about this time, toward the end of the book, because never once did he mention the W word: Women. Finally at the very end, in the Afterword at the bottom of page 246 (in the hardback edition), Jaquetta Szathmari just slips it into her final quote. So yes, he does just barely acknowledge the majority-minority that is the whole female part of humanity. But even if he doesn't feel it, it's still true. So much of the book rang very true to me as a female. I kept shouting "Yes! Yes! Yes!" while reading, disquieting my son and cats, already a bit unsettled from the maniacal laughter. Also, from Jaquetta herself, "But people of all persuasions, ethnicities, political backgrounds have come up to me and said, 'Thanks for telling my story.' So I think there's a lot more people who feel like outsiders than I had originally thought." So the real story, to me, is this, is how collectively we are in the process of ridding ourselves of all that outmoded, wrong-headed stereotypical thinking and just redefining and being who we individually are, so that nobody is an outsider anymore and we're all in.

In the acknowledgements -- and this is one of those books that make you want to read every word including the book flaps -- the very last line is a blank underline with "your name on this line" in parentheses underneath. I have a strong urge to claim it as my own, this book. I want to write my name in bold black letters on that line. And for that, Baratunde, I have to thank you.