July 15, 2013
"America is not now post-racial, and America will likely not be post-racial anytime soon, and America will have a significant problem so long as she is interested in being post-racial as opposed to getting to the point where race is no longer a problem."
How to Be Black
By Baratunde Thurston
I first saw Baratunde Thurston speak at the same Skillshare event where I saw Eddie Huang. He was hilarious & friendly and had just released the above book a few months prior and shared some great anecdotes. (Even had the opportunity to meet him afterward & he was great!) I finally had the chance to read this last week. Let me just say, I put this book on hold at the library at the beginning of the year and my turn finally came at the beginning of this month. The Queens library system needs to order more because it's in high demand!
The back cover features a quote by an MSNBC analyst/writer for The Nation that describes How to Be Black as "part autobiography, part stand-up routine, part contemporary political analysis," and that's a pretty accurate description. Baratunde details his childhood, adolescence/growing up, his mother, his environment(s), education, his career(s), etc etc and evaluates how being black has shaped his life. Most of it is humorous (as evidenced by some chapters like "How to Be The Black Employee" and "How to Be The (Next) Black President"). At the same time, the underlying messages are profound and important to ponder. I loved hearing from Baratunde, but a favorite aspect of the book to me was his Black Panel, a group of his closest friends (including one white man) whose opinions and experiences he shares throughout to demonstrate the diversity of experiences black people have had in America. Very enlightening.
As "post-racial" (a term Baratunde hates) America believes itself to be given its progress, the term itself is ignorant and devoid of meaning. This is made clear on the daily, and coincidentally I have found the time to write this post two days after a jury's devastating verdict to find George Zimmerman not guilty of Trayvon Martin's murder in 2012. Blegh.
I'll excerpt the one passage I marked. (For the record, Baratunde says a lot of great things worth reblogging but they're more like entire chapters rather than passages i.e. just read the whole thing.) It comes from the chapter "How's That Post-Racial Thing Working Out For Ya?" and it's an answer to that question by Baratunde's friend (and Black Panel member) Derrick Ashong:
America is not now post-racial, and America will likely not be post-racial anytime soon, and America will have a significant problem so long as she is interested in being post-racial as opposed to getting to the point where race is no longer a problem.
People will always find ways to determine who is in and a part of us, and who's an outsider. And part of that is because ... I define me to some degree in the context of you. I'm not just me existing in the world. I am, in part, me because I'm not you. We are part we because we're not y'all.
So folks will always find ways to create differences. The question is how much do those differences matter?
There was a time in this country when it was a big deal if you were a Catholic. That was a problem. There was a time in this country when it was a big deal if you were a Jew. Problem. Right now in this country, it's a big deal if you're a Muslim. Problem. But you know, you go down the street, you go in to eat in a little place and you're a Catholic, a Jew, who cares? Everybody's marrying each other, making little brown babies that don't know whether to go to church on Friday, Saturday, Sunday, so they just be at the club.
So basically, it's one of these things where what was a problem causes to [be] as much of an issue. That is what is also happening with race, and it will continue to happen with race. Now you see a lot of beef right now because people who are used to, and whose worldview has been created in the crucible of how things once were in this country, they hearken to the good old days, which were not necessarily that great, even for them, frankly. But they hearken to those days, they yearn for those days of yore.
They forget that yes, fifty years later before the 1950s they were killing Irish people in New York. Their memory is limited. They forget that, yeah, you might persecute somebody for being Muslim here, but the Puritans who came out here back in the 1600s showed up to escape religious persecution.
So I know that societies and people tend to have a short historical memory, but that history happens anyway. We are moving and we will continue to move to a point where race will not be the primary issue that binds or divides us. We'll find something else, and we'll combat that, too.