How To Be Black Book Summary By Baratunde Thurston

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How To Be Black (2012) is an autobiography written by Baratunde Thurston, exploring the unique experiences of being a black person in what is often predominantly white milieus.

If you've ever wanted to gain perspective on how it feels to come from both cultures simultaneously, then this is the book for you.

It looks at these subjects with humor and empathy as it focuses heavily on his personal experiences.

As someone who attended private schools and Harvard University, Thurston has certainly gone through some experiences that many readers will be able to relate to, regardless of their racial identity.

He utilizes this platform to discuss navigating spaces where he's viewed differently and chosen differently, while also tackling concepts such as white privilege and systemic racism head-on.

This book description truly doesn't do it justice; make sure to check out How To Be Black so that you too can gain valuable insight into the everyday battles Thurston had to fight growing up an African American in America.

How To Be Black Book

Book Name: How To Be Black (Over thirty years of experience in being black)

Author(s): Baratunde Thurston

Rating: 3.6/5

Reading Time: 16 Minutes

Categories: Book Summaries

Author Bio

If you're looking for an enlightening and funny book on the experience of being black in the US, then you should check out Baratunde Thurston's "How To Be Black".

Baratunde has a wealth of knowledge and expertise at his disposal, as he's a Harvard University graduate, communication expert and popular public speaker.

He was even formerly a writer for The Onion as well!

His online presence is expansive, as he blogs for Cultivated Wit and can be followed on Twitter: @baratunde for regular witty content.

No matter what platform you follow him on, one thing remains true - Baratunde Thurston offers an insightful perspective on African American identity in the US that is simultaneously informative, entertaining and thought-provoking.

Exploring Tokenism And Black Identity In America: Baratunde Thurston’s Story

Baratunde Thurston's

Reading How To Be Black by Baratunde Thurston is an eye-opening experience that will help you gain a new perspective on what it means to be black in America.

Through his own life experiences and those of others, he paints an honest picture of how black people are treated, judged and stereotyped.

You’ll understand the importance of maintaining contact with the black community, have insight into why a black student union makes more sense than a white one, and learn why being African-American isn’t “black enough” for some people.

It’s also eye-opening to learn about the internal problems caused when a black man’s colleague can be his worst enemy.

Ultimately, reading How To Be Black forces us all to examine our own prejudices and ideas about race and to realize there is much more complexity behind being black in America than we ever thought before.

The Unexpected Challenges Of Having An African Name In America

Growing up as a Black kid in 1970s America wasn’t easy, and having an African name certainly didn’t make things any simpler.

Baratunde faced the problems that many other African Americans experienced – including having his name butchered by white teachers.

He was called “Barracuda,” “Bartender,” or simply “Brad” – none of which were even close to pronouncing his name correctly.

Baratunde is actually pronounced: baa-ruh-TOON-day.

Instead of getting angry about it though, he decided to have some fun with it.

He now takes a certain joy in seeing how new acquaintances will butcher his name when they attempt to pronounce it for the first time.

He’s also made a startling discovery about Africans living in the U.S who also share an African name– Baratunde means “grandfather returns” or “the chosen one”, according to origin from Nigeria, yet some Nigerians do not appreciate this common tie between them and this young Africa-American man because of the use of this rare African name within him.

His story symbolizes the nuances of what it can mean to be black while representing both sides of being born in America and still connected to origins away from here on Earth.

Baratunde’S Mother Introduced Him To A Lifestyle That Defied The Stereotypes About What It Meant To Be Black

Baratunde’s mom, Arnita Lorraine Thurston, was a prime example of how a black woman could defy many of the stereotypes people have of African Americans.

She wasn’t content to just conform to what society expects, she actively sought out ways to break the mold and provide her son with experiences beyond what was seen as the “norm”.

Arnita made sure that Baratunde was fully exposed to healthy organic vegan foods – even if it meant sacrificing his favorite treats – in addition to exploring nature on hikes and camping trips in North Carolina.

In order to make sure that he had extracurricular activities, she enrolled him in the DC Youth Orchestra Program and tae kwon do classes.

She even took it upon herself to become his Boy Scout leader!

But most importantly, Arnita also introduced Baratunde to his cultural heritage.

When he was just eight years old she bought him a book about apartheid and quizzed him about African nations; with a map of Africa hanging on their kitchen wall for reference.

By providing Baratunde with these experiences Arnita not only ensured that he had a broader understanding of life but also embrace his role in an ever-shifting society.

The Power Of Language And Friendship In An Unfamiliar Environment: The Story Of Baratunde’s Private School Experience

Language And Friendship

When Baratunde first entered into the world of private school, it was an introduction he would never forget.

Not only was he entering a new school as one of the few black students there, but he had also picked up language from public schools which caused him to stand out even more.

But what was most difficult was that he constantly felt like an outsider when it came to discussions about people of color or things related to black culture.

All eyes in the classroom would turn to him, making these conversations increasingly awkward for him.

His classmates would assume that he knew all the answers and spoke for “all” black people—even though this was far from the truth.

These awkward moments didn’t stop with uncomfortable conversation topics either; even making friends could be a painful experience.

It took some time for him to get used to his affluent white peers and for them to accept him as part of their group.

It wasn’t until later on at Sidwell Friends that someone introduced Baratunde to an alternate definition of ‘Oreo’, when they pointed out another black student who appeared to be ‘black on the outside, but white on the inside’.

Baratunde certainly had many memorable (and often awkward) moments during his introduction to life at Private School, something that no one takes for granted anymore—especially not Obama’s daughters!

The Power Of African-American Heritage Groups – Strengthening Their Bond Through Carpentry, Firearms Training, And Literary Works

African-Americans have an opportunity to honour both their African roots and American nationality through groups such as Ankobia.

This group was founded by activists in the African-American community, such as Baba Mike, to help young people develop into strong adults capable of resisting societal temptations, like drug dealing.

The group activities consist of everything from physical exercise to historical knowledge surrounding the African-American experience.

The kids even gained practical skills like carpentry and electrics, which are integral for success in life.

But most importantly, members of the group learned that it is possible to be equally proud of their African ancestry and their American citizenship – a trait that can lead black youth to make educated decisions that empower their futures.

When visited by elders in their community who had actually lived in Africa, they were able to gain further insight on ancestral religious and cultural traditions; giving them a deeper understanding of being black or biracial in America today.

By actively engaging in these educational and empowering activities which support unity between African heritage and American citizenship, members of Ankobia acquire the strength they need to lead successful lives within their respective communities.

Understanding Why Black Students Form Their Own Table In The Cafeteria

When it comes to groups of black people gathering together, there’s often a sense of unease amongst the white people in the vicinity.

This was the case at Sidwell, when the smaller group of black students found themselves grouped together during lunchtime and caused some worry to their white peers.

However, it should not be taken as any sort of threat that these black students are seeking to form an alliance or cause discomfort with the majority white student body.

The truth is, many friends gather together over lunch – so what makes this situation any different?

The idea of forming a ‘White Student Union’ may have also been challenged upon seeing these gatherings of black students – but once again that would just perpetuate feelings of segregation which becomes counter intuitive for a school as diverse as Sidwell.

Baratunde made it clear that what these handful of black students needed wasn’t their own exclusive club, but rather representation within an overwhelmingly white student body.

So no matter how uncomfortable the sight of a small group getting together makes us feel; it shouldn’t be taken as an imminent threat against the larger community in any way shape or form.

The Importance Of Being A “Black Friend” To White People

White People

Black-white friendships are great and beneficial, but if you’re a white person, don’t ask to touch a black person’s hair.

Baratunde Thurston explains why this can be seen as an insult in his book How To Be Black.

He experienced it himself growing up and seeing strangers mesmerized by his afro, only to later ask to touch it without even waiting for an answer.

This inspired Baratunde to come up with a quick yet graceful maneuver that allowed him to reject the request for hair touching while simultaneously expressing his discomfort about the situation.

He also speaks out against this when friends attempt this gesture, taking the time to explain why the action is seemingly disrespectful.

It’s no different from patting someone on the head – a gesture usually reserved for pets – because of the long history of how white people have treated black people.

Baratunde does stress, however, how important black-white friendship is and how much both parties benefit from it.

White people get to see themselves as cool for having a black friend and can have access to some questions they may not have answers for such as cultural understanding or social issues concerning black people, whereas Black America gets the opportunity to communicate with their white counterparts in order to bridge misunderstandings between them.

How Black Harvard Students Navigated Prejudice And Turned Adversity Into Opportunity

Boston is notoriously known as a liberal city, but there is still a certain level of hostility that black people experience in the city.

This was particularly evident in the 1970s when protests erupted in opposition to busing black students from inner-city schools to better universities.

Baratunde encountered this same issue when he and his mom arrived on Harvard’s campus for his freshman year and no one offered them even a friendly “hello”.

Fortunately, this slight distress was soon alleviated – thankfully Harvard proved to be accepting for Baratunde and other black students.

He met his roommate Dahni-El who was also black, hung up an African flag, and Barbature proudly donned his traditional Ghanaian Kente outfit as they navigated their way around campus.

Further broadening his social circle, Baratunde also joined the Dorm Crew which afforded him some much needed alone time due to its flexible hours and pay.

On top of that, the team wasn’t all-black so it wasn’t another instance of racial exploitation by white peers.

All in all, Boston may be unfriendly at times towards its non-white populous – however for Baratunde and other black students at Harvard University were provided with an accepting environment essential to success.

Racism Is A Fact Of Life In The Workplace: Baratunde’S Story


When dealing with black and white colleagues in the workplace, unique challenges present themselves.

Baratunde found not all were willing to offer assistance; in fact, some acted as competitive foes due to their prior status as the only black person at the company before his introduction.

He also encountered “black deniers” who wouldn’t recognize their own identity or its correlation to Baratunde’s experience.

White coworkers provided obstacles of their own.

Frequently they’d assume Baratunde had an answer for a controversial issue pertaining to the black community, leading him into potentially awkward situations such as being asked questions about Barack Obama while inside an elevator – leaving him with three options: evade by changing subject, confront asking if they truly believe his opinion was accurate of every black individual, or give an honest reply which leads to more questions.

The best solution? Sticking with either of the two alternative options is probably your safest bet here for avoiding further interrogation.

Wrap Up

In How To Be Black, author Baratunde Thurston offers readers his take on how to navigate the world of white privilege and improve race relations.

He emphasizes that while discrimination is still prevalent in our society, we can make a difference with actions such as paying attention to guidelines and emphasizing humor.

Overall, this book serves as a thought-provoking reminder that it’s not impossible to bridge the gap between black and white people – with a few smart tweaks, we can create understanding and equality throughout all races.

Arturo Miller

Hi, I am Arturo Miller, the Chief Editor of this blog. I'm a passionate reader, learner and blogger. Motivated by the desire to help others reach their fullest potential, I draw from my own experiences and insights to curate blogs.

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