How To Be Black

Baratunde Thurston is the CEO, co-founder, and hashtagger-in-chief of Cultivated Wit. He wrote the New York Times bestseller How To Be Black and served for five years as director of digital for the satirical news outlet, The Onion. He writes the monthly back page column for Fast Company and contributes to the MIT Media Lab as a director’s fellow.He lives in Brooklyn, NY.

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The Boondocks

User Submitted: The time I realized I was white.

A note from me about this submission: I wish this reader all the strength in the world to withstand the traumas of white privilege and also remind him or her that love of tacos does not a Latino make.

One day, I woke up and looked down and was like, “DAMN.  I’M WHITE!!”  This was really disheartening because I love tacos so much that I thought I was a full-blooded Latino.  It’s just so sad, because it is just SO difficult living with white privilege, you know, with the higher salary, absence of housing discrimination, and the ability to walk down the street without every suburban housewife reaching for their mace.  I have learned to live with my whiteness, but one day, I hope that people will except those of all colors, including the whites.

User Submitted: Black History Month: Separate but Equal

A note from me about this submission: Frustration over Black History having a month isn’t new but I like this personal story of past teachers. For the record, Black History Month began as Negro History Week and was proposed by Carter G. Woodson. The expansion to a month was the work of black students at Kent State University in the late 1960s.

Black History month pisses me off. Why isn’t it just part of “history”? When I was a kid, I learned about Frederick Douglass and George Washington Carver and Harriet Tubman right alongside Thomas Edison and Henry Ford and Amelia Earhart etc. Of course, my 6th grade teachers history teacher was black, so that might’ve motivated her to include them in our history lessons in our mostly white town. And I leaned about Jackie Robinson from Mr. Morrison our math and science teacher, who might have played pro baseball, except he was older than Jackie Robinson, and was simply not allowed. He made a better living teaching white children decimals than he could in the negro leagues. But man he was still great to watch him play baseball, he was just awe inspiring. Of course it’s great to insist on including “black history” in school curriculum but really, “separate but equal”? NOT. What, is the rest of the year white anglo saxon straight male history?? Am I an idiot or what, for not realizing that that goes without saying?

User Submitted: Post Racism is Great! Good Thing I’m Not Getting Tenure

Post racism is a great time to be alive. As a black assistant professor who just published her first book with a top tier press, I think it’s about time I be denied tenure. Ironically, my book is largely about racism within occupations and academia and it’s black history month, so it makes perfect sense that some of my colleagues allowed a man who hates women and minorities to chair my tenure committee and guide me right out the door. No matter, as we speak they are busy tring to find another person of color to fill the highly sought after position of Successful Minority to Underappreciate. After all, the official building capacity does not permit any brown people that are actually more accomplished than many of their white colleagues.

User Submitted: Why can’t kinky-headed women of all races unite?

Here’s my rant: You think hair bias is ‘racial’? HA! Why do black gals think that “good hair” is just a black thing, when we are ALL judged by the culture on a Womanly Worthiness Scale with Swedish stewardess blonde-silky-curtains at the top and frizzy kinks at the bottom? —and why can’t our black sisters get over it and be brave and welcoming role models for black AND white girls with kinks? When I was in high school and Afros got big (literally), I let my own dirty-blonde fuzz go free. (It wasn’t even a Jew-fro, I’m an Irish-German Catholic with lucky hair genes.) No more torture sessions with irons, hair dryers, sleeping on beer can-sized curlers. I carried an Afro pick and joyously terrified little old white ladies in public bathrooms by using it. But the moment seems to have passed, and now we have a whole body of documentaries and stuff by black women, 30 years later, still trying to figure out why sistahs can’t love the hair God gave them. Hello? You think YOU’re challenged to embrace the kinks? At least YOU have those cool ’70s icons to harken back to—Angela Davis, blah blah—not to mention awesome salons in happening black neighborhoods where I fantasize about how gorgeous black women bond over hours-long sessions with mystical African braiding wizards. Us kinky white girls get nothing but Failed Swedish Stewardess Syndrome. We sneak into Duane Reade and buy Miss Jessie’s Curl Creme (it works great on us, too), and fantasize about having the guts to get locks or cornrows. We treasure our few curly Caucasian role models (Alex Kingston, I’m talking to you, beautiful!) We hate black women who wear straight blonde hair—traitors to a cause that won’t even acknowledge our membership. And you know what really makes us crazy? Black women (like one published author) who think it’s “racist” when white girls toss their long, straight hair around in bars or elevators. We have been HATING those same white girls all our lives, starting in kindergarten parties in our whitey-white neighborhoods. But unlike you, we cannot unleash our Cultural Stereotype of Coolness in our own defense; we’re just the Frizzy-Haired White Girls, the sisters you won’t own. HAIR, ladies—it’s NOT just a black thing!