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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"Why do you talk like that?"

in response to Has Anyone Ever Questioned Your Authentic Blackness

The first time I ever ran into this issue was first grade. At that time, my family lived in a poorer part of the city and I went to a majority Black school. I often had exchanges like this:

"Why do you talk like that?"

"Like what?"

"Proper"

"…Um"

"Are you mixed?"

Being a little kid, I didn’t really see how those two questions related, but needless to say, they were always paired together.   It was if the only way to explain why I talked “proper” was for me to be of some other race.

In high school, it wasn’t so subtle. I went to a school in the suburbs where almost everyone was White, Christian, and middle class. I once had a classmate (he was White) question me about my taste in music. After saying I didn’t listen to a lot of rap, he replied, “Are you really Black? You don’t talk Black. You don’t listen to rap. I don’t think you’re Black.”

Y’know, because my race is defined by only those things. I’m only glad I never thought to change myself into something I wasn’t.