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 most outrageously racist comments always came from my grandparents"

In response to “Have you ever experienced someone trying really hard to be politically correct and not be racist?”

I’ve seen more than my share of racism and bigotry. New England is not known for their diversity and interconnected cultures. Georgia felt like they were still wondering why slave ownership was outlawed. But the most outrageously racist comments always came from my grandparents.
My grandfather was a straight up bigot. I don’t know if he hated all blacks, but I do know that he didn’t consider them to be on the same level as he was. But my grandmother - she didn’t hate anyone that I could tell. But when she spoke of blacks or Hispanics, there was such an attempt to be politically correct that the underlying tone was exagerated. For example:
Oh, it’s it just great how those colo… I mean afro-americans can dance so well!
Hartford was such a nice place before the Mafia left. Then THOSE people, you know, they just over-ran it so quickly. And now it’s dangerous and dirty. Such a shame.
The times had changed and she was trying to change with them. Trying to not use Colored, Negro, Mexican (as catch all for everyone that speaks spanish). But the dismissive nature of how the minorities were treated and thought of was still there. The stereotypes were still there, firmly ingrained in her psyche.
This was such a contrast to my grandfather who wanted separate Olympics because it just wasn’t fair. And their maid (never housekeeper) was always black, but she talked so well and they treated her nicely. Never saying things to her face.
I look at the cartoons that were shown in the 40’s during the war (and after) by the popular media of the day (see for more specifics on what I’m talking about) were as racist as you could get from today’s stand point. It took until 1999 before American audiences stopped seeing Speedy Gonzales (and his slow, lazy fellow Mexicans). But Speedy is popular amongst Latin American audiences, regardless of how I and other white folks see those films being derogatory to Mexicans. Watching those reminds me of how awful we can be and how a negative image protrayed over and over again can make itself part of the popular opinion / stereotype.
Bah, I’m good at rambling but terrible at actually getting to or having a point. I guess my point is “Yeah, I’ve witnessed folks being Racist while trying to be positive or polite. I’ve also seen where it was okay to be racist like that, or at least how we see racism.” But I bring that up to My Black Friends and they point out that no one is lynching them regularly. That they can and do goto school with white folks. That they don’t have separate bathrooms or water fountains. That they can ride anywhere they like on the bus. That things are a lot better overall and that stupid shit like hyphenated names are way less important than not being called nigger.

Black Enough For Some…

In answer to “How black are you?”

…but apparently not enough for others.

Here are some of the reasons that I’m not black enough:

  • I don’t talk “black” enough for some people. 
  • I think that most hip hop music is trash (which propbably has more to do with my age than my authenticity, but there you are).
  • I voted for Barack Obama, but would have preferred Dennis Kucinich.
  • I’m a cop
  • I’m a Lutheran
  • I am comfortable in two languages besides English, and neither of them are African.
  • I am aware of their slave-holding, yet I remain convinced that George Washington and Thomas Jefferson were great men.
  • I don’t gnaw chicken bones (this drove one of my aunt’s nuts when I was a kid)
  • I can’t play basketball… not even a little.

Oh, there are more things, but that is just a thumbnail sketch.  I really would like to see whoever it is who is in charge of authorizing people to be black enough.  I think that the criteria needs a change or two.  I wish I could see this person now, but I have to go and take my daughter to her Girl Scout meeting… which is just another reason for some.