How to Be Black | Baratunde R. Thurston

Summary of: How to Be Black
By: Baratunde R. Thurston

Introduction

Welcome to a journey through the debut satire ‘How to Be Black’ by Baratunde R. Thurston. As you venture through this summary, you’ll get a snapshot of Thurston’s personal experiences as an African American, his childhood, diversity challenges faced throughout his academic career, and the importance of friendships. The author showcase humor and witty reflections on stereotypes and racial tension in America. Get to glimpse into vital topics and themes revolving around race, culture, identity, and stereotypes in a user-friendly language that demystifies Baratunde’s unique experiences.

The Struggle of an African Name in America

Baratunde shares his experiences of having an African name in America, where teachers and others mispronounced and butchered it. Despite the challenges, he’s discovered a certain pleasure in hearing the different variations. However, even Africans living in the States weren’t necessarily fond of his name, which comes from Nigeria and means “grandfather returns” or “the chosen one.”

A Black Mother’s Love

Baratunde Thurston’s memoir “How to Be Black” reveals how his single mother, Arnita Lorraine Thurston, raised him to appreciate the outdoors, cultural heritage, and a healthy lifestyle in Washington, DC during the 1970s. Despite being a black mother, Arnita fit the profile of a “tiger mom” by demanding that Baratunde participate in extracurricular activities and master the double bass and tae kwon do. She also introduced him to the health-food movement and took him on field trips such as hiking the Blue Ridge Mountains and camping in North Carolina. Arnita instilled a sense of pride in Baratunde’s African roots by quizzing him about African nations and hanging a map of Africa in their kitchen. Through Arnita’s love and guidance, Baratunde learned important lessons that would shape his future.

The Only Black Kid in Private School

Growing up as a black kid in a private school was a challenging experience for the author. While attending Sidwell Friends, the only black student in his class, he stood out not only for his skin color but also for his unpolished language. Whenever they studied something related to black culture, everyone looked to him as if he were an authority on the subject. He struggled to make friends in this new context, and even when he found other black people, he sometimes faced accusations of being an imposter. Despite the difficulties, the author found it interesting to see affluent white people and wanted to learn more about their culture.

Building Strong Black Adults

African-American activists establish Ankobia group to teach black children to become strong adults.

Just like many cultures have groups that connect them to their heritage, so do African-Americans. One such group is Ankobia, which means “those who lead in battle” in the Twi language of Ghana. The group was created by activists in the African-American community to teach black children to grow up into strong and successful adults.

For five hours every Saturday, 15 boys from less privileged families would meet to learn practical skills like carpentry and electrics, as well as basic firearms knowledge. The day would start with exercises led by the memorable Baba Mike, who would walk on their abs while the kids struggled to keep their feet in the air. They would also have an inspiring reading list featuring the works of prominent role models such as Malcolm X and Martin Luther King, Jr.

One of the core missions of Ankobia was to teach the children to resist the temptation to deal or do drugs, which was prevalent in many poor black neighborhoods. The group aimed to create a community where black youth could thrive and feel empowered by their cultural heritage. Ankobia also invited elders in the community who had lived in Africa to talk and answer questions about ancestral cultural and religious traditions.

Ankobia’s approach to building strong black adults was unique and effective. The group’s dedication to discipline, practical skills, and cultural education empowered young black children to thrive in the face of adversity.

Black Unity in a White School

The need for black student union in a predominantly white school is explained and justified.

Sidwell Friends School is like any other school with groups of friends sitting together during lunch, but the black students usually end up sitting together which made the white students feel excluded and worried. However, the need for black students to have unity is vital due to the unique circumstances they face in a predominantly white school. The white students eventually understood why the black students needed to form a union. On the other hand, the idea of a white student union was disconcerting and raised concerns about segregation and the Klu Klux Klan. The author highlights the need for black representation in a school that is essentially one big white student union. The book shows that black unity should not be viewed as a threat but rather a necessity.

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