How to Be the Black Friend

Comedian Baratunde Thurston breaks it down in his memoir, How to Be Black.



You’re going to get a lot of questions. Many of them will be dumb. Most will be some variation on “Is this racist?” Maintain your cool, and focus on listening to your friends. When they ask, “Why don’t more black people work hard, like immigrants?” don’t assume bad intentions on their part. Stop. Breathe. Think. What are they really saying with this question?

They are doing a surface-level comparison. They see Group A and Group B. To them, both groups have experienced similar setbacks, but Group B doesn’t seem to have made nearly as much progress as Group A in the recovery. This is not automatically racist. They’re asking you because they trust you, because they need you to help them understand. If you scare them away, you encourage a troubling alternative.

Instead of taking that seemingly dumb question to you, their trusted Black Friend, they will continue to live with their ignorance, which will eventually find its way into the news segments they produce at their television network jobs or into legislation they pass. A healthy amount of patience as the Black Friend can go a long way toward helping all black people in unseen ways.

Access to White People

You can’t very well be a good Black Friend if you don’t have access to nonblack, and especially white, people. This should go without saying, but I can’t tell you the number of black folks I’ve met who want nothing to do with white people and yet complain nonstop about how white people do this or white people think that. Be the change you want to see. Go make some white friends. If you don’t know where to start, I recommend checking out Stuff White People Like, the website or book. It’s all right there for the understanding.

Reprinted from How to Be Black by Baratunde Thurston © 2012. Published by HarperCollins Publishers.

Thurston will participate in a presentation and reading at the National Press Club in Washington, D.C., at 6:30 p.m. on Monday, Feb. 13, followed by an after-party at Blackbyrd. Click here for more information. 

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