Arab Today, arab today baratunde thurston explains \how to be black\
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Baratunde Thurston explains \'how to be black\'

Arab Today, arab today

Arab Today, arab today Baratunde Thurston explains \'how to be black\'

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It\'s no coincidence that Baratunde Thurston\'s new memoir and satirical self-help book How to Be Black was slated for release on the first day of Black History Month. \"I feel great about that,\" Thurston tells Fresh Air\'s Terry Gross. \"I think we have a moment every year in our country where everyone buys black stamps and thinks more explicitly about black people and blackness, so it was a perfect month to release a book on this subject.\" Thurston, a stand-up comedian and The Onion\'s digital director, says that he doesn\'t get as many gigs this month as one might think. \"There aren\'t as many black spokespersons to go around, so I\'m happy to play that role from time to time,\" he says. \"But I think this year will probably be a little bigger than years past.\" That\'s because How to Be Black is partially a practical guidebook for anyone looking to befriend or work with a black person, become the next black president or challenge anyone who says they speak for all black people. But the book isn\'t just filled with comedic advice. Thurston weaves together his comedy with thoughtful missives about his own education at Sidwell Friends and Harvard University, and his childhood in one of the worst crack-addled neighborhoods in Washington, D.C. His father was killed in a drug deal when Thurston was 6. His mother was what he describes as a \"pan-African hippie type of woman who marched in the streets\" and named him Baratunde as a way to \"get back to Africa.\" \"My version of being black adheres as much to the stereotypes as it dramatically breaks from them,\" he writes in How to Be Black. \"And that\'s probably true for most of you reading this: if not about blackness itself, then about something related to your identity. Through my story, I hope to expose you to another side of the black experience while offering practical, comedic advice based on my own painful lessons learned.\" Baratunde When Thurston went to school, his teachers shortened his name — which means \"one who is chosen\" in Nigeria — and started calling him \"Barrington.\" They later shortened it to \"Barry.\" \"Baratunde was a little strange for them,\" he says. \"I was a child and had no freedom, so I was \'Barrington\' and then \'Barry\' and then in 7th grade, it just clicked for me. My name\'s Baratunde. It\'s a great name. People should call me that.\" It took some time, but Thurston eventually retrained his classmates to call him Baratunde. \"People assume there\'s a nickname, and they just jump to it, or they say, \'What do people call you for short?\' And I say \'Baratunde. Just say it faster. It can save you time and be a little bit more efficient if you\'re worried about the time.\' \" Thurston says he often encounters different assumptions based on his name, depending on his audience. Nigerians immediately think he\'s from Africa, and then are disappointed to learn that he\'s not. The reaction from Americans, meanwhile, is also mixed. \"American-born black people don\'t have that much of a reaction, because American blacks are used to interesting names in our community,\" he says. \"And then from white Americans, it\'s the assumption of, \'Well, you have to have a nickname\' or \'What does it mean?\' Because it has to have some sort of superdeep meaning. So the name for me became a prism, because Baratunde has such a strong sound ... so it signals to people, \'This is definitely not a white dude. Maybe he\'s a black dude or an African dude.\' But the reaction from the actual Nigerian community — which is \'You\'re not one of us either\' — was a fun thing to experience growing up.\" Thurston says his name wasn\'t the only indication that he straddled two worlds as a kid. On the weekdays, he attended the private Sidwell Friends School, where he played lacrosse and hockey and hung out with kids whose parents ran the State Department and the World Health Organization. But every Saturday, he attended what he calls \"a Hebrew School or Bar Mitzvah for Blackness\" in the Washington neighborhood of Columbia Heights. \"[My mother] enrolled me in a \'Rights of Passage\' program,\" he says. \"Every Saturday morning, we\'d have physical training, we\'d read books like The Isis Papers, and we would dance and do all kinds of cultural and intellectual activities to ground us in what they thought was a more appropriate Africanness in that era ... But even at home, it didn\'t stop. My mom had this map of Africa on her bedroom wall, and she\'d actually quiz me.\" Growing Up In Washington, D.C. Thurston\'s mom raised him by herself after his father was killed. He remembers his mother telling him his father was dead after receiving a phone call from the police. \"I started crying,\" he says. \"And it\'s such a strange thing to think about because I know what those words mean now — I\'ve experienced death as an adult — and hearing those words and having those feelings at 6, they\'re a little different. So I know I had a physical reaction, but it wasn\'t until years later that I fully understood what that meant.\" Thurston says he remembers not being allowed outside at the height of the 1980s crack epidemic in the district. \"I remember not being allowed to sit on our front stoop,\" he says. \"There was a period of time when that was no longer allowed. I remember not playing outside as much, being told: Go to so-and-so\'s house but stay inside. And I also have a very particular memory of watching some of my friends walk down that road [toward drugs that] I didn\'t walk down.\" Thurston says one family on his street morphed \"almost like that figure of evolution — of the ape hunched over becoming man\" into drug dealers. \"You could watch the older brother get into the drug business, and then the next one and the next one, and that was the pattern established,\" he says. \"I remember when those guys used to deliver pizza for Domino\'s and that was their way of making money ... I remember when those same kids set up a lemonade stand. And then I remember when their jackets got nicer, their boots got nicer and they were selling drugs. That was such a strong memory in my head.\" In junior high, Thurston moved from Columbia Heights to a suburban black neighborhood in Maryland. The move, once again, made him shift his persona. \"I think there was a Baratunde from Newton Street [in Washington, D.C.] who learned to walk those streets and navigate that world and be very comfortable with all the things happening in the street, and then there was the library-studious high school newspaper Baratunde, and then there was the Black Power \'Tunde that was also going down,\" he says. \"And those worlds often collided.\" Thurston says he was able to balance his worlds because he was taught \"multiple extremes.\" At Sidwell, he says, the faculty was always trying to find more black faculty members. \"Meanwhile, in the [\'Rights of Passage\' program] it was: Africa did this, Africa did that, and the white man caused this,\" he says. \"And those [viewpoints] either cancel each other out or they drive the bearer of both ideas insane. I didn\'t go insane. So it encouraged me to see the goods in both sides and challenge both perspectives.\"

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