Black Googler Network & @Google present: Baratunde Thurston, "How to Be Black"

Uploaded by AtGoogleTalks on 02.03.2012

>> Male Presenter: Good afternoon ladies and gentlemen. Hopefully everyone on VC can hear
us. Uh, my name is Dontae Rayford, and on behalf of Authors@Google and the Black Googler
Network, I’m really excited to announce today’s speaker, Mr. Baratunde Thurston.
Um, Baratunde is described as a politically active, tech loving comedian. He currently
serves as the Director of Digital for The Onion, and he’s also the co-founder of Jack
and Jill Politics. He is a D.C. native, graduated from Harvard University, and he currently
lives in Brooklyn, New York. His first book, How to Be Black, which he’s here to speak
to us about today, was published this month, black history month, February 2012 by Harper
Collins. Without further ado, I’d like to welcome Mr. Baratunde Thurston.
>> Baratunde Thurston: What’s up everybody? [Audience murmurs]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Happy black history month. Give yourselves a round of applause
for black people. [Applause]
>> Baratunde Thurston: All people, but especially, especially us.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: It’s, uh, it’s
good to be here at the Googleplex. I saw some strange, you have like a, sort of E.T. type
pod going on. There’s like these zipped up tents that people are workin' in. And then
I met someone, she said she worked in People Operations.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: And I was, are you
experimenting on the human genome? Like, it’s just a little disconcerting. Basically, for
those of you watching on video, this may be my last appearance in public.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: Tell my family I love
them, very much. Uh, I wanna talk about, uh, “blackness”, the book, my life, a little
bit of tech stuff and wrap it all into one. Why don’t we just get started with this,
uh, first a little bit more background of, uh, who I am. I’m a stand-up comic. I’ve
been doing comedy for about ten years. I started off in Boston and moved to New York four and
a half, five years ago. I co-founded this blog, Jack and Jill Politics. It started in
the summer of 2006 with Cheryl Contee. And it’s a blog about U.S. politics, usually
from a black perspective. The watermelon is our logo, and that symbolizes intelligence.
Most smart people love watermelon and that’s really all that there is to it.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: If you see something
else you should get yourself checked out cause you have issues. You know, watermelon is just
wonderful. I hosted a TV show on Discovery Science channel a few years ago called Popular
Science's Future Of, and it was really cool for me to be able to do this show. We traveled
around the world looking at questions about how we might live in ten to twenty years.
The future of sex, future of play, future of habitat and what I learned most importantly
is that in the future, all black people will be required to wear wet suites. So make sure
you get yours, uh, because supplies are running out. Global warming is coming. I now, uh,
work as Director of Digital for The Onion, America’s finest news source. I’ve been
there for over four years and I’ve had a great time. My chief contribution, however,
is to be every black person in all the images that The Onion uses in this journalism. [laughter]
In this case, I played Obama’s hillbilly half cousin, Cooter Obama, and threaten to
derail his campaign. Obviously, Cooter did not succeed, and others are still attempting
to derail the president. Um, and I, this is a very important aspect of my life. I do a
lot of public service work, a lot of community service and sort of volunteer efforts. And,
the chief thing that I do is I live hate tweet the Twilight movies.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: And so what that means
is, first of all Twilight is a terrible, terrible thing. It’s basically like a stalker positioned
as an object of desire to convince young girls that they want to live this sort of life that’s
very, very destructive to their egos and their self-esteem. And it’s horrible for America
and the world, so I tried to do what I can. So opening weekends I go to the theater, I
sit in the back, and I live tweet the movie but with hate. So I call it live hate tweeting.
And it’s amazing. I’ve convinced several people not to see it. It’s been worth that
investment of my time. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: I kinda feel like that teacher that wants to reach one student, you
know if you could just change one life. Uh, so if I could just convince one person not
to spend fifteen dollars on garbage, then I’ve done my job as a citizen. So that’s
pretty cool. And then I’ve written this book and that’s what we’re here to talk
mostly about. Uh, the book is called How to Be Black. I have a very simple marketing message,
if you don’t buy the book, you’re a racist. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: And that’s just true, it’s not like a thing, it’s not a hook,
it’s not a scam. And it works, it works. We actually found out, uh, after the first
week, that we made the New York Times best seller list. So guilt works ladies and gentlemen.
[Cheering] >> Baratunde Thurston: I highly recommend
it. You guys should try it in your, in your Google products. And those of you at home,
your products as well. So before I keep going forward I want to go back a little bit and
then tell you not just what I’ve been up to, but where I’ve come from, and I’ll
go back a couple generations. This is an image of my great grandfather, Benjamin Lonesome,
born in 1870 in Caroline County, Virginia, born a slave, taught himself to read, as the
family story goes, and moved to Washington, D.C. Now some of you are thinking, “Born
a slave after the emancipation proclamation?” Government doesn’t always work ladies and
gentlemen. Government doesn’t always work. Decrees are not always adhered to. But, he
moved to D.C. and he worked for the city and he lived to be quite old actually, he had
two daughters. One of whom was Lorraine Martin, who I didn’t find out until 2005, that she
was the first black employee in the US Supreme Court building. And we found all these clips
in our mom’s stuff. Our mom had passed away, so we’re going through trying to figure
out what to keep and what not to keep. We’re like, “Hey, we have this great family history
we did not know about.” Now, our grandmother was a very proud woman. She’s pretty well
educated for the time. She traveled a lot more than was normal for black people of the
era. She did not necessarily spend a lot of her own time, uh, raising her own daughter.
She had this really adorable daughter. This is my mother, Arnita Thurston. You can see
where my cuteness comes from. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So she sent, our grandmother sent our mother off to Boarding School at
age 8. In a little town called Cornwells Heights, Pennsylvania. At the time it was a rural farming
community, now it’s a thriving suburb of Philadelphia. And my mother had some trouble
adjusting to this environment, little black girl away from her home in the city cast off
into an all-black Catholic boarding school. Kareem Abdul Jabbar went to this boarding
school. He was not Kareem Abdul Jabbar at the time he went there. I’m not sure they
would have admitted him, uh, if he had been. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: But my mother had some tough times at this school. So tough that
she wrote letters back to her mother and I want to share just one of them that my sister
and I found. This is letter, in the 8-year-old handwriting, sent from a daughter to her mother,
“Dear Mother, I am having fun but I do not like it here.”
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: “I am mad at you.
Please send me some cookies.” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Very important. “And a Sparkle Plenty doll.” Sparkle Plenty was
this character, very, very popular back in the 40s and 50s. “Please, uh, they can have
dolls here. Please send it because I do not have anything to play with. Yours Truly, Arnita.
So it’s an adorable, sad letter from a daughter to her mother. But I want you to focus on
the lower left corner of this letter. This very neat handwriting, very different font,
uh, different color scheme, says “over.” When you flip the letter over you see this
note, which says, “If your little girl is dissatisfied, we’d be glad to have her bed
for children who are anxious to come.” Signed, “Sister” Which is sort of like the NSA
wiretapping of, I guess, 1948. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: You gotta protect the nation from little black girls that want dolls
and cookies. It’s very much a threat to the nation. So my mother did not stay long
at that school. But she did stay within the confines of what was expected of a modern
Negro woman. This is her as a teenager wearing a dress below the knees, carrying a basket,
probably full of happy feelings about America. I’m sure what was in that basket. She worked
at her high school newspaper, but before long her social network changed and she started
hanging out with people that looked like this. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: This is a dude name El Dorado.
[Laughter] [Murmurs]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Like the car. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: And there are many people in this world who, uh, who think they’re
cool. Some people watching this right now think you’re cool and know people who are
cool. You’re not. You’re friends aren’t. This dude, El Dorado, is the last cool person
to ever have existed. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Look at the shoes, look at the phone; look at the typewriter,
the pants, the hair, everything about this picture is cool. Cool is now a historic relic
thanks to the high bar El Dorado set. But my mom didn’t stop there. She started getting
political. She was joining rallies. She was out in the streets. This is African Liberation
Day Parade outside of Malcolm X Park in Washington, D.C., headed south on 16th street northwest.
And right in the thick of it is my mom. [Laughs]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Cause the revolution may not be televised but it could be photographed.
You want your hair done up right. You want the eyes focused on the camera.
[Pause] >> Baratunde Thurston: Now, when I was born,
my mother did not leave these politics behind, she very much infused them with me. A lot
of kids had little books when they were, you know, you had cartoons. You had See Spot Run
and stuff like that. I didn’t have that. This was my first book, pretty much.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: Called This is Apartheid.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: I had another book
called Africa is Not a Country, it’s a Continent. And when you are raised with this, like stark
black and white photos of Apartheid. [Laughs]
>> Baratunde Thurston: It maybe has a little effect on you as a young person whose mind
is being molded. Now, outside of our house is a very different picture. This was a constant
view from our front window of Newton Street in the Columbia Heights neighborhood of Washington,
D.C. Lots of drugs deals and other stuff going on, very much like the Wire. When the Wire
came out I was traumatized and excited. I was like, “I love this show, but I have
flashbacks.” 'Cause my neighborhood was just like the Wire, you know, we had the drug
dealing, the police corruption, we had everything the Wire had, right? Except for universal
critical acclaim, uh, and the undying love of white people who saw it. Our neighborhood
did not have that. [Laughs]
>> Baratunde Thurston: But otherwise it was very similar to the Wire. So my mom help navigate
me and my sister through this environment and we had this very proud moment at my college
graduation from Harvard. And she gave me this big hug and said, “We did it!” and my
sister is so proud of capturing this moment, she’s like, “I’m the best photographer
ever.” And so that’s kind of where I have come from and it’s the foundation of what
this book is and kind of this conversation I wanna start off with you guys here today.
So, let me talk about how the book was born, first of all. And there’s, there’s a lot
of the personal stuff in there. But there’s also like a tech story too and I think it’s
pretty interesting to be talking about that at Google. The book was born on Twitter via
a hash tag. And essentially I was shopping for wine and I didn’t know how to buy wine.
There’s all this history of wine flavors and the air of frankincense or whatever, I
don’t know how to do all that stuff. And I was also not interested in learning, so,
I just wanted a bottle of wine. I went to the shop and I saw this brand of wine called
Negroamaro. N-E-G-R, we’re gonna have to riot now aren’t we?
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: We’re just, this
is the black history month. A black man can’t speak at Google without some white guy talking
loudly over top of him. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: This is ridiculous. I got 29 days man, c’mon.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: Interrupt me in March
and I will not complain. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Anyway, I was talking about my ignorant wine purchasing decisions.
[Laughs] >> Baratunde Thurston: So I saw this brand
of wine called Negroamaro, I was like, that spoke to me, “Negro wine! This is perfect.
That’s why I’m gonna buy it.” So I posted to Twitter, and I was trying to antagonize
my friend, Elon James White who’s a great comedian. He does a web series called This
Week in Blackness and Blackin’ It Up. And I said, “This weekend I picked my red wine
because it was called Negroamaro, that’s how black I am. Elon James, how black are
you?” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: I was just sort of picking a fight playing a little joke back
and forth. And then he responded, “I see the subtle racial implication of Thunder Cat.
Panther was black, shirtless and Lionel’s driver. How black are you?” And so we went
back and forth, volleying and hundreds of other people weighed in and threw in their
observations on how black are you. Then the audience for this was a member of the Harper
Collins team, a woman named Debbie Stier. And she brought me in and we had a nice conversation
and said, “You should write a book. Why don’t you write a book called how black
are you?” And I was like, “Why don’t I not do that?”
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: “That is a terrible
idea!” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Cause it was one thing to have that conversation and that tension
and that battle between two people who know each other, two people who are comedians and
we have assumed the best intentions. I don’t wanna hit America with that. I don’t trust
America with that. I just had visions of watermelons dancing in my head.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: People are like, “How
black are you? I drink grape soda all the time!” And I’m like, ‘No, no, no.’
America’s not ready for how black are you at the Wal Mart bookshelf, like we can’t
do that just yet. We have some ways to go. But they said, “What about how to be black?”
And I was like, “Yes! That is ridiculous. You can’t answer that, thus I want to try.”
And, uh, and be satirical about it, which gives me some latitude and just have fun with
the impossible. So the book was gonna be a series of “How To” chapters. The first
one was “How to speak for all black people” um, and “How to be the black friend” “How
to be the black employee.” Which, clearly you guys might have an interest in.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: “Tell us how to do
it! Tell us how to do it!” Its coming, its coming. Just buy the book. Uh, but, there
was another part of, sort of the product development of the book, that I want to share what was
not expected. And I want to talk about the role that e-mail played. So I had this vision
of, I’m gonna write just a straight up satire set of chapters on “How to.” Separate
from this, I operate an e-mail list. I’ve been doing it for years. I thought e-mail
was dead. I was like, “Ah, Facebook is here and Google plus is here and Twitter is here.
Nobody reads e-mail anymore.” But because we live in such a fast paced, sort of, status
update-isphere, I wanted to have a deeper relationship with the people who wanted a
connection with me. So the e-mail became a more of a behind the scenes. And rather than
just promoting shows, and doing a few one liner jokes, is that every e-mail I send,
I’m gonna have a true personal story as a part of it. So the same summer that I was
doing the initial rounds of writing this book, separate from that I was sharing these personal
stories with my e-mail list. And one story I shared, which really struck a nerve, I told
the story of my father’s murder and what my memory of him was. And I really only had
six memories of this dude. He died when I was very young; he didn’t live with us even
for the time when he was alive. And I sent this out, I was on a bus, I was on a Bolt
bus to Boston, like a $15 bus, on the Wi-Fi, banged this out in a couple hours, sent it
off. And the flood of responses that came back from my subscribers was overwhelming.
And one of those subscribers was my editor at the time, Debbie Stier. And she wrote,
“This needs to go into the book!” And she’s like, “All these stories are just
too rich; you can’t not use them. And I know it’s not part of the original vision,
but maybe we need to rethink what this book should be.” So she, “Just write those.
Don’t worry about the super hilarious stuff. This is, and this was still funny. Even the
piece I wrote about my father’s murder by gunshot was still darkly hilarious, uh, if
you’re open to that. Which I was, I’ve been doing this for a while. So I reconceived
of what the book should be and then personal memoir actually became the heart of it. So
let’s talk about what’s inside, between these pages, between these bytes, in the electronic
version. First off, it is my life. It is the story of a young black dude who has an eccentric
black background, and not just black background, obviously there’s more to me then black.
But there is that story that people have heard a lot of, that inner city, single mother,
gun violence and drugs thing. That’s one. There’s the Afrocentric rearing the fact
that I have a Nigerian name and I’m not Nigerian. [laughter] I remember I had a friend
that was Nigerian when I was growing up and I called him on the phone, and his Nigerian
father answered and he’s like, “Hello? Who’s calling?” And I was like, “Oh,
sir this is Baratunde.” I might have been like 12 years old. “Where did you get that
name?” Its like, how do you even answer that first of all? I got it, oh I don’t
know, the secret stash of names that are mine. I got it from my parents. And he’s like,
“Well do you even know what it means?” And I was like, “Yeah.” And this is why
I was really proud, cause I had this super Afrocentric mother. She’s like, “You have
to understand all this stuff.” And I was like, “Literally it means Grandfather returns
or father returns. Or one that was chosen” And he’s like, “No! No. it means grandfather
returns or one who was chosen.” It’s like, I just said that. Just said, you know how
adults can be with respect to children, they can’t hear you. Then he went on a rampage.
He was like, “This is the problem with you African Americans. You have no history. No
culture. No roots. You think you can wear a dashiki, steal an African name and become
African. You cannot.” I was like, “Dude, I just learned how to add last week, like
slow down.” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Why are you hating on me? I’m a baby.
[Laughs] >> Baratunde Thurston: Pick a fight with someone
your own ignorance. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So the book has stories like that. It also has a lot of the “How
to’s” There’s how to, how to be the next black president, one of my favorite chapters.
A lot of restrictions around president Obama, especially his relationship to black America
and black people. Certain issues he can’t talk about because they think he’s gonna
like, reinstitute white slavery. Yes, I said reinstitute. We tried it once; it lasted for
like a day. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: And so there’s, you know, some, some guidelines for the next black
president. And also the theory being that the second black president really is the first
black president, cause the next time around America’s doing it super intentional, like
we know what we’re gonna get. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So number 2 is actually number 1. And then I, uh, so it created a
panel. And I didn’t wanna interview too many people. So I picked seven folks, I call
them the black panel. People who I thought were doing blackness well. And differently
than what we commonly see. And so here’s who’s on that panel. There is three black
women, starting with Demali Ayo. Demali is a performance artist and a writer. She wrote
a book called Obamastan: Land without Racism. I came across her in about 2003 when I was
just early in my own stand-up career and I found this website called rentanegro dot com.
I was like, “What in the world is that?” It was just hilarious, satirical product offering
where she’s like, “Look white people have a lot of questions of their black friends.
We need to monetize this and set up some sort of leasing system.” So she had rentanegro
dot com, she had prices. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: She had all this stuff. She was inspired by this other dude, Keith
Obadike , who tried to auction off his blackness on E-Bay. And, uh, and sold it for not enough
money. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So Demali, she’s gotta be in the book, gotta be in the book.
It turns out that we went to the same high school with the same friends. I didn’t even
know that until we started talking. Cheryl Contee, she is the co-founder with me of Jack
and Jill Politics. Based in the Bay area, runs a social media strategy firm. Um, Jacquetta
Szathmari, she was someone I did not know at all. A friend connected me to her. A black
woman who lives up in Riverside up in the Bronx, Libertarian, and grew up in the eastern
shore of Maryland. She was like my rural vector. I was like, “Okay, let’s not keep it too
city focused.” And she had a bunch of great stories to share. And then I had three black
men. I had Kamau Bell who’s a Bay area comedian. [Applause]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah, can we clap for them? Kamau, he, uh, I like this dude. I remembered
hearing about him cause people kept saying like, “I was like the Kamau of the east.”
Or he was the Baratunde of the west. Why can’t black dudes just be each other? Like why do
you have to? [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: But um, he has a great one man show called The W. Kamau Bell Curve,
which is a playoff of the Bell Curve book by Charles Murray. Who incidentally, Charles
Murray has a new book out about whiteness and I love that he launched it during black
history month. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Just couldn’t let us have it, right? Anyway, Kamau’s show,
the subtitles is ending racism in about an hour. And he puts his money where his mouth
is, if you show up with a friend of a different race, you get in for half price. So that’s
kind of nice. That’s kind of nice. Elon James White, who I mentioned earlier, Brooklyn
based comedian, This Week in Blackness and Blacking it Up, web shows. Derrick Ashong,
who is a musician primarily, but also a speaker and a TV host. He has a band called Soulfege,
he works for Al Jazeera English. And Derrick, for me, also represented a bit of the diaspora
because he was born in Ghana. He was raised in all around the Middle East in Qatar, Saudi
Arabia. And he spend his teen years and after in the east coast, in the Philadelphia, New
Jersey area. So he was kind of that global brother. And then I had one white guy, uh,
on the panel because I didn’t want to get hit with charges of reverse racism. And I
wanted a control group cause this is a science project as well.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: And so I picked the
whitest guy I could find, who’s Christian Lander, who is the author of Stuff White People
Like. And help create that amazing set. And I really wanted the idea, like the idea of
a white comedian commenting on how to be black was just too good to not try. And he came
through. So what I wanna share now is, uh, some of the questions that I asked these people.
I asked them, “When did you first realize you were black?” “How black are you?”
“Did you ever wish you weren’t black?” “Can you swim?”
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: A very important question.
“How’s that post-racial thing workin out for you?” and, “What do you wish for the
future of black people and race in general in America?” So seven people, seven questions.
It’s a nice grid of 49 clips. And then what I did was I video recorded them and also use
a zoom audio mic to get some good audio. So here is a sample of one of those clips.
[Pause] >> Baratunde Thurston: Oh, I should press
play. This is a compilation around one of the answers.
[Music plays]
>> Female #1: So, I came home and I remember I couldn’t really move past the entrance
of the house. And I need to talk about the fact that this little girl said that I was
black when I, in fact, found myself to be beige.
[Music plays]
>> Male #1: I was playing doctor with a bunch of kids and, uh, when this one girl, it was
her turn to kiss me and she didn’t. And she sort of ran away laughing, the kids ran
away laughing. And the thing I realized at that point is that I was black and they were
all white because this was a small private school in Boston. And that was the first time
I remember feeling like black was somehow separate from the norm, you know. I think
I knew I was black before then because, as I say in my show, my mom would not have not
let me know that I was black. [Laughs]
>> Male #1: There would have been no way that she would have let that information slip.
“It’s cold outside take a jacket and you’re black”.
[Laughter] [Music plays]
>> Male #2: I was born in Africa, so everybody’s black.
[Laughter] >> Male #2: So, we don’t really think about
it like that. I mean here it’s like “Is he black? Is he white?” In Africa, like,
you don’t ask. The assumption is that you’re black. Therefore, what becomes more important
is other things. What your name is, where you come from, what language do you speak,
what’s your culture, what’s your tribe etcetera. So I knew I was black. When I was
eight, I moved to the Middle East. I think the Middle East is the first time I discovered
I was black. Because people would come up to you and they’d be like,
>> Male #3: And what does that translate to?
>> Male #2: That means this little black guy. [Laughter]
[Music plays]
Male #4: I grew up in East Chinatown in Toronto. So it was made very clear that I was gweilo
from a very early--
Male #3: Gweilo? Meaning?
Male #4: White ghost. So I know every derogatory term for a white person in Chinese.
[Music plays]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So that’s some of, you know what people have to say in the book.
In the enhanced version, we have a lot of those clips built in. And in the audio version,
instead of me reading their words, you actually hear them saying what they say and you can
hear the backgrounds of the neighborhoods they live in and I really wanted it to be
an audio experience. I did the reading myself, uh, as well because black people can read
now, it’s pretty awesome. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Uh, so I wanna talk about that process. You know, give a little
behind the scenes of the writing process. And this is the sort of, uh, the route that
I came up with. I tried to write this book in summer of 2010, I sort of missed my target.
I told you about the reengineering around memoir, so summer 2011 was it. I had a drop
dead deadline, July 15th. And those last four weeks, this was all I did. I woke up, I ate,
I wrote, I biked into work, I took a break, I wrote, I took another break, I wrote, I
biked home and kind of wash, rinse, repeat. I also wanted to play with the community of
people who knew this book was coming. Folks who were interested in what I had to do. So
I was trying to use the web in some interesting ways. When I did the interviews I would check
in on four square and use the hash tag how to be black. I was sharing snippets of what
I wrote on Facebook and on my Google plus page. And so this was a chapter I wrote about
what It means, “How to be the black employee.” And folks were just really, you know, we had
a lot of good feedback, uh, on that early moment. Even as I was writing I was like,
“Okay, is this gonna write my sort of how to be black beta project?” I also got some
amazing feedback and I wanna share just a few slices of what people had to say as they
looked over my virtual shoulder. Some woman said, “This book is clearly not written
for black folks. It’s too wordy and there’s no pictures.” That was one of my Facebook
fans that wrote that. So I wrote her back and saying, “Can someone please translate
this for me? I can’t understand it without pictures.” Uh, so that was pretty interesting.
Someone else wrote, “This book is solely based on ignorance. Martin Luther King, Junior
would be ashamed if he read this. Good job with settin us back fifty years, dick.”
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: There’s a lot to
unpack from that. First of all, he has a direct channel with the ghost of Martin Luther King,
which I think is amazing that we haven’t heard from this dude before. I also like that
he called me a dick, that’s really nice. That’s really nice. But mostly I like how
he spelled “solely.” S-O-U-L-Y, which is kinda black.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: And I was like, “Maybe
I should listen to this dude. Maybe I’m, maybe the public knows more than me about
this.” I got an e-mail from a friend of mine during this process. His name is Anand
Giridharadas, he’s a New York Times columnist, written a book called India Calling. He’s
become a very good friend. And he said, “I have an amazing idea for you as a publicity
stunt, create a public writing viewing for your final day of writing the book.” He’s
in this screen sharing service called Join dot Me. You can share your screen with the
world. And so I did that. I actually, when he wrote, I wrote him back immediately, a
really long e-mail explaining why this is a terrible idea and no author should ever
do this. [Laughs]
>> Baratunde Thurston: But as I wrote those words I convinced myself otherwise and decided
to give it a shot. And so I called it My Live Writing Exercise. And I was remembering a
friend of mine who does the live painting, Marc Scheff, and he allows you to see him
actually paint, digitally, using a Wacom Tablet. And, uh, I’ve seen stuff like that with
construction. But never with words, I hadn’t seen someone do that before. So, when people
came, this is the screen that they would see. It had a little billboard explaining what
was going on. You were watching @Baratunde write How to Be Black keep the hash tag going.
Please don’t like, I’m not gonna be chatting with you. People were trying to take control
of my machine. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Because you’re gonna have that happen. And like, “I wanna help
you!” I’m like, “No! No! This is still me writing. You get to watch. Right? You get
to watch.” So they started chatting with each other as I generally, uh, ignored them.
I did take one major tip from this audience. I had this chapter called Going Back to Africa,
which is about my first trip to Senegal when I was in high school. And someone said, “You
should call it Going Black to Africa” And I was like, “Obviously, I should.” And
so I did. And I don’t know who that was, it was like chatuser0056, but uh, they get
a little credit for making the book even blacker. Uh, so this is what people had to say as they
were in the chat room. “This is really what the internet is all about, gives me a connection
with the author.” “How self-obsessed does one have to be to set something like this
up?” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: The answer is very. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Uh, I have a lot of self-love. “Update them to theme and I’ll
leave you alone.” A lot of people were obsessed with typos during live writing. I’m like,
“I will go back and fix those.” [Laughs]
>> Baratunde Thurston: We have editors and copy editors, like, please don’t get caught
up on it. But a lot of people have a little OCD about the spelling. “I’ve watched
cartoonists before, but this is very different.” “Just the little I’ve read here makes
me want to buy this book.” Yes! Good. I should follow up and make sure they did it
and they weren’t just lying. “I have an urge to tweet about this.” Good. “It’s
interesting to see his writing flow.” “I’m surprised to see Baratunde use semi-colons.”
Which again I’m like, “Why? Is it cause I’m black? Like, I don’t understand.”
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: Like, “Is that, am
I not supposed to use semi-colons? Or is it something that I project into the world?”
We just know from my writing and my tweets and my stand up, this dude doesn’t use semi-colons.
What is he up to? [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Somebody else is writing this book. Somebody in Norway was watching
which I love because that is a super white nation. And so I’m like, “He is gonna
get a little direct access to blackness.” This is my favorite comment by far though.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: “My girlfriend is
Chinese and I’m half Jamaican, half regular black.” So let’s just pause on “regular
black.” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Cause you got Black Zero, Diet Black.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: Black macchiato. Like,
I just want regular black. “I think our kids might end up Dominican or something.”
Which is cool cause when you look at the projections of, you know, demographics and inter marrying,
like, everyone will kind of look Dominican. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Puerto Rican, light skin Indian. You know, it’s pretty, we’re
all gonna. How to be Brown is really what I should have written. That’s what I’m
saying. It’s a plan for the future. Future proof my book.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: Uh, and so then, finally
I wanna talk about kind of taking the spirit of all that, the life this is wrapped around,
the way it was written in a semi open fashion. I wanted the marketing to be a bit different,
the extra from might typically be done. So Harper and I developed a really good partnership.
They got a lot of great media, uh, for me and with me. I was able to do Terry Gross,
Fresh Air, which is just like, she’s my hero. She’s this big by the way. I almost
destroyed her by just sitting on her. Terry Gross is the tiniest person. So I would almost
have to apologize to the world. But the first thing we do, well behind the scenes, is set
up a virtual street team. And I had taken some cues from Seth Godin around this and
wanted to tweak it for our own campaign. So we recruited people, we got over 100 people
folks to sign up to help spread the message of the book in their own way. So they got
the book early. I wanted them to blog about it, and they were not all black. This was
an international crew, men and women, um, Asian and Latin American, all kinds of folks
able to find a connection with some of these stories. Cause the story, black is sort of
the variable, how to be is sort of the heart of the story. I contacted everybody I knew.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: This is Ms. Cleo for
those who don’t know. And I’m just like dialing for dollars is very much a political
campaign metaphor for this whole thing. And I’m still reaching out one by one. I talked
to an author, I talked to Gary Vaynerchuk, and I’m like, “What’s the one thing
you think I should do?” He said, “Well did I ask you to buy my book?” I was like,
“Nope.” And he’s like, “That was a miss.” He’s like,” You have all these
followers who are actually friends. I didn’t hit you up personally. The one thing you could
do that would be most effective in getting your book out there is to talk to people one
on one. Just do it. Do the hard work.” And show the shoe leather We got a little crazy.
I have a, I’m working with someone. I hired an assistant to help me through this whole
process. His title is campaign manager, again sticking with the theme. He’s white so his
nickname is “white shadow.” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: And he, we were talking on Skype, I was traveling overseas and I’m
like, “Why don’t we create a black card? Like, wouldn’t it be crazy if we created
a black card?” He’s like, “Yes, that would be crazy.” And, uh, but we did it.
We actually did it. So if you go to gotblackness dot com. It’s a pl--; we printed up a bunch
of these. It’s a plastic card with a magnetic strip. On it there’s a RFid, or I forget,
a QR code. There’s a concierge line to call with all your racial questions. And here’s
what the card does, it’s sort of, One, it gets you 24 seven to the white house, so long
as there’s a black president. So there’s an incentive to re-elect Obama. Two, you can
have police custody for any racially motivated, uh, holding. Stop and frisk and stuff like
that. I know you guys have issues in the Bay area with that just flash your black card.
You can win any racial argument if you violently slam the card down on the table.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: And you are declared
an official friend to black people. So it’s a really cool flexible model. You got to activated
it through text messaging. We use things like if this, then that to help us with is.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: It’s insane. Uh,
actually, in fact, you know what, let me just show you. I’m gonna go over to the live
thing. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Alright so here’s, uh, let me just show you some of our members.
So Ron Williams, Ron J. Williams CEO of Knodes start up out of Brooklyn. He says, “I could
never get a cab to take me to Brooklyn due to the color of my skin. Now that I have the
black card, and a phalanx of lawyers trained by the ghost of Johnny Cochran, I get justice.”
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: Newt Gingrich, temporarily
US popular politician, “I make outlandish comments about black people with almost no
consequences. It’s because I’m a proud holder of the black card. I never leave home
without it. Now get off those food stamps, Negroes.”
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: Then this one, this
is really adorable. This is a young member. There’s no age restriction, no ageism in
the black card. This is Cormack, who is a white child, “I’m 3 years old. Thanks
to the black card, I will never know a life filled with white guilt. Doesn’t your child
deserve the same opportunity I get?” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So, you know, people can apply for membership with this card. It’s
a very exclusive program. But, I’m very proud of what we’ve been able to do there
to kind of spread blackness. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: And we’re doing a lot of live events. Talks like this, throwing
launch parties and trying to keep the theme very black in the party. So, in D.C. I’m
doing an after party at a bar called Blackbird. We got Black Grouse Whiskey co- sponsoring,
Brooklyn Beer, Black Chocolate Stout, so just all black everything, uh, is the theme of
that. And we have, actually this is very important, there are two versions of the book. There
is a black cover with white text and a white cover with black text. If you order online
you don’t know which one you’re gonna get, you can’t request a specific one. We’ve
actually developed; I think you guys at Google would be very proud of this, a racial profiling
algorithm that determines which book you need most and delivers that one to you.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: So for folks who insist,
like “I really want a white version, or I really want a black version.” Just keep
ordering the books until you get the one you want.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: People of mixed race
or other race, are like, “Which one am I supposed to get?” “You’re supposed to
buy both.” {Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So, it’s a very, uh, pro-growth program around this book. And
we set up this website, howtobeblack dot me, where every day in February, and probably
beyond, we’re asking the same questions that are shared in those chapters to the public.
“When did you first realize you were black?” “How black are you?” and the stuff people
are saying, again, is pretty amazing. Here’s a few I queued up, “I’m a graduating senior,
black female, mechanical engineering major from Georgia Tech and I cannot swim.” Uh,
this is another story that someone shared, “I realized I was black when they asked
me to Crip walk.” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Alright. “I literally scared the heck out of folks who had never
a black brother that far out in the ocean.” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Sort of like black spotting, I guess. I don’t know what that
is. “You from Brooklyn and you don’t like rap? You ain't black!” So people share all
these stories and, uh, we wanna kind of keep that going well beyond the book. The book’s
not supposed to be some final chapter, so there’s a party that we wanna invite everyone
to. This photo, by the way, was shot by Neal Brennan. He co-created the Chappelle’s Show.
He’s a stand-up comic. I gave him the book, he rid down a New York subway, he was like
mobbed by these four black dudes like, “What are you holding? What is that?” And so there
inspecting. And I like the dude in the back far right, who clearly already knows how to
be black and is not interested at all. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So that is my formal presentation. I’d love to take your questions
and we can all get a little blacker. I’m Baratunde and thank you.
>>Male #4: I was talking to Joe, and then he’s like, “I think we got it working.”
>>Male #5: Yeah, it started working as soon as you walked out.
>>Male #4: Oh. [Laughter]
>>Male #5: They didn’t want you to be black, that’s why it stopped.
>>Male #4: Stopped it. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: What is going on here? Hi Mike! Oh, please say something racist.
Please! Please! Somebody’s gonna lose their job today. Oh!
[Laughter] [Inaudible]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah, there’s a, for those in the room, mic right there. Please
use that to ask all your blackness questions.
>> Female #2: I apologize for my ignorance; I don’t get the swimming joke.
>> Baratunde Thurston: You know what, that’s a good, that’s a good point. She said, “I
don’t get the swimming joke.” I have an answer but does any black person here wanna
address that. Cause we can go peer to peer on this. Please, go over to the mic.
[Laughter] [Inaudible]
>> Baratunde Thurston: We want, please, use the, he’ll hand you a mic. Don’t talk
yet. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Don’t talk yet. And when you answer say your name if you’re
comfortable, if you’re not you can hide behind your blackness.
>> Female #3: it’s okay, don’t be ashamed. Um, my name’s Elica and I work in Android
for the Google music store. So one of the things, I think one of the main things that
keep black people from swimming so much, so most black people, I think, grow up not learning
how to swim. I think one of the main things that keeps us from learning is our hair.
[Laughter] >> Female #3: That was, that was a big, big
impediment for me. Um, but, unfortunately, I mean, fortunately, for me my mom put braids
in my hair and she put me in the pool and made me get swim lessons. But I had girlfriends
later I would try to get to go to the pool they were like, “Uh-uh, my mom just pressed
my hair.” Or “I did this, you know, I got a jerry curl.” You know, so all kind
of things with hair that, you know, really keep a lot of black people from learning.
And, I guess also just fear of sharks, maybe. [Laughter]
>> Female #3: I don’t know, but I kind of break some of those barriers but, you know,
some people still are.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Thank you. Do you have an addendum to this? Yeah?
>> Female #4: My name is Judith Williams; I work on the diversity team here at Google.
And I’m probably a little bit older than most of you here so you might not remember,
but Howard Cosell, who was a sports journalist.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah.
>>Female #4: He made this famous comment about how black people can’t swim because we sink.
And that caused a huge uproar. So for me that’s one of the reasons why it’s funny.
>> Baratunde Thurston: There is a, thank you very much. Thank you both. I like that we
crowd sourced that a little bit. There’s also, in terms of the economics of it, you
know there’s been a historical lack of access to pools or segregation around pools that
kind of seeped into the community over time. I ask this question to people, we have the
video on the site, but Jacquetta was a, she grew up on the eastern shore and she’s like,
“You can’t not swim, you live right next to the ocean. If something could happen, I
wanna know how to do it.” She was outlandish in that way. Kamau probably knew how to swim
but he said, “I can’t float very well cause I’m six foot two, 250 pounds build
for slavery and the revolution.” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So that’s very important to keep in mind as well, if you’re built
for the revolution, you may be slower in the water. Any other questions or comments? Yeah?
>> Female #5: Okay. I’m here again. So I know that you’re alum of my alma mater.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Which one are we talking?
>> Female #5: Harvard.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Harvard, cool.
>> Female #3: And one of the things that I found was, when I was at Harvard, there was
a lot of pulling the black card, shall we say, or challenges. And I’m wondering how
your experiences at a black student Harvard might have informed some of your later stand-up
and your book and some of the things you talk about.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yes, so I have, I have a chapter in the book called Black, “Being
Black at Harvard.” I had good preparation for the Harvard environment. I went to boot
camp, also known as private white high school. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: And, I went to Sidwell Friend School, where the Obama daughters go,
where Chelsea Clinton was two years behind me. And that was my big cultural adjustment.
I’d been in D.C. public schools before then and my neighborhood was all black and Latino.
There were two white kids in my class in grade school. One was William, one was Willamina.
So as far as I knew all white people had the same name. So Sidwell was culture shock. I
had Ebonics when I showed up. I axed people questions. It’s a very long road.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: I’ve gotten through
it now, I’ve gotten through it. I got treatment. And, so Harvard for me was very liberating
because I’d gone through the whole process of being the minority in the educational institution.
Harvard certainly keeps changing in the types of black people that go there, too. At the
time that I was there, I think half or to just slightly majority were not American native
black, but were immigrants from some other place, from the Caribbean from across the
Diaspora. That changes things, that changes thing culturally. We also have people who
much, many more people over the history of Harvard who’ve had a private school background,
mixing with those who have public school background, mixing with those from the Diasporic background.
So I did not, I was one of those dudes that like hung out with the blackity black crowd
and like sat at the black table. But also I, like, I talked to white people because
they were there and had knowledge in their brains that I wanted, and friendship in their
hearts. So I think I had a pretty idealized experience because I was so very prepared.
I don’t know that everyone had that experience. You know everyone’s got their own college
experience, too. I would like to think that the mix of the type of black people in each
Harvard class over time contributes to a little bit less of the black card pulling. Except
for mine, which I hope to monetize and get all those people to invest using the black
card. Thank you. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Anybody else? Step right up.
>> Male #6: Alright. My name is Biola.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Biola, hello.
>> Male #6: So, um, I understand you have an Arabic name, and a British name as well.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah, yeah. My middle name
>> Male #6: Do you ever…?
>> Baratunde Thurston: What’s up? Go ahead.
>> Male #6: Yeah, do you ever have to pull out the black card to validate your blackness?
>> Baratunde Thurston: I don’t have to pull out the black card yet, I think people can
just sense that I have it in my wallet. Um, my middle name is Rafiq, R-A-F-I-Q, which
means friend or companion. And my last name is Thurston which means that was the guy that
owned my people. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Um, so my name in comb--. Baratunde Rafiq in combination is supposed
to mean kingly companion. That was what my mother was going for. Yeah, and I don’t,
I don’t really have patience for the black card being pulled thing. And, uh, I know I’m
black. [Laughs]
>> Baratunde Thurston: And I think the self-knowledge and the confidence to not be buffeted by the
external pressures from all kinds of people. You know, there's this weird identity matrix,
right? Where there’s like who you are and who the world expects you to be, whether you’re
a woman, whether you’re black, whether you’re gay, whether you’re white dude, whatever.
There’s always a gap in those things. And within the black matrix, there’s inside
the black community, “You’re not black enough because you’re not thug or hood or
whatever.” Or, “You’re not black enough cause you don’t hate white people enough.
“ [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Or “Cause you’re radically political enough.” Derrick had
a great story about some folks at a new Black Panther party in Boston saying he’s not
black enough and he’s like, “I’m from Africa. You cannot out black me, I win. I
always win.” [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: It’s just like. So, and then, from the externally, you know non
blacks and black, those same switches exist. There’s like a mux right here with all these
different channels of blackness. And I think, what I hope will happen and what I sort of
see happening, though I’m in a little bit of a bubble myself, is that in part because
of tech and part because we can put out new images of what black is. We’re gonna have
to just rely on the main stream MTV commercialized vision of the archaized, sassy black woman.
Like, you can be more than that. You know what I’m saying? Thugged out, I’m wearing
a hoodie but I’m clearly not very thug. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So, cause I would never, a thug would never say, “I’m clearly not
very thug.” With that inflection. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So as we are able to project more of our full selves out into the
world instead of compete with those images. And demonstrate that there’s a market for
you. You have Awkward Black Girl, Black Nerd Comedy, This Week in Blackness, as examples.
We can close that gap a little bit more and have our black cards called a lot less. Yeah?
>> Female #6: Hello, thank you. My name is Chastity.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Hello Chastity.
>> Female #6: Um, and I onboard all of our new employees here at Google. And your visit
couldn’t be more timely because I’m in an argument with my boyfriend.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Whoa, whoa, whoa. Okay.
>> Female #6: Over something like. [Laughter]
>> Female#6: Wait, wait! Let me explain.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Please explain.
>> Female #6: To give you background, I’m from Portland Oregon.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Okay. >> Female #6: He’s from Philadelphia Pennsylvania.
>>Baratunde Thurston: Hold on, we got a little racism happening right now. Just a little
>> Female #6: Okay. [Laughter]
>>Baratunde Thurston: Just a smidgen. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: I’m just--
>> Female #6: So I’m from Portland, he’s from Philly; we have two completely different
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah.
>> Female #6: But, last night, we were watching an episode of the Chappelle’s Show, there
was a segment where he brings people out and he asked them questions. I think its like,
“How well do you know black people?” It was something like that.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah.
>> Female #6: So he would ask someone, “What’s a Lucy?” and, so, my boyfriend would turn
to me and say. “Babe, what’s a Lucy” And I’m like, “I don’t know.” And
so the next question was like a character on Good Times that I didn’t know.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah.
>> Female #6: But, “Who is that?” and I’m like, “I don’t know.” So then
he asked me one more question >>Baratunde Thurston: Yeah.
>> Female #6: And I yelled at him, I was like, “I Don’t Know!”
[Laughter] >> Female #6: And so we got into this argument,
and he says that it’s not his fault that I’m insecure about my blackness. Or lack
thereof. [Laughter]
>> Female #6: So, what I need from you, this isn’t a question it’s more of a request.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah.
>> Female #6: I need something that I can say to counter him when I see him today.
[Laughter] >> Female #6: I need your help.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah.
>> Female #6: It’d be better if you could just tweet him and play him in front of all
of the world, but if not.
>> Baratunde Thurston: What? [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Wow! You are really, you are asking me, first of all, I think this
is a fascinating moment. [Laughter]
>>Baratunde Thurston: And I kinda gotta respect your gusto and your boldness because I don’t
know your boyfriend and I don’t know his side of your story.
[Laughter] >> Female #6: Oh!
>> Baratunde Thurston: And you’re asking me to violate potential bro code here.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: Which I just, like,
he’s from Philly. Like, I have mad love for Philly. I’m from the east coast so I’m
not tryin to do all that. Without. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: But I will share though, there is, you’ve reminded me of a funny
story from the book. From Jacquetta, again she’s the eastern shore Maryland native,
and she’s like, “I don’t understand black folks from Chicago and LA, like I don’t
know what they’re saying when they talk.” Because it’s just a different language,
it’s a different community. She’s like, “We need some kind of translation, some
kind of app, to help one type of black person talk to another type.” So if the book does
well enough, I’ll be proud to announce the Negretta Stone App.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: Which would allow,
like, inter black communication. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: And maybe you and your boyfriend can,
>> Female #6: Yeah, I think that’s what I need.
>> Baratunde Thurston: like Beta test it.
>> Female #6: So just let me know, when it comes out.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah, Cause I just, I hope your relationship can withstand this.
>> Female #6: We’ll see. I don’t know. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Wow, I mean there are other, there are good things in this relationship,
too, or is this the only thing you do?
>> Female #6: Good things. There are good things.
>> Baratunde Thurston: You actually like him? Like he smells good? Like all this kind of
>> Female #6: Thank you. [Laughter]
>>Female #6: Yes.
>> Baratunde Thurston: My goodness Chastity.
>> Female #6: Thank you. Just pokin a little fun.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Thank you. Tell him to take it easy on you, though. Tell him to
take it easy. Best as I can see, you’re black.
>> Baratunde Thurston: And I’m kind of an authority cause I’ve been black for over
30 years. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: How we doin? Anybody else? Going once. Any remo- are the remote
people allowed to talk?
>> Audience member: Yes.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Anybody on the Google hangout?
[Pause] >> Baratunde Thurston: If you’re talking
we cannot hear you, just so you know.
>> Audience Member: Ping Camille.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Ping Camille. What did I, no what does that mean?
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: I just yelled out words.
>> Baratunde Thurston: I could have launched something.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: What did you do?
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: It’s like Ender’s
Game or something up in here. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: I just wiped out a race. Or some secret Google hack.
>>Audience Member: Austin has a question.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Okay, you can relay them. Go ahead.
[Laughter] >>Baratunde Thurston: I’m Sorry.
>> Male #7: Can you hear us now?
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yes!
>> Male #7: Oh hooray! One question, it’s a little off topic but I saw that you were
an editor for The Onion and I just wanted to get your experience what that was like
working with that group.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yes, I am at The Onion, I still am at The Onion. Thanks for firing
me with your use of tense. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: What was it like to have that job that you used to have? That
you don’t know that you don’t have anymore? By the way, I have your job.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: No, I’ve been with
The Onion since, we can maybe move him VC people, he’s like coughing or dying or something.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: And I just need him
to die quietly so I can answer his question. Maybe his kids can hear it. I’ve been with
The Onion since the fall of 2007. I was hired on as Politics editor initially to help plot
and plan and coordinate our election coverage. Also as web editor to help bring us into the
future digitally even more than we already were. My title now is Director of Digital.
I made up that title because it sounded better. And it has D-O-D, which sounds pretty bad
ass and I like bad ass job titles. So it’s been amazing. I mean, I do love working there.
I’ve been into comedy for a very long time. I’ve been doing stand-up for over a decade.
Being at one of the premier comedy institutions the world has to offer has been great. And
to be able to kind of play on this line between journalism and comedy and satire and all,
it’s just very fun. We’re sort of in this enthrones of digital essence and like, “What
does it mean to be a content company in the inter webs?” And are able to kind of mock
that, but also participate in it in really fun ways. And they provide healthcare, which
is amazing. So yeah, the healthcare isn’t amazing, it’s okay, but the fact that I
have it, is awesome in America.
>> Female #7: We have a question from Tenecia,
>>Baratunde Thurston: Yeah.
>>Female #7: who is pinging from some place here in,
>> Baratunde Thurston: Somewhere black I’m guessing.
>> Female #7: Can you, I’m asking you if, uh, you’ve ever considered appearing on
an episode of Awkward Black Girl or helping them write material for the website.
>>Baratunde Thurston: That’s funny. It reminds me of a question. I probably will answer that,
but I wanna tell this story instead. When I was doing my stand-up thing people were
like, “Yo, have you ever considered being on the Tonight Show with Jay Leno? Or maybe
you should do SNL or something.” I was like, “Maybe I should have dreams and pursue them,
thank you.” So I have not, it would never occur to me to, like, presume upon her show,
Issa Rae. But I do, I’m a big fan of the show. And I’d be happy to make an appearance,
Issa. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: So if you want me on your show, no pressure, but everybody on the
internet would watch it. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: I don’t know. You should watch the show. It’s kind of, I think
it’s kind of a weird question but I, I, I chose to answer it the way that I did and
now it’s part of the permanent record. Good. [Laughter]
>> Baratunde Thurston: Who else? Anyone else? Yes?
>>Female #8: I have a question. Good afternoon, my name is Charlay. First of all, thank you
for coming. I think you’re hilarious.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Thank you.
>> Female #8: I was a little bit weary when I saw the counter invite. I was like, “OK,
this guy is gonna tell me how to be black, I think I already know how to do that.”
>>Baratunde Thurston: I don’t need nobody tellin me how to be black!
>> Female #8: It’s been really great so thank you. My question is, since you are apparently
a foremost expert on blackness. [Laughter]
>> Female #8: I wanted to know, I wanted to know, in your opinion, what is it that makes
someone black, because like Chastity was mentioning culture varies depending on where you live.
Like, if you don’t speak a certain way, people might feel like you’re black enough.
And really it’s not even skin tone anymore because my cousin, you know, looks like a
white girl. So I just wanted to know, is there one thing that makes somebody black, or is
it hard to define?
>>Baratunde Thurston: Oh, what makes someone black? Black parents help, at least one.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: I would never say that
it’s some checklist of cultural markers and knowledge cause that’s, that’s a falsely
limiting thing. But I also, we also know that scientifically speaking, there’s no such
thing as race, if you wanna go to the genetic thing and try to define it that way. It’s
in between those two falsehoods. There’s a truth of blackness which is some history,
which is some phenotypical set of things, some, but not exclusively. You have very white
looking black people. You have very black looking white peo- no. You don’t have any
black looking white people. But, um, yeah the idea, I also would be very careful of
this idea that anyone can just declare themselves to be black. I remember there was a rap group,
maybe in the early 90s, Young Black Teenagers. And they’re like, “Blackness isn’t a
race, it’s a state of mind, man.” It’s like, no, it’s not. You can’t just write
yourself in as a candidate for blackness. And that’s a little, that level of flexibility
is a little dangerous. But we’re in some magical times where those cultural markers
are open to so many people. When you put the popularity of entertainment especially Hip
Hop. Hip Hop’s such a global culture started very black but has grown far beyond that.
Being in rap doesn’t make you black. It makes you really into Hip Hop. But it doesn’t
change your race. This book doesn’t make anyone black. It can make you look blacker,
I think, by sharing some of a black experience that you may not have heard about and having
some fun with it. So I’m gonna ramble through that answer and say there’s no, there’s
no measure of black to be in and out. You kinda know it, if you are. And if you’re
not, then that’s cool too. [Pause]
>>Baratunde Thurston: You might be the last one. Yeah, you are the last one. Congrats.
>> Female #9: I am the last one?
>> Baratunde Thurston: Make it amazing.
>>Female #9: Oh, gosh the pressure. I don’t know if it is but I’ll see. I’m Mary and,
um, I was raised, I grew up in a predominately white area.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah.
>>Female #9: There was about five black families.
>>Baratunde Thurston: Out of how many?
>>Female #9: Oh, I don’t know, like 30,000. You know, central coast. San Luis Obispo County,
I don’t know if you guys know where that is.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Okay.
>> Female #9: I grew up in a beach town and I don’t know where to swim.
>> Baratunde Thurston: Just a moment of silence.
>> Female #9: I try, I try, I try. But anyway, my parents always taught me to speak to other
black people. So if I see other black people, maybe it’s because it was predominately
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah.
>> Female #9: You speak to each other. They say “Hi.” And my white friends always
find it funny because they don’t walk around saying hi to each other.
[Laughter] >>Female #9: And I think the younger generation,
cause I’m older, so who said they were the oldest in the room? I bet I’m older. But
>> Baratunde Thurston: She left, I think. It was nap time. I'm kidding.
>> Female #9: She was too old. [Laughter]
>> Female #9: So the younger people don’t do it. So sometimes I’ll say hi and there
like well ya know? I was just wondering did you grow up doing that, or were you raised
to do that?
>> Baratunde Thurston: Yeah, that’s. Great question, great closing question. I did grow
up acknowledging other black people, I still acknowledge other black people. I think the
folks who don’t do that, I think it’s very regional, in my experience. When I moved
from D.C. to Boston I encountered a level of coldness in the city that I’ve never
experienced. I was always told that New York was a very rough and cold town and Boston
is much more distant, you know, much more insider or outsider. And not just among black
people, with all people. People don’t say hi on the street in Boston. Like, “What
do you, what do you want? “ Like, “Just a human connection.”
>>Baratunde Thurston: “You came to the wrong city! Get out! Go back south!”
[Laughter] >>Baratunde Thurston: So I, I actually write
about this in “How to Be a Black Friend.” I say one of the keys on the premise of this
being, you’re a black person, who is friends, one of, if not only minority in the group
of non-black people especially white people, you have an obligation to acknowledge other
black people. Because you’re on a mission, you’re basically an undercover agent. And
you’re delivering messages, and communication, you’re learning, you’re preventing a race
war by telling your white friends not to touch your hair or use the “N” word. But if
you don’t acknowledge other black people it raises suspicions about your commitment
to the cause. So I was always to, like, at least a head nod, just a little something.
Maybe, maybe one of these, you know if you’re really.
[Laughter] >>Baratunde Thurston: If it’s the day, like,
if you’ve reached the moment when it’s like it’s on, you got the memo. It's like,
“Let’s do it!” [Laughter]
>>Baratunde Thurston: Or maybe just a smile. I just needed the subtle eye contact. So I
have not experienced much of, black people were comfortable being black people but not
acknowledging other black people. I think I have seen that among some that are like,
“I’m kind of undercover here. I don’t want people to know that I know that I’m
black.” [Laughter]
>>Baratunde Thurston: So keep doing it. We’ll try to train the younger generation to stay
on message and on mission. [Laughter]
>>Baratunde Thurston: I am gonna end my talk on this.
[Laughter] >> Baratunde Thurston: Thank you Google, thank
you black people, thank you all people. I’m Baratunde.