Baratunde Thurston is a politically-active, technology-loving comedian from the future. He co-founded the black political blog, Jack and Jill Politics and serves as Director of Digital for The Onion. He has written for Vanity Fair and the UK Independent, hosted Popular Science’s Future Of on Discovery Science and appears on cable news regularly to say smart things in funny ways. Then-candidate Barack Obama called him "someone I need to know." Baratunde travels the world speaking and advising and performs standup regularly in NYC. He resides in Brooklyn, lives on Twitter and has over 30 years experience being black. His first book, How To Be Black, was published in February 2012 by Harper Collins.
Baratunde Thurston: Oh, hi! I didn’t see you there. My name is Baratunde Thurston, and I want to talk about the future of blackness. As I explored in conversations around writing this book, How to be Black, I proposed a grand, unified theory of blackness sort of jokingly, but also to legitimately think about where black people are going and where race in general in the US especially and maybe even globally are going, and there are really three parts that I talked about and kind of discovered at the same time.
The first is to rethink history. When we often we talk about black history it’s just pain. It’s like all these bad things happened to your people, woe is me, there is spirituals and slavery and Jim Crow and police brutality and mortgage discrimination. . . . And there is so much more both to black history in this country but also throughout the diaspora around the world, and when you really look within the American context it’s important to remember that black people in this country are very, very American. We don’t have anywhere else to go, and we may have shown up here involuntarily but our mere presence and part of that struggle helped the country to become more of itself. You know, we had great words defining America, but the actual execution of America fell far short of those ideals and that black struggle. That civil rights struggle got us closer to our ideals than any other struggle in this country’s history. So it’s important to remember that. Kind of expand and have a more proud sense of history.
The second notion kind of expands on this idea of struggle, and I call it “distributed struggle,” and I'm kind of thinking in terms of distributed technology infrastructure and outsourcing, and basically I think it’s time for white people to fix racism. That’s my point. I think we have done a lot of work as black and brown people to struggle on behalf of the downtrodden, but downtrodden people fighting for downtrodden people has a limited range and upside in possibility. We need the trodders to also struggle on behalf of the downtrodden, and, as the W. Comal Bell, said when I interviewed him--he is a great comedian out of the Bay area--what he had hoped for--and I sign on to this vision fully--was the idea of working on behalf of the group one over from you. So black people, you work on behalf of immigrant rights, and immigrant communities, you work on behalf of women’s rights, and women’s groups, you work on behalf of LGBT issues. And by doing that we build much deeper empathy and maybe even have better tactics from our own experience to lever and offer to others.
And then the final phase of kind of this grand unified theory I call “the center for experimental blackness.” Now that’s not a think tank or some weird oblong shaped building with fourth dimensions that I'm trying to set up. It’s not a wormhole into a secret black society. It’s just the idea of pushing the bounds of what is publically accepted and acknowledged and praised as black. It means swim. It means leave the country. It means learn other languages, and it means, as Elon James White said when I talked to him, don’t worry about doing things that make you black, do what you do and you open up the doors to blackness. So do more things, black people--and really all people. The world is better when we try new stuff out. We learn more that way. We connect to each other in a better way.
Directed / Produced by
Jonathan Fowler & Elizabeth Rodd
One of the beautiful things about the Internet is that everybody has a voice. And one of the terrible things about the Internet is that everybody has a voice.