Baratunde Thurston: Dear America, can we talk?

Dear America, can we talk?

Entrepreneur, comedian, former digital editor of The Onion and author of "How to Be Black," Baratunde Thurston delivered one punchline after another at an afternoon presentation at the IdeaFestival, poking fun at our expectations and what can, but often isn't, talked about in the United States - race.

Whether is was showing clips of his black friends describing when "they first learned that they were black," or joking that his panel of blackness experts included one white Canadian, "for a control," he brought down the house with one wry observation after another. Those of a certain age will remember the historic television show that traced the African American experience in America. But "Roots" was never like this. Was Baratunde serious? Oh yeah. Ernest? Never. I was reminded of one public broadcasting piece that I read when I knew that Baratunde would be returning to the IdeaFestival in 2012. It seemed a bit too studied, and I blogged that "PBS examines blackness expert Baratunde Thurston, finds him 'totally unpretentious, candid young man.'"

We can say in humor what needs to be said without the insincere nods to the wider, stilted conversation about race, and still stop short of abdication, of failing to be who we are as individuals. "How to Be Black" is about individuality too often obscured by race, by education, by social status and by all the other boxes into which we put people. Baratunde excels at demolishing boxes while leaving the contents intact. It's a rare skill.

Clearly, "there are ways we talk about race that we pursue that are not productive." My book "gives people permission to play."


Image: Geoff Oliver Bugbee