An opportunity to learn, grow and bring about change
The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph
"While this book is meant to be a guide for white people to understand and be better, it's important that white people also understand that it isn't the duty of Black people or people of colour to explain things. I'm going to do so because I hope it can ultimately make change for my community. But it's important to understand that this book is a gift, not an obligation."
- Frederick Joseph
The Black Friend is probably the most enlightening book I've ever read. This made me realise I didn’t fully understand racism, nor was I aware of how far its ugly tentacles stretch, invading all aspects of everyday life. Before reading this, I thought racism was confined to a minority of white supremacists and defined by the abusive slurs and violence generated by them. I didn't grasp that society is fundamentally a white supremacist construct. I had no comprehension of the detrimental impact of systemic racism on Black, Asian and minority ethnic people ALL THE TIME, even on those who are just children, even when they're at school.
Author Frederick Joseph speaks about his experiences, and interviews a variety of artists and activists, to show white readers what it's actually like to be Black. As a white Irish person who was unaware of the extent of their own privilege, I felt alternately astonished, outraged, upset and ashamed while reading this. Perhaps most disturbing was that the extremely racist, harmful, unfair, and ultimately appalling events described are ordinary occurrences for Black, Asian and minority ethnic people everywhere.
With the Black Lives Matter movement, I became aware of what seemed like rapidly increasing incidents of police brutality in America. I was bewildered by what I naively considered to be disproportionally racist behaviour by the US police force. It was my misguided belief that racism was largely a problem from the past. I'm embarrassed to admit that I thought that apart from a small minority, modern white people were more informed and civilised, and that Black, Asian and minority ethnic people faced less discrimination now.
Joseph talks about the teacher who assumed he was cheating when he aced a test and whose behaviour adversely affected his grades for the rest of his time at middle school. He mentions the girl who had to transfer to another high school because of bullying and lies told by white students. As disgusting as the students' racism is, it's even more horrifying to see the behaviour of grown-up teachers and people people in power, who should know better. Throughout the book, white youths are consistently favoured, and believed, by white people in positions of authority who appear to automatically distrust Black youths.
Then there's the white people who don't consider themselves racist but repeatedly make disparaging remarks, ignorant assumptions and condescending statements based on negative stereotypes. They do this even when they think they are paying Joseph a compliment. These white people seem to be completely (or conveniently) oblivious of the significance of all their words and actions, and lack thereof too.
Joseph has coined the phrase, "Whatever can go racist will go racist," based on Murphy's Law (whatever can go wrong will go wrong) and you see this pattern again and again. At one point, a white person insists a racist guest leave a party and apologises to Joseph for their behaviour. Although Joseph is a college student at this point, it's the first time a white person has apologised for, and done something about, racism in his presence. I was stunned to read that it was not only the first time, but also the last. Parents automatically worry about their children all the time. It was particularly poignant to consider how much more terrifying it is to be the parent of a Black child or adult, when even the police pose a threat.
From clarifying cultural appropriation to the reasons reverse racism does not exist, explaining why white people should never claim to be "colour blind" or use certain words, this informs readers on a variety of important issues. It never feels heavy-handed or didactic and Joseph's tone is conversational and warm throughout. I love his witty writing style and I flew through this book. There's an "Encyclopedia of Racism" at the back of the book, and within the text are lists of notable Black people and events from Black history that white people either know little or nothing about. There are suggestions for Black musicians and artists to look up and Black films and TV shows to watch. Joseph even puts together a brilliant playlist.
Joseph stresses that he is not obliged to explain any of the contents of this book to white people and neither is any other Black, Asian or minority ethnic person. White people ARE obliged to educate themselves, however, and for this reason it's fantastic to have a book of this nature for young people. The Black Friend will help readers understand what racism is, and their role in perpetuating, as well as combatting it, from an early age. This book belongs in every library and on every bookshelf. If you want to raise anti-racist children, this is perfect for your family. The Black Friend is essential reading for white adults too, even if, or perhaps especially if, they don't consider themselves to be racist.
About the author:
Frederick Joseph is an award-winning marketing professional, media representation advocate. With over 10 years of marketing experience, Joseph has made the Forbes Under 30 list for his achievements in Marketing and Advertising. Joseph is currently a surrogate for the Elizabeth Warren campaign. He is also the sole creator of the largest GoFundMe campaign in history, the #BlackPantherChallenge. This generated over $43 million dollars in earned advertising and media for Disney, raised over $950K, and allowed more than 75,000 children worldwide to see the film Black Panther for free. Joseph has been honored as 2018 Comic-Con Humanitarian of the Year award and featured on the 2018 Root 100 List of Most Influential African Americans. In addition to all of this, Joseph is the creator of the largest individual Covid-19 support effort, the #RentRelief campaign, which has raised over $1 million dollars. Follow Frederick Joseph on Twitter.
The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person was released in the US in March 2021 where it became an instant bestseller. The UK edition is published by Walker Books on 1st April 2021 - view this book on the publisher's website.
A huge thanks to Walker Books for the advance reader copy I received via NetGalley - all opinions expressed are my own.