The Black Friend
On Being a Better White Person
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Winter 2020 Kids Indie Next List
— Tegan Tigani, Queen Anne Book Company, Seattle, WA
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Writing from the perspective of a friend, Frederick Joseph offers candid reflections on his own experiences with racism and conversations with prominent artists and activists about theirs—creating an essential read for white people who are committed anti-racists and those newly come to the cause of racial justice.
“We don’t see color.” “I didn’t know Black people liked Star Wars!” “What hood are you from?” For Frederick Joseph, life as a transfer student in a largely white high school was full of wince-worthy moments that he often simply let go. As he grew older, however, he saw these as missed opportunities not only to stand up for himself, but to spread awareness to those white people who didn’t see the negative impact they were having.
Speaking directly to the reader, The Black Friend calls up race-related anecdotes from the author’s past, weaving in his thoughts on why they were hurtful and how he might handle things differently now. Each chapter features the voice of at least one artist or activist, including Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give; April Reign, creator of #OscarsSoWhite; Jemele Hill, sports journalist and podcast host; and eleven others. Touching on everything from cultural appropriation to power dynamics, “reverse racism” to white privilege, microaggressions to the tragic results of overt racism, this book serves as conversation starter, tool kit, and invaluable window into the life of a former “token Black kid” who now presents himself as the friend many readers need. Backmatter includes an encyclopedia of racism, providing details on relevant historical events, terminology, and more.
Praise For The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person…
– Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning, on NPR’s Morning Edition
With clear, powerful prose and a gentle dose of humor, The Black Friend is essential reading for anyone wishing to be part of a better world. I absolutely loved this book.
—Julie Klam, New York Times best-selling author
The Black Friend is THE book everyone needs to read right now. Frederick Joseph has written an essential window into the movement toward anti-racism. Read it, absorb it, and be changed because of it.
—Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give
For every white person who ever wanted to do better, inside this book, Frederick Joseph offers you both the tools and the chance.
—Jacqueline Woodson, Winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award
Toward the end of The Black Friend, Frederick Joseph writes that his book is ‘a gift, not an obligation.’ I respectfully disagree. This book should be an obligation for white people, especially white parents, because we must raise anti-racist kids who will never be perpetrators of or bystanders to white supremacy and who will never mistake tolerance or appropriation for respect. Don’t skip the painful parts—read every word.
—Chelsea Clinton, author, advocate, and vice chair of the Clinton Foundation
Typically, books on being an antiracist methodically walk readers through systemic racism and its related terminology, but Joseph takes a more personal, and perhaps more effective, approach, sharing stories from his time in school and college to provide cultural history and opportunities for reflection...To reinforce many of his points, Joseph includes interviews with writers, activists, and other influencers from multiple intersections. Finally, he calls on white people to become active accomplices, rather than passive allies, in the fight. Readers can find more explanations of terms and movements in the concluding “Encyclopedia of Racism,” as well as a “The Black Friend Playlist” and "People and Things to Know" roster. A hard-hitting resource for action and change.
—Booklist (starred review)
Gearing this volume toward white people “who want to be better,” Joseph offers anecdotes about his experiences with racism and white supremacy...Interviews with author Angie Thomas, journalist Jemele Hill, and others contribute discussions on the problem with “color blindness” and the importance of personal growth, among various topics. In a genial, assured tone, Joseph invites and encourages readers to reflect on their own behavior, move toward anti-racism, and implement change.
—Publishers Weekly Online (starred review)
Part memoir, part guidebook, this title explores scenarios of interpersonal and institutional struggle to introduce the next generation of White youth to anti-racism...The language strikes a congenial yet firm tone, recognizing that those who have made it this far are to be met with genuine intention; his message is that it’s about becoming better and understanding how your own behavior and knowledge are critical to leveraging the change needed to overhaul oppressive systems. Joseph navigates the sensitivity of such a project and poses a sincere question that challenges the long-held promise of reading amid widespread injustice: “If I show people how they’re hurting others, will some of them be willing to change?” Here’s to many readers digging in to find out. A smartly researched, well-intentioned provocation to inspire change.
Candlewick, 9781536217018, 272pp.
Publication Date: December 1, 2020
About the Author
Conversation Starters from ReadingGroupChoices.com
1. Who benefits and how from distorted narratives taught about topics such as the first Thanksgiving and Christopher Columbus as well as the silencing and erasure of BIPOC? How does this play a role in conditioning and socializing young people into racism?
2. In what ways have you noticed a color-blind approach taken toward race? Who benefits from color blindness and in what ways? How are BIPOC harmed when white people suggest it’s better to be color-blind?
3. How do movements that leverage social media to promote activism, such as #OscarsSoWhite, #RepresentationMatters, #BlackLivesMatter, and #weneeddiversebooks work to disrupt racism and bring awareness to the importance of inclusivity?
4. What distinctions can you make between cultural exchange, cultural appreciation, and cultural appropriation? What does it mean for white people to engage with stories that are not their own and to understand that they are not for them?
5. Joseph writes, “Some people think they can be an ally while also letting the people close to them continue to be comfortable in their racism” (p. 120). Do you think it’s truly possible to be an anti-racist and associate with racist people? Why or why not?
6. There has been a legacy of whiteness being used as a weapon against Black people in the United States. Amy Cooper’s false accusation of Black birdwatcher Christian Cooper is one example of this. In what ways have Black people had to navigate and work to safeguard themselves from white privilege and the power white people hold within the justice system?
7. When BIPOC speak about racism they’ve experienced, there can be a tendency for some white listeners to become defensive and conflate their own experiences. “All Lives Matter” is one example of this that Joseph shares. Consider why this is offensive. What does it mean to truly listen and learn during discussions about race and racism?
8. How do you define and differentiate between ally and accomplice? Where might you locate yourself on this continuum? Why is allyship insufficient in the work of anti-racism?