The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person
Frederick Joseph, Author
Candlewick Press, Nonfiction, Dec. 1, 2020
Suitable for ages: 12 – 17
Themes: Racism, Racial justice, Awareness, White people,
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.
The Black Friend has become an instant New York Times bestseller.
Why I like this book:
Readers will discover that The Black Friend is an eye-opening book, written with a great deal of passion and personal experience. Frederick Joseph’s goal is to enlighten readers with an honest look at America through his eyes. A comment in his introduction says it well, “Thankfully, I’ve spent my years since high school learning and meeting people who were far more culturally aware and thoughtful than I was, which helped me realize that the role I wanted to play around white people wasn’t the token Black guy but rather ‘the Black friend’.”
Joseph skillfully brings to the forefront the subtleties of racism that white people are oblivious to because it is so far from their realm of experience. For example, “the talk” that Black parents have with their children regarding police. Joseph’s conversational approach makes this book relatable. He does an excellent job of talking about the many issues for Black people, sharing some of the worst and best moments in his life, and informing white people about what they should and should not say or do. It certainly is a necessary wake-up call for those who want to become better anti-racists.
I enjoyed the many conversations with notable 14 Black authors, celebrities, journalists, and activists, who contributed their experiences with racism in a wide variety of contexts that reinforce Joseph’s discussion.
This book was very helpful to me and my husband because we have a multicultural and multi-racial family. We didn’t think of ourselves as a racist, but we certainly see how uninformed we’ve been. This book is very helpful to us in our understanding of how we can do better. This is a book families should read and discuss together. And it most certainly belongs in every school library for youth 12 and up.
Review Quote from Chelsea Clinton:
“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.
Frederick Joseph is a writer and an award-winning activist, philanthropist, and marketing professional. He was named to the 2019 Forbes 30 Under 30 list, is a recipient of the Bob Clampett Humanitarian Award, given by Comic-Con International: San Diego, and was selected for the 2018 Root 100 list of most influential African Americans. He has written articles on race, marketing, and politics for outlets such as the New York Times, the Washington Post, Essence, the Huffington Post, and the Root. He lives in New York City.
*Review copy provided by the publisher in exchange for a review.