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Baratunde Thurston On Being Black

Baratunde Thurston

Baratunde Thurston (Nate Goldman/WBUR)

Baratunde Thurston is a Harvard-educated comedian and satirist who lives in Brooklyn. He is the digital director for The Onion, a co-founder of Jack and Jill Politics and, as his website tells you, he has more than 30 years of experience being black.

Baratude says his name, which is Nigerian, has served as a perfect window through which to examine his experience of blackness. He says his parents chose that name “in part as a political act and cultural act.”

“My mother was very active in the civil rights and black power movements in the 60s and 70s, and a lot of that was about, in some ways, going back to Africa,” Thurston said. “Not everybody could afford the airfare, and so it was cheaper to bring Africa to you by naming your kid with an African name.”

He’s gotten different reactions to his first name — everything from African Americans accepting it without question (after all, he says, blacks are known to have “creative” names) to white people asking him for the story of where it’s from.

In the interview with Radio Boston’s Anthony Brooks, Thurston talks about his childhood’s influence on his life. He lived in two worlds. His mother, who Thurston describes as a “pro-black, Pan-African, tofu-eating hippie,” who had him memorizing the countries of Africa and reading about apartheid before his 10th birthday, sent him to Sidwell Friends, a prestigious Washington, D.C., private school, where Chelsea Clinton went and President Obama’s daughters currently go.

Part memoir and part satire, Thurston’s new book, “How to be Black,” explores some of the big questions that define post-racial America. When do you first realize you’re black? How do you speak for all black people? And how to become (next) black president.

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Hosts Meghna Chakrabarti and Anthony Brooks introduce us to newsmakers, big thinkers and artists and bring us stories of relevance to Bostonians here and around the region. Live every weekday at 3.

WBUR's Sacha Pfeiffer is co-hosting Radio Boston while Meghna Chakrabarti is on maternity leave.

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