December 2020

cover image for The Black FriendDecember’s Big Picture

The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person

by Frederick Joseph

“More people than ever have had enough and are fighting back. I’m proud to be one of them.” So says media activist Joseph in the preface to this meaty yet accessible, challenging yet enjoyable book addressed to white people trying do better at understanding race and racism. Here he reinvents the trope of the Black friend from being the token, permissive ornament of an otherwise white group to being “the person who is willing to speak the truth to the white people in their lives, to call them out when they do or say something hurtful, ignorant, or offensive.”

And that’s what he does warmly, frankly, helpfully in chapters that cover topics such as the importance of racial visibility (“We Want You to See Race”), cultural appropriation (“This Isn’t a Fad; This Is My Culture”), “passes” from in-group friends (“We Don’t Care What Your Black, Brown, or Asian Friend Said Was Okay”), and the need to move beyond allyship (“In the End: We Don’t Need Allies; We Need Accomplices”). Most chapters include a dialogue between Joseph and a media creator or activist, providing an informed take from people such as YA author Angie Thomas, #OscarsSoWhite initiator April Reign, and Academy Award–winning Moonlight actor/writer Tarell Alvin McRaney. There’s even high value in the copious end matter: “An Encyclopedia of Racism” explains terms and topics bolded in the main text that are often unknown to or misunderstood by white people; “People and Things to Know” includes individuals, books, and movies of note; “The Black Friend Playlist” includes a collection of Joseph’s favorite tracks; source notes are also included, and a bibliography and index will be in the final volume.

What makes the book sing is Joseph’s lively, informal voice, including lots of direct address and quick asides, in a visually easygoing format. The preface contains a letter to his little brother, and there’s an older brotherly, even paternal tone throughout as he dips into personal accounts, such as own experiences as a nerdy Black kid subject to repeated microaggressions, but also as an adult who makes his own missteps. The humor ranges from wry to satiric to just gleefully goofy, as when he’s exhorting his young readers to check out beloved movies, TV shows, and music (“Just know that if we meet and you haven’t listened to any Coltrane songs, we are going to have an issue!”). It’s a vivid voice that cries out for an audiobook version, and Joseph is an immensely likable figure whose company readers will enjoy.

That’s a key quality when he takes on topics that may make his white audience uncomfortable, such as the weaponry of white women’s tears or the need for accountability; he’s built trust and camaraderie enough with his readers that they’ll respond to his encouragement to examine themselves. He also offers them some concretely actionable steps: when assessing appropriation, for instance, consider “Who is selling the thing I want to buy? Who gets paid if I buy it? If the money isn’t going to the people whose culture is represented, walk away.” Ultimately, though, his advocacy for antiracism action is both individual and societal, in a call that many will want to answer: “I’m asking you to protect one another and to learn from one another. I’m asking you to turn ‘different’ into the new normal, and to tell others to do the same.”

This is therefore a crucial current volume both for white kids who want to do better and POC kids who’d like a break from being the explainers. Ultimately, Joseph adroitly manages what in 2020 seems a vanishing skill: delivering a tough message in a way that inspires people to listen.

Deborah Stevenson, Editor

Cover art from The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person © 2020 Frederick Joseph, reproduced by permission of Candlewick Press.

December’s Stars

Barone, Rebecca E. F.Race to the Bottom of the Earth: Surviving Antarctica. Holt, 2021 [272p] illus. with photographs
Trade ed. ISBN 9781250257802 $19.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781250257819 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys                                            R* Gr. 5-9

Bascomb, NealThe Racers: How an Outcast Driver, an American Heiress, and a Legendary Car Challenged Hitler’s Best. Scholastic Focus, 2020 [336p] illus. with photographs
Trade ed. ISBN 9781338277418 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781338277425 $11.99
Reviewed from digital galleys                                          R* Gr. 7-12

Gardner, FaithGirl on the Line. HarperTeen, 2021 [352p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780063022300 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780063022324 $8.99
Reviewed from digital galleys                                         R* Gr. 8-12

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Trade ed. ISBN 9781536217018 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781536218220 $9.99
Reviewed from digital galleys                                          R* Gr. 7-12

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Trade ed. ISBN 9781419742088 $16.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9781647001551 $15.29
Reviewed from digital galleys                                            R* 4-6 yrs

Lawson, JonArnoOver the Shop; illus. by Qin Leng. Candlewick, 2021 [48p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9781536201475 $16.99
Reviewed from digital galleys                                            R* 4-8 yrs

Lo, MalindaLast Night at the Telegraph Club. Dutton, 2021 [416p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780525555254 $18.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780525555261 $10.99
Reviewed from digital galleys                                          R* Gr. 9-12

McInerny, VivianThe Whole Hole Story; illus. by Ken Lamug. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2021 [40p]
Trade ed. ISBN 9780358128816 $17.99
E-book ed. ISBN 9780358129486 $12.99
Reviewed from digital galleys                                            R* 4-6 yrs