Baratunde Thurston speaks to students about his latest book

Baratunde Thurston, comedian and author of “How To Be Black,” spoke on Wednesday, April 17, 2013, in the Memorial Union. Topics Thurston covered included race issues, his upbringing in inner-city Washington, D.C., his work on The Onion, his book and more.

Miranda Freeman

Guest speaker Baratunde Thurston spoke to ISU students at 8 p.m. April 17, 2013, in the Great Hall of the Memorial Union about his life and, in particular, his book. 

Thurston is a Harvard graduate student and has bounced around many different jobs in his life. 

Thurston explained some background knowledge about his family: his great-grandfather, Benjamin Loneson was born into slavery in 1870. 

“Even though slavery was abolished at this point, I guess the government had not completely stopped running this practice just yet; that happens sometimes,” Thurston said. 

His grandmother was the first black employee of the U.S. Supreme Court building and his mother Arnita was on several radio stations talking on behalf of the African liberation group. 

“My mother began hanging out with a really cool dude named El Derado,” Thurston said. “She then began to distance herself from her mother’s politics.”  

From an early age Thurston was taught to think more intellectually; the first book he ever read was “This is Apartheid.” 

“As well as being a bouncer, I co-founded Jack and Jill Politics, was the director of digital for The Onion, hosted a television show on Discovery Science called ‘Popular Science’s Future Of,’ and wrote ‘How To Be Black,'” Thurston said. 

His book was published in 2012 and is a New York Time’s best-seller. 

Thurston started out writing the book alone and realized that the topic was too wide to do alone, so he put together a panel of seven black people, including himself, and one white man. 

“I don’t know why, but I felt as if eight people was enough to throughly cover this topic,” Thurston said. 

Thurston covers a variety of questions that he asked his panel. 

“‘When did you first realize you were black,’ ‘how black are you,’ and ‘can you swim?’ were my first three questions,” Thurston said. 

Thurston also chose to “live write” his book. He made his book public via the Internet and allowed people to comment on it while he was writing it. 

The cover of the book is done on purpose; some books are white with black lettering, and some are black with white lettering. 

“I chose to do this on purpose, because some people get really attached to what their book looks like,” Thurston said.

“People will think, like, ‘if my book is white does that mean I am more white, and if my book is black does that mean I have a big penis?’ which is true, but I don’t know about the latter question,” Thurston said.

Thurston has also accomplished many things as well as the above mentioned, including being the CEO and co-founder of Cultivated Wit, and the co-founder of where you can find someone online that you disagree with on any topic and then meet them and argue face-to-face. 

Thurston is also in charge of Citation Needed, a website where you can create any fact and post it up on Wikipedia.

“This way you can disregard any and all facts and make your friends believe everything that you say, whether it is right or wrong,” Thurston said. 

As of right now Thurston is in the works of making an app that tells you how racist a certain place is based off of Foursquare reviews. 

“One review says, ‘A bunch of racist people,’ and this venue was created out in Michigan.” Thurston said. 

Upon being asked how Thurston deals with being black and smart, he said, “I don’t, I just live me in a blackish-smartish way, they co-habitate quite peacefully,” Thurston said. “This does not conflict for me, unlike maybe for other people.”

According to Pat Miller, director of Lectures Program at Iowa State, roughly 295 people attended Thurston’s lecture.

Grace-Anne Hagen, sophomore in French, spoke of her experience listening to Thurston. 

“I enjoyed [the lecture] a lot; it was fun,” Hagen said. “I was expecting it to be more comedic rather than something that I would learn from, but it was pretty educational.” 

To learn more about Thurston, he is a self-proclaimed “tech-savvy” man with his own website. 

“You can find me on Twitter; I am team twitter,” Thurston said.