The first thing I noticed about The Black Friend audiobook was that the narrator’s voice was that of a man. And then it dawned on me that most of the audiobooks that I listen to are female-centered stories with female authors and female narrators. The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person is based on the experiences of Frederick Joseph. Joseph is an African-American man who has been identified as a Forbes Under 30 list maker for Marketing and Advertising. But this book is not about Joseph’s life as an award-winning advertiser. It is a series of stories of how his life has been impacted by racism. There are stories of the many “talks” he received about how to conduct himself as a young child. There are stories of what it was like for him to attend predominantly white schools while living in a predominantly Black and Latino neighborhood. There are stories of encounters with police. There are stories of how his self-awareness as a Black man changed over time. His voice and his stories are not, however, the only stories that are shared within the book. The voices of white allies and white racists are woven throughout the book, as are stories of Asian and Latino friends. The primary voice is Joseph’s, who does exactly as he says he intends to do—speak as that Black friend who is walking beside and with white people who genuinely want to know what it is like to be a Black man in America and to be an ally (or accomplice as Frederick would say) in the fight for racial equity.
Joseph had finished writing the book in 2019. He begins the audiobook with a preface that acknowledges the events of the first half of 2020 and a letter, not to the reader, but to his 8-year-old brother. If the first twelve minutes of this audiobook do not increase your desire to do something about racial inequality, then I doubt you really care about the lives of Black people in any meaningful way. The audiobook has ten chapters plus an introduction. Chapter titles are creative and provocative: “We Want You to See Race”; “This Isn’t a Fad, It’s my Culture”; “So Your Friend is Racist. What Should You Do?”; and “No, You Can’t. No, You Shouldn’t. And Don’t Ask That.” Purchasing the audiobook comes with access to a downloadable PDF that includes “An Encyclopedia of Racism, People, and Things to Know,” and “The Black Friend Playlist.” It is material that is referenced in the audiobook but more fully explained in the PDF.
The narrator, Miebaka Yohannes, is easy to listen to. He really does sound like several of my Black friends. He does not change his voice to vocalize other people in the various stories. I like that. After all, the series of stories in this book are all told from the perspective of the author. A heads up, if you are anticipating a heavy urban accent (you know what I mean) or a vocalization that embodies all your worst stereotypes of an intimidating and angry Black man, you will be disappointed (or maybe relieved). The narrator certainly sounds Black, but he really does sound like a Black friend that you would just chill with and, from time to time, have honest conversations about life.
Who should hear this book? Everyone. Why? Because it is good. Really good. It is an honest and sometimes painful sometimes humorous look at how race is lived in the United States from the perspective of a Black man. It has insights that your Black friend might not tell you, but you should know. 5 Hours 9 minutes. (Brilliance Audio)