One of our recommended books is The Black Friend by Frederick Joseph


On Being a Better White Person

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,

more …

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.

less …
  • Candlewick Press
  • Paperback
  • January 2023
  • 288 Pages
  • 9781536223040

Buy the Book

$12.00 indies Bookstore

About Frederick Joseph

Frederick Joseph is the author of The Black FriendFREDERICK JOSEPH is a writer and an award-winning activist, philanthropist, and marketing professional who was once selected for the Forbes 30 Under 30 list. He’s also the winner of the 2018 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 lives in New York City.


“Joseph invites and encourages readers to reflect on their own behavior, move toward anti-racism, and implement change.” Publishers Weekly (starred review)

“With clear, powerful prose and a gentle dose of humor, The Black Friend is essential reading for anyone wishing to be part of a better world. I absolutely loved this book.” —Julie Klam, New York Times best-selling author

The Black Friend is THE book everyone needs to read right now. Frederick Joseph has written an essential window into the movement toward anti-racism. Read it, absorb it, and be changed because of it.” —Angie Thomas, author of The Hate U Give

“For every white person who ever wanted to do better, inside this book, Frederick Joseph offers you both the tools and the chance.” —Jacqueline Woodson, Winner of the Hans Christian Andersen Award

“For young white people who want to be better, who want to be anti-racist, who want to be people who are striving to recognize and even take down the structures of racism.”  —Ibram X. Kendi, author of Stamped from the Beginning

“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

“Typically, books on being an antiracist methodically walk readers through systemic racism and its related terminology, but Joseph takes a more personal, and perhaps more effective, approach, sharing stories from his time in school and college to provide cultural history and opportunities for reflection…To reinforce many of his points, Joseph includes interviews with writers, activists, and other influencers from multiple intersections. Finally, he calls on white people to become active accomplices, rather than passive allies, in the fight. Readers can find more explanations of terms and movements in the concluding ‘Encyclopedia of Racism,’ as well as a ‘The Black Friend Playlist’ and ‘People and Things to Know’ roster. A hard-hitting resource for action and change.” —Booklist (starred review)

“Part memoir, part guidebook, this title explores scenarios of interpersonal and institutional struggle to introduce the next generation of White youth to anti-racism…The language strikes a congenial yet firm tone, recognizing that those who have made it this far are to be met with genuine intention; his message is that it’s about becoming better and understanding how your own behavior and knowledge are critical to leveraging the change needed to overhaul oppressive systems. Joseph navigates the sensitivity of such a project and poses a sincere question that challenges the long-held promise of reading amid widespread injustice: ‘If I show people how they’re hurting others, will some of them be willing to change?’ Here’s to many readers digging in to find out. A smartly researched, well-intentioned provocation to inspire change.” —Kirkus Reviews

Discussion Questions

1. The author writes in a candid and conversational way, laced with humor, directing his words straight to the reader. Why do you think he chose this narrative style?

2. In the first chapter, the author makes a distinction between being “the token Black guy” and “the Black friend.” What is the difference?

3. The author describes visiting a white friend’s family in high school. After his friend’s brother makes a racist remark, the mother tries to apologize by saying that the family “doesn’t see color.” Why does this statement frustrate the author? How did you respond to the author’s description of his experience at this family’s home? Did you gain any new insights?

4. In her interview in the book, author Angie Thomas says, “I don’t need you to be color-blind. I need you to see me as I am, I need you to see that I’m a Black woman.” How is color blindness a way for white people to avoid seeing Black people? How does it protect white people and hinder racial progress?

5. What does the word microaggression mean in relation to race? Can you give some examples, from the book or elsewhere? Why are microaggressions harmful?

6. When the author was in second grade, he and a classmate of color, both excellent students, were falsely accused of cheating on a test. When forced to retake the test, the author was so unnerved that he did poorly. He poses the question, “What if I’d believed [the teacher] and lost the drive to ace those exams that ‘people like me’ weren’t supposed to ace?” (page 74). Consider, too, that the author didn’t tell his mother what had happened. What are some of the impacts of the kind of racism embodied in this incident—and why is this kind of racism sometimes hard to recognize and call out?

7. At his mostly white high school, white people often assumed that the author liked only stereotypically Black things, such as rap and basketball, and his white friends and teachers were surprised when his interests were more dynamic and layered than their assumptions. What sorts of false assumptions based on race or culture have you held about people you’ve met?

8. The author recalls a Halloween party at which white students dressed as Mexicans, complete with derogatory and stereotypical props. The students didn’t see their behavior as racist. What is the difference between cultural appreciation and cultural appropriation? Is it ever OK to costume yourself as, or act like, someone from another culture or race?

9. The author points out that since mainstream culture is generally controlled by white people, Black people and other people of color tend to be familiar with white culture, but white people are less often familiar with cultures other than their own. Have you found that to be true, in or out of the classroom? To what degree have you taken it upon yourself to learn about some aspect of a culture other than your own?

10. Some white people might not see themselves as possessing white privilege because they don’t come from a wealthy background. How does the very fact of being white confer privilege? Consider things such as being seen as an individual, goofing around without fear of consequences, standing up for yourself, and feeling protected by police or the law. What are some other aspects of white privilege?

11. When lining up for a mock-trial tournament in high school, the author’s (winning) team overheard a quip by a white parent about affirmative action. What is the purpose of affirmative action and similar programs? Whom do they primarily benefit? How do stereotypical attitudes about these programs harm people of color?

12. The author describes the term “reverse racism” being used by his opponents in a campaign for student government. He explains that “reverse racism” doesn’t exist because racism affects people who have been systemically marginalized, and therefore applying the concept to people who have been systemically privileged is nonsensical. What are your thoughts about reverse racism? Did his discussion of the term deepen your understanding of privilege? How?

13. What does it mean to be an ally of a person of color? Can you give examples, including from your own life (either when you’ve been an ally yourself or were helped by one)? Is it possible to be an ally and also “live and let live” when witnessing intolerant words or behavior from family, friends, or strangers?

14. How is being an ally different from being an accomplice? The author describes a rare time when a white stranger acted as an accomplice by intervening in a store incident when he was young. Why does he believe it’s not enough for white people to be allies and that they should aspire to be accomplices? What is required of a white person to do so? Can you offer any examples from your own life, from stories you’ve heard, or from history?

15. The author includes candid interviews with well-known people in arts, media, and other fields to further explore his themes. Why do you think he chose to include other voices in this book—and these voices in particular? Which interviews stood out for you?

16. Part of the book’s title is On Being a Better White Person. Why did the author choose to address white people primarily? If you are white, has reading the book moved you to try to change in any way? If you are not white, what did you gain from reading the book?

17. What parts of the book were surprising to you? What parts were especially difficult or painful to read? Has the book broadened your understanding of yourself and of racism? In what ways?

18. The author’s preface was written in mid-2020, after he had finished writing the book. It was a time when recent killings of Black people, in several cases by police officers, ignited major protests across the globe. The author chose not to directly address those events with his white readers, instead writing a letter to his younger brother to read when he is older. In doing so, he was following in the footsteps of such Black writers as James Baldwin writing to his nephew in The Fire Next Time and Ta-Nehisi Coates writing to his son in Between the World and Me. Why do you think he and these other authors chose to take such an approach?

19. How do you feel about what has happened in the realm of race relations in the United States and across the world between the time the author finished the book at the end of 2019 and the time he wrote the preface in mid-2020? Or between 2019 and now? Have your feelings changed or evolved in any way?

20. To what degree do you think Black people are responsible for educating white people—however well meaning—on how to recognize or respond to racism? What can be the cost to Black people of doing so—or of not doing so?



One of the most important lessons I learned when I was younger was that being a Black person in this world usually means that at some point, you’re going to have to do things you don’t enjoy. Even more important was learning that many of those things are going to include white people.

For me, that has meant spending a lot of my time as an adult discussing white supremacy, white privilege, and the negative aspects of whiteness in general.

If you don’t know what a bolded word or term means, don’t worry: I’ve defined it at the back of the book. Yes, friends: it’s your very own Encyclopedia of Racism.

Anyone who truly knows me would tell you I’d much rather spend my time tweeting about the Lakers, watching rom-coms, or sleeping. But, as I learned a long time ago, there aren’t enough people addressing societal issues, so here I am.

Because of how publicly critical I am of the impact white people have, and have had, on people of color and on the general world around them, some people have gone so far as to say I hate white people.

Honestly, this deeply offends me, as I’ve been to over ten John Mayer concerts and at least two hockey games; there’s no way a person who hates white people willingly attends the two whitest events on earth multiple times.

That said, my one actual problem with white people is that many just don’t have any sense of accountability when it comes to people of color. Accountability not only for the things white people do that often make interacting with them the most frustrating and tumultuous part of our days. But also, accountability for the historic and current inequities and disparities plaguing Black people and people of color as a whole.

Which is why I’ve written this book. Not because of the fame, fortune, and chance to meet Oprah—though those would be pretty dope. But, as a Black person, I speak on behalf of people of color (except those of us on Fox News) when I say: WE HAVE A WHITE PEOPLE PROBLEM.

My aim is to help you go from being a person who is learning and unlearning things about these problems created and perpetuated by white people to someone who actively works to solve them. This is called being an antiracist.

I define antiracists as people who understand that white supremacy isn’t something to empathize with Black and brown people over. It’s a destructive system and existence that white people created, and antiracists are actively trying to end it.

While many believe there is no way to change the problem, because they believe there is no way to change white people, I disagree. Because after sitting with and talking to many white people throughout my life, I’ve come to realize that there are white people who do care and who I believe want to make change. But these same white people often don’t understand the negative impact they are having or how to be better, because many of them have never had the conversations necessary to know this stuff, either in the classroom or outside of it.

Let’s face it: Black people and people of color are taught in school, in the media, and in everyday interactions to be empathetic and understanding of white people and their history. But most white people never have to do the same for us.

You’ll notice I don’t capitalize the w in white when referring to white people, though I capitalize the B when referring to Black people. This is a personal preference, because white people are simply defined by the color of their skin, while Black people are a cultural and ethnic group.

For example, I’ve never met a white person who doesn’t know who Christopher Columbus was (even though he didn’t discover anything). But most white people can’t have an informed conversation about the indigenous people who were already in America and the lingering impact on indigenous people today of so many of their ancestors having been slaughtered by people like Christopher Columbus. Nor do most white people know anything about the white supremacist massacre of Black people in Tulsa, Oklahoma—though most white people can tell you that Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook played together on the Oklahoma City Thunder.

To put it plainly, we have to learn a lot of white crap, including white history, much of which is not even true. Meanwhile, white people never have to learn about us, because doing so would force white people to be held accountable for the many ways they’ve mistreated—and continue to mistreat—people of color.

This book is an opportunity to change that. To provide some of the context and history that is so often lacking for white people.

Heck, we even added the Encyclopedia of Racism because my white editor pointed out that many of you reading this might not understand some of the terms that I’ll be using, some of the events I refer to, or why certain things are racist. I hope you already looked up white privilege, from page 00. Here’s another opportunity to use the encyclopedia: if you aren’t familiar with the 1921 Tulsa Race Massacre, go to the back of the book and learn about it.

But to the point about people who think white people can’t change: I understand, and have met those white people, too. These are the types of white people who will say things like “Black people need to get over slavery” or “We had a Black president; there is no more racism.” These are people who want white supremacy to continue because it benefits them. They are the same people who will say this book sucks, never having read it.

But this book isn’t for those white people. It’s for the ones who want to do better, who want to be better. But where do white people start? How does someone learn empathy? Is it by watching a specific movie? Listening to an album?

I think it starts with understanding.

Excerpted from The Black Friend: On Being a Better White Person by Frederick Joseph. Copyright © 2021 by Frederick Joseph.