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Not a Genuine Black Man

Brian Copeland



In the summer of 1972, when Brian Copeland was eight, his family moved from Oakland to San Leandro, hoping for a better life. At the time, San Leandro was 99.99% white and the suburban community was not welcoming to African Americans. This reputation was confirmed almost immediately: Brian got his first look at the inside of a cop car, forced into the backseat after walking to the park with a baseball bat in hand. Days later, Brian was turned away by several barbers who said "we don't cut that kind of hair." And that Christmas, while shopping at a local department store, Brian was accused of stealing and forced to empty his pockets in front of store security. It was a time that Brian spent his adult years trying to forget, until one day an anonymous letter arrived that forced him to reevaluate his childhood: "As an African American, I am disgusted every time I hear your voice because YOU are not a genuine black man!" A poignant, hilarious, and disarming memoir about growing up black in an all-white suburb, Not a Genuine Black Man is also a powerful contemplation on the meaning of race, and a thoughtful examination of how our surroundings make us who we are.

About the Author

Brian Copeland is an award-winning writer, stand-up comedian, television host, radio personality, and actor. His one-man show, also entitled Not a Genuine Black Man, was the longest-running solo show in San Francisco history and went on to acclaimed runs in New York City and Los Angeles. He lives in San Leandro with his wife and children.

 Brian Copeland


"In this funny memoir about racism (it sounds strange, but that's what this is), Copeland's wit is the spoonful of sugar that helps his sad stories go down... it's a forum for his lingering bafflement over the insidious tactics of racism. 'Can you believe these things happened?' he seems to ask on every page. We can only laugh at his jokes and wish we could say 'No.'"

-- New York Times


Q> Do you think that a very large majority of the black population is depressed due to all of the acts of prejudice against them?

Q> How can people help change and eliminate prejudice?

Q> How are black gangs or gangs of any color the result of racism?

Q> How can we identify racism within ourselves, even if we think we aren't racist (maybe we are)?

Q> What was the turning point in the book where Brian felt 'genuinely' black? What inner feelings brought him to that point?Q> Imagine what it would be like to have a lifetime of pain heaped upon you because of the color of your skin. How would it feel to you? How would you adapt to it?Q> Do you think Brian's mother, Carolyn, was right in trying to bring up her family in a white enclave despite the costs to her family in suffering racism?Q> Brian has been accused of being an 'Oreo cookie', white on the inside. Is there any validity to analogies such as 'Oreo', 'banana' or 'coconut' or are they simply pejoratives? Is it an expected adaptation to living in a 'white' neighborhood? Does 'keeping it real' foster racism against whites?Q> There are several success stories in the book. Name them.Q> The book felt like an iconic identity crisis, embodying in one man's story the pain of the black race. It is easier to digest because it is couched as a human story. How can the book be used to eliminate the racism it describes?Q> When was a time in your life when you were 'the only one'? What did it feel like? How did you react to the situation?

Study Guide for "Not a Genunine Black Man"

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