Happy Black History Month, y’all! I try to support black businesses and promote black creatives all year round, but I’m not going to be mad at us having a month to show our people extra love. I love celebrating black authors and I’m excited to read some good stuff and share it with you all this year. I finished this one last night and I have many thoughts. I bought this book 100% because I liked the cover and I was intrigued by the title. I have since learned that’s not the best way to choose a book. Let’s get into it.
Think Black is supposed to be the story of John Stanley Ford, the first Black systems engineer to work for IBM. The book is written by Ford’s son, Clyde, who was also an engineer who worked at IBM. Think Black details the history of IBM’s involvement in global racist movements, Ford’s difficulties being the first black engineer to work for IBM, and implicit bias in the workplace.
Length: 264 pages
Additional Sections: Author’s Note and Epilogue (both short; might as well read them)
Year Published: 2019
The Good Stuff
Okay, so I’ll be honest – before reading this book, I don’t think I really knew what IBM does. I know it’s a computer company, but I don’t think I could’ve detailed exactly how they make their money and why they’re a name that everyone has heard of (I’m still not sure I could do that). Since I didn’t really know what IBM is known for, it’s safe to assume I had no idea what they’d been hiding for the past hundred years. IBM has an incredibly racist history. It’s overtly, aggressively, (almost) shockingly racist. IBM has had a major role in assisting the fake scientists behind eugenics, the Nazis during World War II, apartheid in South Africa, and racist/xenophobic anti-Muslim efforts after 9/11. It was so shocking to read the chapter on how they established their history is as a supporter of state crime and the heinous things that the original CEO of IBM did to cause suffering in so many different parts of the world.
Unsurprisingly, IBM’s racism was as palpable internally as it was externally. Ford detailed how difficult it was for black employees at IBM to get promotions and pay raises, and even discussed how IBM had written out secret protocol to make sure black employees stayed lower in rank to white employees. To be honest, it’s never surprising to me to read about cultures of discrimination or racism in U.S.-based corporations. Anti-black sentiments are what this country was built on (literally), and though it was disheartening to read how deeply racism is embedded into this company, I can’t say I was surprised. I think Ford did a great job of detailing what anti-blackness looked like at IBM and how he and his father navigated that environment.
I also really enjoyed how Ford talked about being a “first” and how that impacted his father. Being the first to do something comes with so much pressure, and it was interesting to read about how that pressure manifested itself in other parts of his father’s life. I thought it was great that he mentioned that the tech industry still looks very similar to how it did 50 years ago, and how that’s a huge problem. Overall, I think Ford is a good storyteller and did a great job of describing his experience at IBM.
What I Would Change
Maybe I misunderstood what the book was supposed to be about, but I was expecting a lot more about Ford’s father and his time at IBM. This book is basically a memoir about Clyde’s life with maybe two or three chapters that really focused on IBM. I think the description misrepresented the book a little bit. Ford is a great storyteller, but I could’ve done with less about his personal life. I think the things about his relationship with his father and his personal struggle with religion would’ve been better suited for an autobiography. It didn’t make sense to me in this book.
There are several parts of this book that are just dense because the author didn’t do a great job of breaking down complex computer-related concepts. There were a few paragraphs (and even a couple pages at one point) that I skipped through because the text was so dense that I couldn’t get through it. I think it was more difficult to be invested in it because it often wasn’t even important to the storyline. Maybe it was just meant to be a history lesson for people who are really into computers, but it was hard to get through at times.
The grammar in this book was less than amazing. I know that every book is bound to have a couple of grammatical or spelling errors, but this one had several. Eventually it got hard to ignore. It wasn’t a huge deal and I don’t think it made the author seem like less of an expert on the subject matter, but it was noticeable.
Overall, I think this book could’ve used different marketing. If I’d known that this was more of a memoir than a story about IBM and its first black engineer, I would’ve gone in expecting something different. It wasn’t exactly the story I thought I was going to read, but I think the author still did a good job.
Overall Rating: 7/10