Book Review: Black Faces in White Places

Book Review: Black Faces in White Places

Much has been made–and rightfully so–of the need for America’s institutions to embrace diversity and inclusion in anticipation of the ‘browning’ of America. However, not enough has been provided in the way of survival and success strategies for those brown pioneers, many of them African American, who must brave and conquer frontiers their parents could scarcely dream of–the most obvious example being President Barack Obama. Black Faces in White Places: 10 Game-Changing Strategies to Achieve Success and Find Greatness is the much-needed playbook that will empower this intrepid generation with the confidence and courage to meet the challenge.

Black Faces In White Places is written by former Rhodes Scholar and winner of season four of NBC’s The Apprentice Randal Pinkett, Ph.D.; business scholar Jeffrey Robinson, Ph.D.; and veteran business journalist and Associated Press Business News Editor Philana Patterson. They make the compelling case that, until recently, African Americans focused primarily on strategies and skills necessary to get into professions, businesses and institutions previously closed to them–to break the color barrier, to shatter the hated “glass ceiling.” But now, say the authors, black achievers face a different challenge, namely to survive and thrive in the environment on the other side of that barrier. They argue that it’s no longer just about breaking the glass ceiling. Now it’s about learning to play the “ever-changing game.”

The book starts out with Pinkett’s nationally televised “black faces in white places” moment: Upon being announced the winner of The Apprentice business reality TV show, the former Rhodes Scholar and established entrepreneur was asked by the show’s executive producer and real estate mogul Donald Trump to consider sharing his win with his white female runner-up, a young journalist with a short resume and far fewer academic credentials (Pinkett holds several degrees, including a Ph.D. from MIT), who Pinkett had outperformed throughout the competition. Pinkett’s rejection of Trump’s suggestion sparked a controversial national discussion as many whites villainized him as a selfish ingrate. He was cheered by blacks, many of whom had similar experiences of being expected to defer to less qualified white colleagues, albeit not on national television. The point Pinkett makes is a critical one for aspiring black achievers: Having a game plan for when you win is even more important than having a Plan B for when you lose.

While mixing in the life experiences of Pinkett and Robinson, both of whom began to develop survival skills as children in black families that relocated to predominantly white communities, the book is devoted to laying out that game plan, their “10 Game-Changing Strategies.” Supplemented by a website,, the book covers success habits ranging from “Strategy 1: Establishing a Strong Identity and Purpose” through “Strategy 10: Give Back Generously.” They back up their thesis with anecdotes from some of today’s most successful African Americans across nearly every field, including CNN analyst and multimedia journalist Roland Martin, McDonald’s President Don Thompson, Newark Mayor Corey Booker, green jobs activist Majora Carter and actor Hill Harper. But even more important, the authors break down each of their 10 strategies into easy to understand, digestible, actionable steps, pushing the book beyond inspiration to real instruction on how to “change the game.” For example, “Strategy 4: Build Diverse and Solid Relationships” brings crystal clarity to the worn out notion of networking, clearly defining the different types of networks–“dense,” “sparse” and “borrowed”–and their pros and cons in the context of thriving as a black person in a predominantly non-black environment.

Black Faces in White Places is a must-read for any African American who wants to excel in any field or merely wants to adapt and thrive in an company, industry or business unaccustomed to being on equal footing with black folk, much less blacks in positions of authority. The book is a perfect gift for members of the BE Next generation, black achievers between the ages of 21-35 who will face the challenge of being a black face in a white place in ways scarcely imagined by their predecessors. Black Faces in White Places is a must-read book for black people who expect to succeed in the age of Obama.

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