Funny guidebook assists ‘People of Pallor’

East Bay author shares ‘what not to say to Black people’

With the U.S. election approaching and a significant resurgence in the Black Lives Matter movement, East Bay writer Adam Smyer is pleased about the Sept. 1 timing of the release of his humorous new volume, “You Can Keep That to Yourself: A Comprehensive List of What Not to Say Black People, for Well-Intentioned People of Pallor.”

“I’m delighted to have a book coming out at this moment,” says Smyer, adding, “I would have been delighted to have a book coming out anyway. For selfish reasons, I’d rather have this all be completely irrelevant, that I live my life unmolested.”

In the wake of the brazen 2020 video showing the killing of George Floyd by police, Smyer admits, “I’m finally acknowledging that it might not just be some trick of my perception that things might be different,” as white people actually are going out on the street supporting Black people.

But Smyer, author of the hilarious 2018 racially-themed, Bay Area-set novel “Knucklehead,” didn’t write the amusing 135-page guidebook to capitalize on the current growing attention to Black Lives Matter.

“I’ve been kind of writing it my head for my whole life, but I didn’t put pen to paper until a little over a year ago,” he says.

He doesn’t have a favorite entry in the book (“They’re all my children!”), which goes from A (“Ally,” which, though a once aspirational term, is no longer, with “I’m an ally” being the “Don’t hurt me!” of our time) to Z (Zeppelin, as in the band Led Zeppelin, of white people playing Black music).

Noting that “plenty” of the entries are things white people have said to him in all seriousness, he says that in coming up with his list, he consulted with subject matter experts, mostly Black women, to ensure breadth: “I wanted to write something that Black people who aren’t like me could feel validated by, and I’m satisfied with the result.”

He adds, “This is a joke but it’s not a joke. I wanted the quality and the comprehensiveness of it to be serious, in a way.”

And while one of his goals is to get white people to “stop saying outrageously over-the-top things unintentionally to Black people,” he adds, “I personally would settle with people just behaving properly. One, let’s stop killing Black people for fun.”

He believes his target market isn’t just well-meaning white people. He’s also talking to “those who live this” who might enjoy giving it as a gift that might make someone smile. “It’s stocking- stuffer size,” he adds.

One person who might benefit from it is the Democratic presidential nominee, according to Smyer: “God bless Joe Biden. He’s almost a poster child for this book. He is well-intentioned. He has my vote. But Joe says things that do not necessarily reflect his state of mind, says things that he could keep to himself. That said, I hope that he is our next president.”

Smyer’s process in writing the book was informal. He took about a month to write down words like “articulate” on Post-it Notes (“Articulate” is how Biden has described Barack Obama, as seen in a campaign ad), before going on his computer to expand on each entry.

Preparing to do virtual events in September and October from home to promote “You Can Keep It to Yourself,” Smyer, an attorney, says he hopes the book may lead readers to his novel ‘Knucklehead,” about the wild adventures and misadventures of young Black attorney in the Bay Area in the 1990s.

“It’s a pretty good back story for now, it’s foreshadowing for what’s happening now,” he says, adding that a movie version of it – which he’s open to – would be good on a double bill with “Fruitvale Station.”


You Can Keep That to Yourself: A Comprehensive List of What Not to Say Black People, for Well-Intentioned People of Pallor

Written by: Adam Smyer

Published by: Akashic Books

Pages: 135

Price: $15.95


Virtual appearances:

4:30 p.m. Sept. 2 with Greenlight Bookstore;


4 p.m. Sept. 17 with Belmont Books:

Warriors routed on a tragic Tuesday in Texas

Mass shooting looms over Game 4, Golden State will try to clinch Thursday at home

Ethnic studies and civics need to be taught together, not separately

Our future success depends on young people’s ability to work together and become engaged citizens

Cryptocurrency is trying to regain your trust

San Francisco and Silicon Valley are leading the call for new transparency and stable assets