Book Review

Review: Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour

Mateo Askaripour’s satirical take on tech company culture hit home for this reader who works in tech. Written from the perspective of Darren (nicknamed Buck since he worked at Starbucks before starting at Sumwun) it recounts how tech’s culture can be unforgiving, cruel, and racist.

I identified with Buck’s introduction to Sumwun, especially when he looked up what the company does right before his first day. Askaripour pokes fun at tech’s self-aggrandizement because even after Googling Sumwun, it’s clear Buck has no clear idea what the company does. When it later becomes clear that Sumwun’s whole business model is connecting depressed Americans with unlicensed therapists from around the world, I chuckled out loud. However, in our incredibly tech-infused world I would be the furthest from surprised to find out someone had tried to start a similar company in real life.

From the minute Buck is “discovered” by Sumwun’s CEO while working as a Starbucks barista through this departure, racism permeates Buck’s experience. He is singled out in training while the white heiress sails through unscathed, faces a manager who is full of contempt for him solely because he is black, and asked to appear on TV with the CEO to improve the company’s “image.”

Much of what Buck experiences is cringeworthy, as good satire should be, but I was constantly reminded that Black Buck portrays events that are barely outside the realm of reality. Black Buck forces readers to grapple with the insidiousness of tech and racism all in one book. Buck changes as a person as he works longer days and begins to makes friends at his company. Soon his life is consumed by Sumwun and he forgets for days to see his mom or girlfriend.

I will note that my current company purchased Black Buck for me and organized a talk with Askaripour. There I heard about the author’s personal experience working as a salesperson in tech and his fluency with tech’s many acronyms (B2B, SaaS, BRD, etc.). For me, this drove home the main takeaways that I think Askaripour is getting at: a job in tech can be all consuming and it has a distinct problem with being unwelcoming and hostile for minorities.

Black Buck served as a reminder for me that these problems persist in my industry and that mountains of work remains to make tech the inclusive, meritocracy that it thinks it is.

Book Review

An American Marriage

An American Marriage is a novel about not only the difficulties of a new marriage but also the pernicious effects of the American justice system. Author Tayari Jones notes that the foundation of this novel was a childhood in which “men are under siege,” specifically black men who are subject to a justice system that “criminalizes black men and destroys families.”

Throughout An American Marriage Jones asks readers to grapple with questions between right and wrong. Is it right for a man to be sentenced to twelve years in prison for a crime he did not commit? Is it right for a new wife to leave her wrongfully imprisoned husband after years of not speaking to him? Is it right to even make a value judgement on the characters given what they’ve been subjected to? Is it right that in America today one’s life can be turned upside down by a racist judge?

In grappling with these questions, Jones shows how systemic racism can so easily wreck lives and relationships.

Selected Quotes

“Six or twelve,” he sometimes said when he was depressed, which wasn’t all the time but often enough that I recognized a blue mood when it was settling in. “That’s your fate as a black man. Carried by six or judged by twelve.” 1

She had made her choice. I could see it in the determined square of her shoulder as she washed my plate and cup. She had chosen what it was going to be and that was that. Just like a jury in a prefab courtroom had decided that I was a rapist and that was that. Just like a judge in another shabby courtroom decided I was going to prison and that was that. Then a compassionate judge in DC agreed that the prosecutor set me up, so I got free and that, too, was that. For the last five years, people have been telling me what my life is going to be. But what could I do about it? Tell the judge that I’m not going to jail? Tell the DA that I decided to stay? What could I tell Celestial? Could I demand that she love me again? 1

Roy spent the last five years in prison while I’d been writing computer code. 1

But someone was going to pay for what happened to Roy, just as Roy paid for what happened to that woman. Someone always pays. Bullet don’t have nobody’s name on it, that’s what people say. I think the same is true for vengeance. Maybe even for love. It’s out there, random and deadly, like a tornado. 1

  1. Jones, Tayari. An American Marriage (Oprah’s Book Club): A Novel (Oprah’s Book Club 2018 Selection) Algonquin Books. Kindle Edition.


Finally Tried Impossible Meat

Today I finally made it to Clover to try out their Impossible Meat offering. It really exceeded expectations; it tastes just like real meat. If anything, there is a slight difference in texture.

According to Wired1 the “meat” achieves a similar taste profile by including heme:

Impossible Foods thinks the essence of a meat lies in a compound called heme, which gives ground beef its color and vaguely metallic taste—thanks to iron in the heme molecule. In blood, heme lives in a protein called hemoglobin; in muscle, it’s in myoglobin.