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Black Buck (2020)
Book Reviews

Black Buck (2020)

A satirical look at how a person of color can survive, and thrive, in the startup world in New York City.

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When you’re unambitious, the thought of having to expend any effort at all to achieve your goals seems ludicrous. In reality, however, you still have to put in the work. A big problem in today’s society, thanks to social media and the idea of instant gratification, is that we’ve been trained to believe we can achieve anything in an instant. What we tend to forget is that ‘overnight successes’ generally include ten or more years in the making. And that’s where a lot of people get stuck.

Written by Mateo Askaripour, Black Buck is a satirical look at any outsider (read: people of color) trying to rise up in society. Askaripour has written essays for Entrepreneur, LitHub, and Catapult to name a few, but this is his first foray into the world of fiction. Or fictionalized reality, at the very least. Written in the style of a memoir/self-help/sales manual, Askaripour mixes facts with commentary, often breaking the fourth wall with tips and tricks to survive as a salesperson in a world where you might stand out for all the wrong reasons.

Darren Vender is 22-years-old, the managing barista at Starbucks, in a relationship with his beautiful high school sweetheart, and lives with his mom in their 3-story brownstone in the heart of Bed-Stuy, Brooklyn, NY. And he’s perfectly happy. He never went to college but he knows his place and is just ‘waiting for the right opportunity’ to come along so he can take the leap. Normally, Vender doesn’t stray far from his comfort zone but when he sells a drink to Rhett Daniels, the CEO of Sumwun – the latest hot tech startup on the 36th floor – things change in an instant.

When Vender finally takes the leap and follows up with Daniels, he’s plunged into the startup world where his is the only face that stands out. (As someone who has experienced this, it’s vastly uncomfortable). After enduring ‘hell week’ where his fellow startupers dump white paint on him and rename him ‘Buck’, Vender starts to drink the corporate Kool-Aid. And the vast difference between Buck and the rest of the other new recruits is that he has zero connections or any idea how to navigate the system. Sound familiar?

The more Buck learns how to deal with his new reality, the more he’s allowed to show off the magic the CEO Daniels saw in him. But this also means he leaves his family, friends, and girlfriend behind. They all worry about his erratic changes in behavior but he merely shrugs it off because they don’t understand who he’s becoming. When his mom passes away, Buck tosses a grenade onto his old life to fully step into his new, supposedly improved, one.

When Sumwun runs into trouble, they use Buck as their token spokesperson to get them out of it, and he soon becomes the ‘savior’ that pulls the startup out of its plummeting stock. He rises quickly through the ranks and steamrolls himself through life. Think Wolf of Wall Street except Buck has some semblance of a soul as he tries to help out a former colleague from Starbucks. He teaches him all the sales techniques, eventually creating Happy Campers, a group that trains people of color to become better salespeople with connections on the inside.

Askaripour’s writing is whimsical, using Buck to break the fourth wall every now and then to remind people about sales techniques and tips, and how they can be applied to life in general. Though some of his analogies are a bit cringe-inducing – “colder than Jeffrey Dahmer’s freezer” or “drier than a nun’s vagina” – the journey Buck takes from living in his comfort zone to high stakes startup world, losing his soul then regaining it helps alleviate the douche-baggery he embodied.

Black Buck may be a satire in many instances, but the experiences of being the only person of color in a company can be nerve-wracking. By mixing a fictional narrative with thoughtful social commentary Askaripour drops nuggets of wisdom any salesperson would love to have in their back pocket while creating a world that empowers people to take their destinies into their own hands. As Darren Vender puts it, “Once you learn how to sell, to truly sell, anything is possible.” If you want to rise up in the world, you’ll have to learn to make sacrifices without losing your soul in the process.

About the Author: Evelyn Wong