Think Black

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 17 Sep 2019

Member Reviews

A version of this review previously appeared in Shelf Awareness and is republished here with permission.

Clyde W. Ford struts to his first day at IBM with "a ballooned Afro, pork chop sideburns, [and] a blue zoot suit with red pinstripes," knowing only shades of the legacy he carries. In 1971, more than two decades after his father's hiring as IBM's first black systems engineer, Clyde, 19, is told he "doesn't get it"--"it" being the IBM way of a dark suit and tie, button-down shirt and matching attitude.  

As Clyde digs into his father's experience, he gains fuller understanding of John Ford's path and the burdens of treading it. In Think Black, Ford winds through their lives and the corporate behemoth that influenced them. Being first carries risks, and John felt the pressures of representing his race in the face of racial codes, false diversity, sabotage and working harder for less pay. He brought change to IBM at a cost, deepening his "wound of color."

Ford illuminates the profound interaction between technology and race. A progression of machines and coding (Ford learned at a young age from his father--"For a ten-year-old, deriving 1,008 decimals from 1760 octal is no easy feat") parallels IBM's sinister history in the service of racial purity and oppression.

The Fords did not take the same path in answer to the question of who they were as black men in a society that resents their very being. In Think Black, Ford shares a peace his father never found, and food for thought for a country that hasn't come nearly as far as they did.

STREET SENSE: IBM was a huge force during my childhood in Silicon Valley, but I learned so much from this book I had no idea about. A fantastic relationship story as much as a corporate history lesson, I did glaze over at much of the tech-talk. Dude, Clyde would have kicked my ass by the time he was 5. The first description of him won me over entirely.

COVER NERD SAYS: Cover images don't come much better than this one. So cool (though I would love to see a color photo of Clyde as described in the opening). I also love the interplay of the title and the IBM logo. Sneaky smart.
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Think Black by Clyde W. Ford was an interesting and illuminating read. I found it a delight to read about Ford, his father and family background. 

I was moved by some of the histories I took away from this book, including IBM’s connection with the Nazi’s and its involvement with other injustices. 

I liked the contrast between Ford and his father when it came to their approach to dealing with the prejudices that surrounded them both.  I too found it admirable how Ford’s father made it his objective to teach his children about two main components that would change the world. 

I did want to hear more of the narrator's father's story as it related to his daily life as the first black engineer at IBM. Nevertheless, it didn’t take away from the well-written account of his “ladies man” of a dad or his intent of writing the book.

If you’re interested in black history or the history of IBM this would be a great read for you.

Thank you, Amistad for the advanced reader's copy.
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I felt a personal connection to this book as I am also an engineer and my first job was at IBM. This is the story of the first black engineer, John Stanley Ford, who was hired by Watson Sr. himself. This memoir was written by and through the eyes of his son who also ended up working for IBM. This book touched on A LOT of things: misconception of diversity in the workplace, professional racism, eugenics, the "first" blacks, IBM and the Holocaust, IBM and Apartheid, and a history of technology that was supposedly for the better. I thoroughly enjoyed this book! I recommend this book to anyone who is working in the tech industry or retired from it. A lot of us go through IBM at one point of another. Or we work at corporations who have the same objectives and goals. Reading this affirmed my feelings of suspicion, naivety, and frustration while being black and employed.
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I found this book to be a very interesting look at the experience of a father and son who were hired during different time periods at IBM. Ford gives us a lot of information regarding his father and how he felt about his job, however I wish that we had gotten more insight into what both men did from day to day at IBM.  We got little snippets of their work and certain examples of how their race played into the way in which their coworkers treated them but I never felt like I got a full account of the work culture there. However, this book shines when the author discusses the lessons that his father passed onto him and the ways in which he pushed his son, knowing that he could achieve success and push through the racial barriers that stood in his way. The stories about his father bringing home his work and teaching his children these mathematical and technology-based lessons were a highlight in the book as well. 

The second half of the book focuses on IBM's controversial practices throughout the 20th century. It was an interesting look at a company that has impacted world events in a way that I did not know about. All in all, the book is well-rounded and gives us an interesting perspective on the  relationship between an African American family and one of the biggest technology companies in history.
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John Stanley Ford became the first black software engineer at IBM in 1947, personally selected by the president and founder, Thomas J. Watson Sr., Ford’s new position didn’t sit well with many of his White coworkers. Fast forward two decades later, Clyde W. Ford also becomes an employee of IBM and interweaving his and his father’s experience we get an engrossing glimpse of the Tech world in this memoir Think Black. 

This memoir really spoke to me. I am a Black woman that works in the tech industry and I’ve been looked over countless times for promotions. Much of what’s spoken in this book I’ve seen and experience firsthand. Crazy, in this day and age not much has changed. 

This memoir is everything to me, thought-provoking and inspiring, this is a must read. Thank you, NetGalley, HarperCollins/Amisatd for gifting me this copy in exchange for an honest review.
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