Mixed Media: Touré's Who's Afraid of Post Blackness?: What it Means to be Black Now
This post is long overdue.
Recently I took a class called Black Baltimore in the Post Racial U.S: African American Urban Culture in the Age of Obama. Despite having the longest class name I've ever heard of, it was one of the most interesting classes I've taken. We learned all about Baltimore, housing discrimination, modern day segregation, and policing. It was the bomb.
At the end of the class we had to write a thesis paper, and in my research I came across this book called Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What it Means to be Black Now. I thoroughly enjoyed reading it (and rereading it and rereading it again) and just wanted to give you guys a little book review.
In the book, the author, Touré, gives really compelling arguments about black identity. To make these points, Touré gives excerpts from 105 prominent black figures that he interviewed like Lupe Fiasco, Dr. Beverly Tatum, and Dave Chappelle.
One of my favorite quotes in the book that I use about once a week is, "If there are forty million black people, then there are forty million ways to be black." This quote summarizes everything I strive to convey in this website: That identity is multi dimensional. It's like a diamond. And to assume any group of people are one thing— be it angry, gangsta, smart, stiff, whatever — is incorrect.
Touré also makes some points about how black identity has been formed historically. He talks about black identity in the Jim Crowe era, how at the time black people could collectively form their identities around being opposed to white supremacists.
"Part of what we’re used to doing is finding black-hat bad guys when we thought about racism. This was the Klan… this is bodies hanging from trees. And although that’s terrifying… though that’s an entire society organized around the marginalization of Black people, existentially I would argue there’s something about knowing your enemy that at least allowed you to figure out how to orient yourself in the universe (119-120)."
But without the overt racism of the KKK and white supremacists, black people can experience an identity crisis. If we don't have a common enemy, who are we? Which is where this idea of post-blackness comes into play.
Touré's whole thesis posits that post-blackness is a positive concept that helps the black community during this strange identity crisis. What are black people supposed to do next? He explains that there are three types of blackness that black people typically fluctuate between depending on the situations. He identifies them as introverted, ambiverted, and extroverted.
Introverted and extroverted blackness are self-explanatory— one is either overtly black, militant, deeply rooted in their ancestry, or one is secretly black, almost keeping it a secret.
Touré explains that for those who display ambiverted blackness, “Blackness is an important part of them but does not necessarily dominate their persona. Dyson says it’s … ‘I love it but it doesn’t exhaust me.’ In this group he places Barack Obama, Colin Powell, and Will Smith.” (pp. 9-10). The author takes this analysis a step further by encouraging readers to adopt ambiverted blackness, as he has already proposed post-blackness and feels as though ambiverted blackness most closely aligns with post-blackness.
This is visible in his parallel use of President Obama as an icon of both the post-black movement and an ambiverted black man. “Post-Black means we are like Obama: rooted in but not restricted by Blackness… we love Blackness but accept the fact that we do not all view or perform the culture the same way” (p. 12). He continues,” The moment we shatter those artificial encumbrances of race… is the moment we are vastly improved, profoundly human, and therefore become the best Black people we can become” (5). It's in this way that he paints post-blackness as a positive concept and depicts the black community as having a need for an identity rooted in more than opposition.
It relates to my ideas on mixed identity because it's easy to want to align your identity along the lines of whatever you look most like or who's around you, but at the end of the day if there's forty million black people (or asian people, or Jamaican Cuban Scottish people) then there are forty million ways to demonstrate their personalities.
I found all of this super interesting, I hope you did too. I didn't want it to read like an essay, but I really love this book and I wanted to give a good summary of its points. If you're interested in race, identity, and all that jazz— get this book ASAP.