Touré on the role of race in a 'post-black' culture
Author to speak at Pratt about African-American identity
Author Toure will be speaking at the Pratt Library. (Handout photo, Handout photo / December 2, 2011)
"Post-blackness?" muttered the African-American man, spitting out the word as though it had curdled in his mouth. "Ain't no such thing."
It wasn't at all clear whether the man on the street would be attending Touré's talk, though the author hopes he does.
That indignant response was just one example of the lively conversation that Touré generates wherever he goes, whether he's opining about parenthood, hip-hop, the presidential aspirations of Republican businessman Herman Cain, the Grammy nominations or, in his most recent book, what it's like to be a member of the black middle class in 2011.
The author makes it clear that he's using the term "post-blackness" to ask questions about racial identity, by which Touré means being rooted in the legacy of African-American history without also being constrained by it.
He's not turning his back on his heritage as a black man, and he's not suggesting that racism has disappeared from American society. Far from it. But Touré doesn't want to be told by anyone — white or black — that he is prohibited from participating in certain activities because of the color of his skin.
"I love being black, and I love the black community," Touré says.
"But I might also want to go sky diving, or go to see Baryshnikov at the ballet or go see a movie that isn't talking about blackness. I don't want to be told that I shouldn't because 'black people don't do that.'
"If sky diving will help me grow as a human being, why should I miss out it?"
The 40-year-old father of two has a restless and inquiring mind that has made him a ubiquitous force in popular culture, whether he's writing for Rolling Stone or The New York Times or commenting on MSNBC or Fuse-TV's "Hip Hop Shop."
"Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?" includes conversations with such seminal thinkers as Henry Louis Gates, the Rev. Jesse Jackson and Cornel West, along with artists ranging from Public Enemy's Chuck D to the Tony Award-winning Stew.
A review by Orlando Patterson that was published in The New York Times Book Review praised Touré's "acutely observed account," characterized by "unsparing honesty and a distinctive voice that is that is often humorous, occasionally wary and defensive, but always intensely engaging."
But Lester Spence, a professor of political science at the Johns Hopkins University, is troubled that the literature of post-blackness spends too much time talking about the problems of monied black people and too little time talking about the cultural and economic restrictions placed on the have-nots.
"They're kind of wrestling with it from the wrong end," he says."There is a way to have this conversation that deals with cultural inequalities."
Perhaps that's why the observation in Touré's book that has generated the most discussion is about a behavior that seems innocuous but that cuts across all income groups.
According to the book, most black people won't eat watermelon in a mixed-race gathering. Touré won't eat it at all because for him, that fruit is contaminated with images of the antebellum South.
"Eating watermelon in public?" Jackson told Touré. "We're not that free."
Some black people also also extend the ban to fried chicken, though Touré is not among them.
"As I was unpacking this idea, I realized that many white people didn't know what I was talking about," he says. "To them, watermelon is just a refreshing fruit.