have reached a curious intersection in black American history.
There was a time when we took pride in community and reveled
in the unique bond that we forged, together, as survivors of
the transatlantic holocaust known as the slave-trade. We cheered
for each success, each ceiling-shattering achievement, because
it meant we were one step closer, in the words of the late Dr.
Carter G. Woodson, to “justifying our right to exist”
in a nation systematically and systemically designed for our
how times have changed.
of “Say it loud; I’m black and I’m proud,”
we now have many black Americans singing the media-friendly
version: “Say it loud; I’m black, but not really.”
Ironically, some of these black Americans, while exorcising
their personal demons of racism, have simultaneously assumed
ownership of the black narrative. In the same way that many
black folks throw around the word ‘nigga’ with defiance
and bravado, so too have others appropriated an insult and crafted
it into a badge of honour. They are public figures who appear
to possess a gnawing need to speak on behalf of other black
Americans, to prove their right to exist within the community,
while pushing the argument that black is an undefined entity
that exists without boundaries or absolute definition.
at its root this wasn’t a glaringly obvious need for acceptance
by the dominant culture -- look at us, we’re just like
you -- it might be a valid argument to consider as we attempt
to reach an actualized human race. As it stands, however, it
is a hypocritical objective that clearly manifests when a pivotal
cultural event happens and these same black Americans climb
down from colour-blind pedestals to speak on behalf of black
was evidenced in sharp relief when Touré, host of MSNBC’s
The Cycle, and author of Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness,
an ode to the dissolution of a delineated black community, decided
to call out Romney’s campaign language toward his opponent
as “the niggerization of Obama” on air.
language in question hails from the same otherness school of
thought as Mike Huckabee’s Mau Mau statements and every
single Muslim, atheist, birther controversy that has been continuously
regurgitated since the 44th president took office. Mittens Romney
decided to throw stereotypical gutter-balls at Obama with the
following statements: “This is what an angry and desperate
presidency looks like. Mr. President, take your campaign of
division and anger and hate back to Chicago.”
enough, Touré, whose usual stance is that there is no
one way to be black, immediately took offense, because words
like anger and hatred are inextricably bound to the angry black
man narrative: “You notice he says anger twice. He’s
really trying to use racial coding and access some really deep
stereotypes about the angry black man . . . I know it’s
a heavy thing to say, I don’t say it lightly, but this
is niggerization. You are not one of us. You are like the scary
black man we’ve been trained to fear.”
Touré’s point is valid, one has to wonder why he
felt the need to make it at all. In light of his post-black
philosophy, might this have provided a fine opportunity to further
help shed the stigma that ‘angry’ and ‘hate’
patents are not held exclusively by black people in the United
States? Why not defend black men against generic stereotypes
rather than giving them even more air time and validation?
to show indignation (and get ratings), Touré decided
to be the black voice on an all-white panel. Perhaps he thought
he was being bold and irreverent, but in fact, his token angry-black-man
comment resulted in his own ‘niggerization.’
this isn’t the first time.
an interview with CNN’s Piers Morgan that screamed of
American elitism, Touré told Morgan that he couldn’t
possibly understand the collective pain black Americans feel
when another unarmed, black boy is gunned down. He goes on to
speak about the stereotypes that haunt black men and the prisons
that have become home for far too many, and becomes animated
about racist slurs such as ‘coon’ that maim the
collective psyches of American black people.
does not sound like a man who believes that there are no collective
borders of blackness, but rather a man who seeks permission
not to dwell within them and still be considered a full member.
On the one hand, he wants us to banish the notion of authentic
blackness; on the other, he feels comfortable speaking from
an authentically black perspective.
Michael Eric Dyson, who is also a vocal spokesperson for the
black community, writes in his foreword to Touré’s
Post-Blackness: "We've got to do away with the notion that
there's something that all black folk have to believe in order
to be black. We've got to give ourselves permission to divide
into subgroups, or out-groups, organized around what we like
and dislike, and none of us is less or more black for doing
undeniable need to fight oppression," Dyson continues,
"can't overshadow the freedom to live and think blackness
just as we please." "Post-blackness," he insists,
"has little patience for racial patriotism, racial fundamentalism
and racial policing."
the surface, it sounds good, but that post-black doctrine diminished
when Dyson spoke recently with Fox’s Bill O’Reilly
about the controversial statements made by Bill Cosby on out-of-wedlock
children, gangsta rap and profanity. When O’Reilly suggested
that Cosby had a valid critique, Dyson’s reply is full
of racial policing:
. . . So the question is, why is Mr. Cosby being viewed as a
kind of a moral hero to black America when, first of all, he
knows better than to suggest that most black Americans don’t
embrace those values? And secondly, even among the poor themselves,
the deep, inherent conservatism, morally speaking, of those
black communities, even when they’re politically progressive,
is often under-announced. Thirdly, here’s the interesting
part: Mr. Cosby for most of his career has disavowed the necessity
for being explicit about race . . . All of a sudden, after 40
years of an extraordinary career, Mr. Cosby has now remonstrated
against poor people without having a great deal of (balance).
Every great black leader we know, from Frederick Douglass to
Marcus Garvey to Martin Luther King, Jr., down to Jesse Jackson,
has always said: ‘Get on your game, stop blaming anybody
that’s not racial policing, a more accurate term has yet
to be invented, and unfortunately, this is not a rare paradox.
From the NAACP to the state of hip-hop, when issues that fundamentally
affect the black community are forefront in the media, you can
count on both Touré and Dyson to be front and center,
speaking with authority on what it is to be a black man in America
-- which by Toure's non-definition, exists in a constant state
of fluidity that gives no one man the right to be a spokesperson.
referencing post-blackness, Touré reveals that he has
not only allowed someone else to define current-blackness, but
considers it a cultural noose from which we must all be freed.
In his utopia, blackness is whatever one says it is. Although
it might make more sense to say that one is not constrained
by blackness, rather than suggesting the existence of some phantom
race in the valley beyond.
Michael Steele’s quest to assert himself as the lone black
man in the midst of a Republican Party to President Barack Obama’s
willingness to challenge black men on absent fatherhood and
sagging pants, without once openly addressing concerns that
he does not stand up enough for the black community, the fervuor
with which some of our public speakers run away from blackness
proves that there are in fact black cultural boundaries.
cognitive dissonance must be deafening-- a relentless need to
validate one’s self and prove loyalty to a community,
while simultaneously denying its existence and stretching the
boundaries into infinite possibilities of Americanism. It is
the fight to shed a European-derived black stigma and wrap ourselves
in a cloak of patriotism that can only be fully realized upon
craftily creating a black us and a black them; yet placing oneself
in the position to speak for both us and them. By doing so,
it allows post-black advocates wiggle room to deny that one
cannot be disloyal to blackness -- because, really there is
no such thing-- yet capitalize on its very existence.
Negro and black, to Afro-American and African American, to finally
the currently accepted black American, the quest for assimilation
is supposed to be complete. We, as a people, are small in the
face of our American-ness, at least when we’re behaving
and excelling. If it’s something negative, we’re
quick to be reminded of just how different we are still perceived.
truth is, we can no more deny our collective culture than we
can deny the manifestations of it that we see everyday. To take
a wrecking ball to the black American experience and claim it
a mirage does a grave disservice to us all, both as black people
and as Americans.
do exist both collectively and individually. We know this and
our so-called spokespersons know it as well. To assert otherwise
is to suggest that the emperor does, in fact, have clothes.
And we all know how that story ended.