Touré: Fading to Post-Blackness
Cultural critic and Rolling Stone contributing editor Touré is not one to shy away from breaking Black racial norms, and he does exactly that in his racially rowdy book, Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now. The title refers to the notion that in the 21st century there exists a new understanding of the Black identity. He interviewed 105 well-known Black personalities from a variety of vocations on his journey to unpack “Post-Blackness.”
Post-Blackness like most terms under the post-modernist umbrella is an attempt to redefine meaning. Touré borrowed the term from the art world where Black artists were envisioning a way to practice their craft without being pigeonholed into the genre of “Black Art.” So to define their shows and artistic pieces they constructed the term Post-Black. This term is not to be confused with the more controversial “Post-Racial,” a term that suggests race does not play a significant role in America anymore. Post-Blackness is contrarian to such a notion (“It doesn’t mean we’re over Blackness; it means we’re over our narrow understanding of what Blackness means.”)
Racially Touré believes one age has ended and another begun (“the age of Obama.”) When using this term, he is not talking politics but rather using it as a signifier of a new racial day. Obama’s racial identity is “rooted in, but not restricted by, his Blackness” as interviewee Dr. Michael Eric Dyson puts it. Obama’s refusal to engage in racial identity politics, while at the same time maintaining a strong connection to Black America, has been nothing short of a political revolution. By taking such a posture, he was able to move from fighting the power to being the power. The same could be said of the President Obama’s good friend Oprah Winfrey (“She ruffled a lot of Black feathers by turning Blackness inside out and allowing it to breathe in the white world on its own with little explanation or apology.”)
For the author, both Oprah and Obama serve as metaphors for a new generation of Blacks that refuses to be pigeonholed into a stereotypical racial Black narrative. This generation vigorously defends their rights to individualism while at the same time value the history of the collective Black experience. Concerning that experience, they refuse to be limited or totally defined by it. This is the author’s core argument (“the number of ways of being Black is infinite” and “what it means to be Black has grown so staggeringly broad, so unpredictable, so diffuse that Blackness itself is undefinable.”)
Of course the “age of Obama” and corresponding Post-Black posture doesn’t necessarily sit well with all. For instance, Dr. Cornel West and broadcasting luminary Tavis Smiley have been super critical of Post-Black posture and have publicly accused the president of ignoring issues specific to the Black community. Really the charge is Obama has not been Black enough. Anyone who has been Black for more than a few minutes knows this charge is not limited to politics. There are “racial police” in all venues enforcing all kinds of chameleon-like rules of Blackness.
One incident the author addresses happened while he was a college student at Emory University. At 2:30 a.m. he entered into a discussion with some fellow Black students concerning always being stuck with cleaning up after a party. A linebacker-sized Black man who wasn’t even in the conversation silenced the whole room by shouting angrily, “Shut up, Touré! You ain’t Black!” He talks about the embarrassment of being charged with being an Uncle Tom and reflects on the racial wrestling that followed. Touré desires this type of attitude to be abolished (“I wish for every Black American to have the freedom to be Black however he or she chooses and to banish from the collective mind the bankrupt, fraudulent concept of ‘authentic’ Blackness.”)
So how does the Post-Black dynamic affect us in Christian circles? Historically, seven major denominations comprise the traditional Black church — the African Methodist Episcopal (AME) Church; the African Methodist Episcopal Zion (AMEZ) Church; the Christian Methodist Episcopal (CME) Church; the National Baptist Convention, USA., Incorporated (NBC); the National Baptist Convention of America, Unincorporated (NBCA); the Progressive National Baptist Convention (PNBC); and the Church of God in Christ (COGIC). Blacks have also had a significant presence in historic White denominations such as the Episcopal, Presbyterian, Congregational, United Methodist, and Roman Catholic churches. Over the last century, the primary perspectives of the Black Christian experience have arisen from those two groups (traditional Black denominations and historic White denominations) with good reason.
Today we need to acknowledge the existence of a significant Post-Black church movement. Over the last 40 years, many Blacks have come to faith through White parachurch ministries such as Navigators, InterVarsity, and the like. Many have matured in their faith within independent evangelical churches, been educated in predominately White Seminaries, and found homes in White denominations looking to become multiethnic. This group has a set of distinctives that differs from the historic Black church. Will the Post-Black Christian generation be grafted into the overall Black church experience?
I have a significant dog in this fight. Post-Blackness presents to us the idea of being rooted in, but not restricted by, Blackness. That is where I, and many Black Christians, live today. I have historic roots in the traditional Black church, but possess a Post-Black Christian identity. Which leads me to wonder, is there room for people like me in the traditional Black church? And, frankly, what does a Post-Black future signify for Christianity as a whole?