Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Review: Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? by Touré

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars
Pages: 252 pages
Genre: Non-Fiction (Sociology)
Series/Standalone: Standalone
Version: Hardback
Publication Date: September 2011
Publisher: Free Press
Source: Personal Collection

Synopsis (Book Jacket):
In the age of Obama, racial attitudes have become more complicated and naunced than ever before.  Inspired by a president who is unlike any Black man ever seen on our national stage, we are searching for new ways of understanding Blackness.  In this provocative new book, iconic commentator and journalist Touré tackles what it means to be Black in America today.    
Touré begins by examining the concept of "Post-Blackness," a term that defines artist who are proud to be black but don't want to be limited by identity politics and boxed in by race. He soon discovers that the desire to be rooted in but not constrained by Blackness is everywhere. In Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?  he argues that Blackness is infinite, that any identity imaginable is Black, and that all expressions of Blackness are legitimate.  
Here, Touré divulges intimate, funny, and painful stories of how race and racial expectations have shaped his life and explore how the concept of Post-Blackness functions in politics, society, psychology, arts, culture, and more.  He knew he could not tackle this topic all on his own, so he turned to 105 of the more important luminaries of our time for frank and thought-provoking opinions, including Conrel West, Henry Louis Gates Jr., Malcolm Gladwell, Melissa Harris-Perry, Harold Ford Jr., Kara Walker, Kehinde Wiley, Gleen Ligon, Paul Mooney, former New York Govenor David Paterson, Greg Tate, Aaron McGruder, Kamala Harris, Chuck D. Mumia Abu-Jamal, and many more.    
By engaging this brilliant, electric group and employing his signature insight, courage, and wit, Touré delivers a clarion call on race in America and how we change our perceptions for a better future.  Destroying the notion that there is a correct way to be Black, Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? will change how we perceive race forever.

I really don't know where to start my review of Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?  because there is so much to talk about.   A picture of what my book of what  looked when I was done will probably show you why this review is going difficult for me to write and probably very wordy.

I first became aware of Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? when Touré mentioned it on the Rachel Maddow Show.  When I saw that he was going to talk at the Miami International Book Festival, I jump at the chance to see him.  I even remember to pre-register for a ticket (which is major for me).  Let's just say that listening to Touré talk about his book, read a section of it, and then answer question made me buy the book and wait around to have it signed (the wait wasn't long).  I was impressed.

But it took me almost a year to actually read it.  Mainly, because I wanted to be able to discuss it with someone.  So, I made it August Book for my book club.  Which consist primary of Black-American and Haitian-American women.  It was an interesting discussion that not only focused on the book but how we saw pieces of ourselves in it.

Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? and I got off to a rocky started.  Before I started attending Book Club Meetings I never read the foreword but my Book Club has changed my reading habits slightly.  So, the foreword is written by Michael Eric Dyson. There is no easy why to put this but when Michael Eric Dyson comes on the television I turn the channel or set it to mute.  He annoys me.  Mainly, his voice and speech pattern annoys me.  I have heard him talk enough times that as I was reading the foreword I could hear his voice in my head and I cringed the whole way through.  Which is sad because there was very little wrong with the foreword  it was actually pretty good and he did not do that annoying thing where he throws in random "big" words to show how smart he that often.

The first chapter lessened my fears but then I read Chapter 2 and thought "Touré WTF?".  In short, Chapter 2 explores the term "Post-Blackness" and it's roots in the art community.  How this idea of Post-Blackness, has transformed who black artist define themselves in relationship to their art and their audience.  That is what I think the idea was but I just ended up thinking "What?".  In the end, I wondered if these artist were just trying to minimize their "Blackness" in order to gain a wider audience.  Because in essence a painters lively hood depends on an person wanting to put a painting on a wall.  If painter only appeals to on culture/ethnicity then they narrow their audience.  Now add in the fact that your audience may not frequent art galleries or have the disposable income to purchase pricey wall hangings.  The painter is not doing themselves any favors by casting a small net.  At the end of this chapter Puff Daddy and Notorious BIG song "All About The Benjamins" came to mind.

Chapter 3, "The Rise and Fall of a Post-Black King" was about the Dave Chappelle (I'm not a fan).  While I am not familiar with Chappelle's work and probably have watched less than 5 of his skits and never could finish a complete episode, I did find Touré's thoughts on the man and his art interesting.  I just did not find him funny.  I thought his work was interesting and thought provoking but that is all.  I could never understand the hype or why people found him to be comedic genius.  Touré did not change my thoughts on Chappelle or sway them in the least, but I thought his theory on why Chappelle left his show (and millions of dollars) might be somewhat true.  (If you want to know the theory you will have to read the book)

Chapter 4 (I promise this won't be a chapter by chapter review) is where things really picked up for me (and several other members of my book club).  This is where Touré talked about his own experiences as growing up black.  There was an incident in this book that reminded me of Joyce Carol Oates Black Girl/White Girl.  But there were moments when I was reminded of myself and my own education.  I was reminded about why I decided to go to a HBCU and am happy that I did. (For those of you wondering I got tired of people questioning my intelligence).

The rest of Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? was filled of stories and reflections of other people's experience of being black in America.  There experience were wide and brought out tons of emotions in me. Some made me laugh out loud.  Some made me want to cry.  Others pissed me off.

I think one important thing to understand is that Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness? is not about "post-racism", which I don't think exists or ever will.  It's about breaking away from the stereotypes of what Blackness is and understanding that Blackness cannot be defined by others (both in and out of the black community).  So, if you are looking to read a book that confirms your beliefs that we live in a "post-racism" society this is not the book.  .

Explanation of Rating:
This could have easily been a 5 star read for me if it had not been the beginning.  Touré is a great writer and I was engaged throughout the book and would have finished it much sooner if it had not been for the fact that I had to stop and mark everything that I had found interesting.

Overall Recommendation:

A highly recommended read.  In fact,  I am going to let what I read marinate for another year and read it again.  This time I am not going to be afraid to highlight sections that I love.


  1. Sound like a good read. I am not one to read non fiction but this may make the tbr list. On the Chappelle note, I didn't care to much for him at the beginning of his career but as I watch the show he had me.

  2. "There experience were wide and brought out tons of emotions in me. Some made me laugh out loud. Some made me want to cry. Others pissed me off."
    -- I already know I'll probably be pissed off, haha.

    I am going to read this to satisfy my non fiction quota for next year. I'm aiming for three. This will be the first I think.

    Good review.