Toure Discusses What It Means To Be Post-Black

Author and cultural critic Toure has written Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness: What It Means to be Black Now. He joins Michele Norris to discuss what it means to be post-black — as well as President Obama's interview with BET on Monday night.

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MELISSA BLOCK, host: From NPR News, this is ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Melissa Block.

MICHELE NORRIS, host: And I'm Michele Norris.

The word post-racial has been thrown around an awful lot over the past few years. Some eagerly embraced the term to help explain political and demographic changes taking place in America. Some dismissed the whole concept, saying it's ridiculous to suggest that America has moved past issues of race.

And in that last group, you can include the author and cultural critic who goes by just one name - Toure. Post-racial, he says, implies that race no longer matters. He argues that it does matter but in ever changing ways. And Toure explores this idea in his new book. Its called "Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness: What It Means To Be Black Now."

And Toure joins me now. So glad you're with us. Welcome to the program.

TOURE: Thank you. Now, of course, you know that post-racial and post-black are not synonymous, they're not at all the same sort of thing.

NORRIS: And I was going to ask you that. What does that this term mean? What is the post-Black era?

TOURE: When you talk about post-racial, of course, you're talking about some concept of an America where race does not exist or there's no racism or something. Nobody can really define it and I don't really put any stock in it. Post-black is talking about people who are rooted in blackness but not constrained by it. They want to be black. They want to deal with the black tradition, and the black community, and black tropes. But they also want the freedom to do other things.

Blackness is not necessarily the entirety of who they are. And it's not that there's some people who are post-black and some are not. We're in a post-black era, where identity-freedom is infinity and you can be black however you choose. And as Skip Gates says, if there's 40 million black people, there's 40 million ways of being black. These concepts of authenticity and legitimacy are vanquished and bankrupt and illegitimate themselves.

NORRIS: But not really vanquished because America seems to ever be engaged in this debate about what it means to be black. Is someone actually black enough?

TOURE: I mean, I see there are self-appointed volunteer identity cops who want to talk about this person is not black enough. But for the most part, we're starting to understand that these concepts are irrelevant and...

NORRIS: But the soul patrol has not gone away.

TOURE: No...

(SOUNDBITE OF LAUGHTER)

TOURE: ...the soul patrol has not gone away and part of my book is an attack on them, and a sort of command to them to put down their swords. Because the black community is far too broad and brilliant and vibrant and varied for that to mean anything. And I want to extend the tent as wide as possible. Just because you grow up in Alaska or Hawaii doesn't mean you're not really black. Just because you grow up in Watts or D.C. doesn't mean that you really are black, you're blacker-than.

These are ridiculous concepts. You can form a blackness for yourself and all forms of it are legitimate.

NORRIS: You look at the black experience, as multifaceted as it is, through various different prisms in this book. But I want to focus on politics and, in particular, the criticism that's being waged at President Barack Obama from the black community. And before we go on, I want to take a listen to part of President Obama's interview that aired last night on BET.

President BARACK OBAMA: There have been a handful of African-American leaders who've been critical. They were critical when I was running for president. So there's always going to be somebody who's critical of the president of the United States. That's my job, in part is - particularly when the economy is going as badly as it is right now - people are going to have concerns and they should.

NORRIS: Toure, this interview was billed as the president answers black America when it aired on BET. And it's interesting, because did George Bush or Bill Clinton have the answer to black America? If one of the people for office right now on the GOP side were to win, will BET demand that they, too, answer black America?

Is the way this is billed and presented, is that not in itself somewhat of a double standard?

TOURE: I would put the onus on BET that no, they would not demand a Mitt Romney if he becomes the nominee to speak directly to black America. And that's a failure of the imagination, that these people absolutely should answer directly to black America. Is it a double standard to ask Barack Obama to answer to black America? No, because, you know, a large part of why he's elected is because of the black constituency.

I think that it's also - speaks to what I talk about with the complexity of modern black America, is that you would have a black president whom many black people are like, I have questions about this guy; I just don't accept him at face value; I wonder about this guy.

NORRIS: And what's that based on?

TOURE: Well, I think a lot of it is based on policies. I think we're a bit surprised that he's not a black leader.

NORRIS: But he would say he is a black leader, when you say he's not...

TOURE: No. No, he's a leader who is black. He's, you know, Jesse Jackson or Dr. King, Malcolm X, these are black leaders, leaders of black people. Barack Obama has never been a black leader. But also, we realized that he is not going to give us anything special. You don't get any special presents or prizes because the president happens to be black.

In fact, he can't do or won't do certain things because he's black. And the sort of reach out that a Bill Clinton might have done for Barack Obama, it would seem that he's giving special favors.

NORRIS: You know, I'm looking at the last chapter in your book. And you note that there's a difference between fighting the power and trying to, yourself, become powerful. Were there people who confused that message based on the last presidential election?

TOURE: Well, you know, Barack Obama is a key example. He surely had been planning on moving toward being president for more than a decade and never thought that being black would hold him back. What an amazing example that he thought I can break that glass ceiling and being black is not going to be the hurdle that stops me.

I look at that and I think about the much smaller mountains that some of us, that I and others, are trying to climb. What are we reaching for that we're thinking maybe we can't because racism will stop us? What else is it that we might be able to create, succeed, achieve?

NORRIS: Toure, it's been a pleasure to talk to you. Thanks so much.

TOURE: Thank you.

NORRIS: Toure is the author of "Who's Afraid Of Post-Blackness: What It Means To Be Black Now."

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