It Takes a Nation of Millions to Hold Us Black

Author Toure's latest book is full of truths and agitation.

Touré Neblett is the cultural critic folks love to hate. An author, journalist, TV host and all around talking head known simply by his first name for nearly two decades, Touré is an unabashed contrarian. Often insightful, often snarky viewpoints dominate his Twitter timeline (34,000+ followers strong), and his latest book -- Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness: What It Means to Be Black Now -- seems tailor-made for water-cooler conversation concerning the black identity in the age of Obama. Synthesizing the thoughts of 105 interviewees (Jesse Jackson, Malcolm Gladwell, Chuck D, Cornel West, etc.), Touré takes square aim at the myth that there's one monolithic way to act African-American.

The meme is an old one for Touré. In a 1993 Essence magazine essay, he recounted the exact same story told in his new book's "Shut Up, Touré! You Ain't Black" chapter, about a college classmate calling him out publicly at a party, angrily voicing what seemed to be on everyone else's mind. Touré grew up in suburban (read: lily white) Randolph, Massachusetts; he attended prep schools, including the esteemed Milton Academy; he pledged a white fraternity; he played tennis before Venus and Serena Williams were ever heard of; he dated white girls, and would later marry "outside the race." Possibly troubled by the legitimacy of his own race card long before his classmate's accusation, Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness sometimes reads like an exorcism of the author's own demons: no way can Touré not be "black enough," because, by his own book's estimation, there's no black standard to live up to, and never really was. Enter post-blackness.

Thelma Golden, chief curator at the Studio Museum in Harlem, first coined the term to describe a movement in the art world in the late 1990s. "When I described my initial thoughts about this book to Golden... it felt like I was asking her if I could take her magnificent, ultra-rare, expensive car for a drive on the highway," Touré writes. "In essence, she said she wouldn't drive it on the highway but I could, if I dared." Golden's car may not have been all that ultra-rare to begin with. Author Trey Ellis -- unacknowledged in Post-Blackness -- made noise in 1989 with a seminal essay entitled "The New Black Aesthetic," citing the black rock band Fishbone, among others, as so-called cultural mulattoes who prove that blackness is much more multivalent than most people admit.

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