I’ve known Touré for ages. Over the last several years, it’s been a pleasure to see him spread his wings. In the same tradition as Ambrose Bierce’s infamous Devil’s Dictionary, Touré’s Who’s Afraid of Post Blackness is filled with doublespeak, paradoxes, and unapologetically complex wordplay while being resolutely clear. His new book takes us through the dizzying heights and absurd lows of post-everything African American culture. Touré’s previous works dovetail with the new literary aesthetics of Brooklyn’s literati ranging from Nelson George to Saul Williams, to academics like Michael Eric Dyson, and Henry Louis Gates. Full disclosure by the way: I’m in his book… So deal with it. Here we go.
Paul D. Miller: What was your inspiration for this book? Hidden histories, unexpected connections—these are things you thrive on. Walk us though the process.
Touré: The night that Obama was elected I started to think about the highest glass ceiling being broken and how months earlier almost no one had thought that white America was ready to vote for a Black president. We never got the memo saying they were open to that. It happened at some point. Was it before 2008? Probably. When was it? And that started me thinking about all the other things that we assumed about race in America. What else had changed without us noticing? What had remained the same despite the openness to elect Obama? So I started thinking and talking to people about what it means to be Black now.
PM: Black culture always has so many reflection sites in identity politics. You have explored some of the more dynamic aspects of what’s going on currently. What led to your initial thinking about the topic at hand?
Touré: The post-Black art movement of the late 90s / early 00s named a group of Black people who wanted the freedom to be Black but didn’t want to be constrained by the strictures of Blackness. They wanted to be artists and not Black artists. I admired their desire to be rooted in Blackness but not constrained by it and I noticed that desire was spreading throughout society. We’re in a post-Black era which means many people are able to perform Blackness however they like rather than be constrained to the strictures of normative Blackness. It must be said this has nothing to do with post-racialism or a desire to transcend Blackness. We could never not be Black and should not desire that. Blackness is a beautiful part of who we are. But it’s also true that Blackness is many things and there are many ways to perform or embody Blackness. As Skip Gates says, if there are 40 million Black people there are 40 million ways to be Black. I hate the conception that some are and some aren’t. It’s anti-progressive.
PM: Was it something you felt was missing in the cultural landscape as presented in 21st century America?
Touré: Yes. I think we still have a strain of the racial policeman in many of us—an idea that certain modes of behavior or thought or identity choices are Black and certain are not. That’s silly. The only thing that links all Black people is the experience of racism. We all go through that and are shaped by that. But is there a unified Black culture to where there’s sacraments we must take in order to be in good standing and if we don’t we’re not? No.
4) Who are some of your favorite writers, and why?
Touré: So many. Ellison, Toni, Rushdie, Didion, Nabokov, David Foster Wallace, Sontag, Roth, Wright, Zora, Mailer, Greg Tate, Zadie.
PM: What’s next?
Touré: I’m working on a book about the relationship between Prince and Gen X. And I’m co-writing Nas’s autobiography.
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