“Strumming my pain with his fingers/
Singing my life with his words/
Killing me softly with his song/
Telling My Whole Life, With His Words/
Killing me softly/
With his song…”
-Killing Me Softly, The Fugees
Touré’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness: What It Means to Be Black Now is simply amazing. Not in a fireworks-exploding blinding way, but in a post-coital, languorously intimate way. Having been out of graduate school for fifteen years, I don’t find it necessary nowadays to highlight when I read, or to take notes in order to remember salient passages. When I turned the first pages of Post-Blackness, though, I started highlighting and note-taking with a passion.
Growing up upper-middle class, in a lifestyle which allowed my parents to send me to private schools for most of my educational career, I found the lives and paths depicted in Toure’s work to be echoes of my own experience and experiences. I also found him trying to answer questions and address feelings that I’d never (or rarely with only trusted friends) shared out loud:
“The fight for equality is not over but that shift from living amid segregation and civil war to integration and affirmative action and multiculturalism – and also glass ceilings, racial profiling, stereotype threat, microaggression, redlining, predatory lending, and other forms of modern racism – has led many to a very different perspective on Blackness than the previous generations had.” (p. 50)
“Black America’s Greatest Generation: those who fought in the streets and the courts to desegregate and force America to give Blacks greater access to the American dream. Because of their struggles and successes my generation had new opportunities as well as a certain survivor’s guilt: We wanted to fight but there were no longer battles as fierce and overt as those they’d already confronted.” (p. 119)
Growing up, I often felt an internal struggle to maintain “the struggle” that my parents fought, that my grandparents fought out of necessity. But when we can sit at the front of the bus the responsibility to live up to those opportunities (while not having obvious racism and discrimination to fight) is real for those of us who grew up on stories of “what it was like.”
This book spoke to me in whispers.
Even with it’s underlying thesis that “Post-Black means we are like Obama: rooted in but not restricted by Blackness”, it reflected a definition of blackness that allows me to be at peace with not having existed in the world that O’Shea Jackson, Eric Wright, André Young and others painted as the reality of young, Black men growing up through the nineties.
In literally dozens of places I had to stop, feeling like Touré had been a fly on the wall listening to conversations I’d had growing up, and then written them down.
I recommend this book because it is an opening line in the much-needed conversation about race that the United States desperately needs. I recommend this book because it poses questions and posits theses that I have asked myself for forty years. I recommend this book because, while I haven’t done the power of its questions, its solicitations, its depictions and definitions of blackness justice, I have awakened the possibility that it will move you, too.