The Bitchassness of Toure and These Post-Black Rhetoricians

A fascinating article by Touré follows this rant. You should read it. It provides a great look into the mind of the modern black afro-capitalist. Maybe you're interested in learning about it so you can be one, or (if you're like me) maybe you're interested in learning about it so you can stay as far away from that mentality as possible. Either way, once you've read that, my take on his piece will make much more sense. My take is here (the article follows):

Just as there were white people who bellowed lofty rhetoric about democracy and equality at the founding of this slave nation, there are black folks who bellow lofty rhetoric about freedom and uplift, whose actions are in stark contrast to the actions that are required to manifest their professed beliefs.

Now that's okay. It doesn't mean all hope is lost. At times, I too belong to this group of black people. As a human, it is impossible to avoid contradiction. So the goal is not to invent a world devoid of contradiction, betrayal or lack of loyalty. That world is impossible. In the English language that impossible world has been called Utopia. I do not want to live there.

Instead, my goal is to refuse to be silent about my individual hypocrisy in order to constantly improve. As a living organism, I think that's pretty much our call of duty, to improve, and to do so as consistently as possible. As such, I believe it should be our collective goal to refuse to be silent about our collective hypocrisy, so that collectively we can improve most efficiently. I believe that we should all refuse to silence the voices among us, or within us, that call us to be consistent in our commitments to our beliefs, and that urge us to manifest the appropriate action to get free. That doesn't guarantee us a world in which we'll always be consistent in our commitments, rather, at best, it guarantees us a world in which we'll always have vocal reminders telling us to get our asses back on track.

Bottom line: humans need reminders to stay on track and live up to their expectations and commitments. Without reminders we are guaranteed to fail. With reminders, we aren't guaranteed to win, but the odds are much better.

What Toure seems to be doing in this here article is that -- instead of accepting that he too needs a reminder in order to stay committed to the ideals of his ancestors -- he's simply justifying his transgressions as the "natural" evolution of our collective experience as black folks in America. To him the election of Barack Obama is proof that this evolution has worked. That the new-black that has evolved into post-black has proven its worthiness and effectiveness by electing a black president, something that the "old, angry, revolutionary" black couldn't do.

To him, post-black means getting over the ugliness of blackness and instead "get past" that to what lies ahead. But for Toure -- judging by the way he not only praises this black bourgeoisie story, but also the way in which he recommends that we learn from this fiction and apply it to our reality -- he really believes that "what lies ahead" is a blackness that has no "threatening" ties to Africa, and a blackness that essentially "succeeds" financially and materially by being non-threatening to the established power structure in America. Work hard and you can have a comfortable life, where instead of obsessing about blackness and white supremacy, you can ponder the meaning of life -- you know, the artistic stuff that only white people get to do. If you have grievances, use the civil rights methodology and we'll eventually be granted whatever we need by the power structure. Cause, see, it got us a black president! Yay! So there's nothing really wrong with the structure, we just have to know how to work it! So come on black people! Get out of your mental ruts, and "Just do it!" "Do You!" "Yes we can!", etc., etc.

Where I disagree, is that for many of our collective ancestors, "succeeding" never meant "doing well off" in the white man's world. No, "succeeding" means being ourselves in our own context, under our own rules. Self determination at all costs. And we trust those rules, not because we are romantics, but because we have historians and our historians tell us that these rules worked for tens of thousands of years. They worked. Yes, they worked not without struggle and conflict and hard times. But they worked nevertheless. And further, they kept us in GENERAL harmony with our Earth, with our peer living creatures, and with our fellow humans. Period.

I refuse to accept Toure's premise that "success" for black folks in this American project means reaping "equal" benefits from the rape of the rest of the world. I refuse to accept that protest and exercising our "legal" voice, granted to us by the rapist, is all we need to change the world.

That's like the coward in the room when someone is being raped, seeing success as getting a turn, instead of stopping the entire fucked up game being played at the expense of another human being. And, at best, Toure kicks us a liberal interpretation where he's the person in the room who puts up a protest.

But he can't go so far as being the one who calls the damn cops or better yet, the one who kicks the asses of the other people in the room getting ready to take their turn, even if they are his childhood buddies. No, that's too "radical".

Toure portrays those of us who refuse to abandon our "reminders" (of who we are) as if we are holding on to grievances that are played out. Who gives a fuck about the grievances? This war is about US, and keeping true to who we are, it ain't about "them" or a hate for "them". Who has time to dwell on hate? If anyone, certainly the minority among us. The majority among us, have ALWAYS been driven by a LOVE for our own people, our own families, our own friends.

While it may be true that among individuals our individual drama and internal personality conflicts sometimes have sidetracked the larger community (think Black Panther Party vs. Ron Karenga's "US" organization or vs. the Black Liberation Army), it is entirely false when it comes to the struggles that black families and communities have endured in general. Meaning: the conflicts are the exception playa. Any elementary student of African history will tell you that the rule is that we ride or die together. Always have, always will.

As I've shared in discussion about Urban Maroonage on this site (link), my family and upbringing proved to me that it was possible to disengage with this society's values, while also providing a safe and healthy upbringing for your children. In other words, being revolutionary does not mean suffering, it just means being bold enough to secure your stability without having to play the game of exploitation promoted by this system. So the false class argument that all the reactionary revolutionaries are angry folks too focused on angry rhetoric to be able to to provide their children with college funds, health insurance, and -- as Toure puts it -- vacation paradises "where life doesn’t assault... but rather affords the time to figure out who [one] is", is a bullshit argument.

Plenty of families and communities have found ways to provide the type of stability for their children that allowed their kids "the time to figure out" who they are. By aspiring to resist this society's values you do not automatically sacrifice your children's well being. In itself, it is no harder to provide your kids a stable upbringing when you are resisting this society than when you are acquiescing. The only difference is that when you take a stand, you sometimes have to face the added barrier of a reactionary society that is easily threatened by free, self-determining people. But if we are too cowardice to seek that, then what are we living for?

Toure's diatribe against this imagined "black" obsession, that has supposedly plagued black people for too long, is totally a slap and spit in the face of those families and communities who have, through tireless endurance, resisted the tempting material fruit of acquiescence and "capitalist success", in order to honor and preserve in their very life-efforts (efforts at living), the identity and way of life of our ancestors. I'm talkin about everyone from Mumia (who sits in what amounts to a modern day whipping shed (death row used as a political tool to intimidate the rest of us uppity Negroes into remaining non-threatening to the power structure, or else) to the very community that raised me.

Toure acts like this has all been a "strategy" in "gaining access and success". This is not a strategy, resistance to the destructive nature of white supremacy and capitalism is a way of life to all who want to live in a sustainable world. My folks have chosen their life proactively and on principle, not just reactively in order to merely "get something" -- even if that something is power. By raising children who aren't afraid of their African history and aren't afraid to represent that identity and legacy in an oppressive white society is not reactionary. It is merely a more honest way of living, especially when compared to the way of life practiced by those among us who choose to repress our historical identities in order to "get ahead", whatever that means.

As my friend reminded me, I'm not even sure why I'm upset though. Because Toure -- nothing like baba Kwame, or his namesake Sekou Toure -- is himself a bourgeoisie black man repressing his ancestral identity and betraying the efforts of what I consider to be the best of us, so that he can publish a few books and appear on BET as a so-called "legitimate" voice to modern black America. How could I expect anything more from someone who has deposited checks from Viacom?

Well, despite what the "hater-haters" think, there really is that much hope that brothers like Toure will one day come around and use their enormous reach to engage our people in dialogue that really matters -- dialogue that revolves around how we can and will continue to go about the re-capturing of stolen identities and legacies that are the key to us being who we need to be in whatever time and place we find ourselves in. Dialogue that is more about figuring out where we are and where we go from here, than it is about trying to "get ahead" in the very system that we are slave-alumni of. But of course that takes a proper understanding of the history of African social movements in America. Brother Cedric Robinson wrote a book about it, wanna here it? Here it go (link).

Of course, it's much more lucrative to make a living publishing books about what essentially amounts to your "adventures in black Hollywood". Blah.

(NY Times) Visible Young Man: Now that we’ve got a post-black president, all the rest of the post-blacks can be unapologetic as we reshape the iconography of blackness. For so long, the definition of blackness was dominated by the ’60s street-fighting militancy of the Jesses and the irreverent one-foot-out-the-ghetto angry brilliance of the Pryors and the nihilistic, unrepentantly ghetto, new-age thuggishness of the 50 Cents. A decade ago they called post-blacks Oreos because we didn’t think blackness equaled ghetto, didn’t mind having white influencers, didn’t seem full of anger about the past. We were comfortable employing blackness as a grace note rather than as our primary sound. Post-blackness sees blackness not as a dogmatic code worshiping at the altar of the hood and the struggle but as an open-source document, a trope with infinite uses.

The term began in the art world with a class of black artists who were adamant about not being labeled black artists even as their work redefined notions of blackness. Now the meme is slowly expanding into the wider consciousness. For so long we were stamped inauthentic and bullied into an inferiority complex by the harder brothers and sisters, but now it’s our turn to take center stage. Now Kanye, Questlove, Santigold, Zadie Smith and Colson Whitehead can do blackness their way without fear of being branded pseudo or incognegro.

So it’s a perfect moment for Whitehead’s memoiristic fourth novel, “Sag Harbor,” a coming-of-age story about the Colsonesque 15-year-old Benji, who wishes people would just call him Ben. He’s a Smiths-loving, Brooks Brothers-wearing son of moneyed blacks who summer in Long Island and recognize the characters on “The Cosby Show” as kindred spirits. “According to the world we were the definition of paradox: black boys with beach houses. A paradox to the outside, but it never occurred to us that there was anything strange about it. It was simply who we were,” Whitehead writes. “What you call paradox, I call myself.” For Benji’s family, confident of progress, the black national anthem is “Ain’t No Stoppin’ Us Now.”

Benji is a nerdy, easily embarrassed teenager, still in braces, whose attempt to become his own person is seen in his efforts to pull away from Reggie, his younger brother and longtime shadow. Like so many adolescents in life and in literature, Benji is trying to figure out who he is but doesn’t quite know where to look. We see him flow through a summer in Sag Harbor, that section of the Hamptons where many black doctors and lawyers have homes, and follow him from Memorial Day (when he’s waiting for the rest of his little crew to arrive from the city) to Labor Day (when the lawn mowers go quiet). It’s the summer of 1985 — the hip-hop sex symbol Lisa Lisa comes into the ice cream store where Benji works, and New Coke is introduced to hell-frozen-over dismay: “It was inconceivable, like tampering with the laws of nature. Hey, let’s try Gravity-Free Tuesdays.” Whitehead’s delicious language and sarcastic, clever voice fit this teenager who’s slowly constructing himself. “Sag Harbor” is not “How I became a writer”; there’s no hint of Benji’s destiny beyond his sharp-eyed way of looking at things, his writerly voice and his desire to provide a historical and sociological context for blacks in the Hamptons. Still, with the story meandering like a teenager’s attention, the book feels more like a memoir than a traditional plot-driven novel. It’s easy to come away thinking not much happens — Whitehead has said as much — but “Sag Harbor” mirrors life, which is also plotless. It’s an inner monologue, a collection of stories about a classic teenage summer where there’s some cool stuff and some tedium and Benji grows in minute ways he can’t yet see.

Benji lives in a world not unlike Charlie Brown’s, where adults are mostly offstage. His parents work in the city all week, visiting on weekends, so Benji’s social life reaches its apex on Thursdays, when all the “ill” stuff goes down. Of course, Benji and his crew aren’t terribly raucous: the illest thing to happen is a BB gun war, where guess-who gets shot in the eye. This leads to one of the book’s tensest scenes, as Benji tries to extricate the BB with “old-fashioned razor blades, the ones people use to kill themselves.” He fails.

Whites are mostly offstage too, but for these characters, as for many blacks in the upper middle class, there’s a constant worry about the white gaze. “You didn’t, for example, walk down Main Street with a watermelon under your arm. Even if you had a pretty good reason. Like, you were going to a potluck and each person had to bring an item and your item just happened to be a watermelon, luck of the draw, and you wrote this on a sign so everyone would understand the context, and as you walked down Main Street you held the sign in one hand and the explained watermelon in the other, all casual, perhaps nodding between the watermelon and the sign for extra emphasis if you made eye contact. This would not happen. We were on display.”

Still, even in successful and ambitious post-black families, kids are taught in no uncertain terms not to take any mess from whites. An undercurrent of abuse in Benji’s house — Dad insults Mom in front of her friends, for example — spills over when Benji doesn’t challenge a boy who drags a finger down his cheek and says, “Look — it doesn’t come off.” When his father learns that Benji didn’t punch the boy, he surmises that Benji was afraid of being punched back. So he uses shock therapy: “His fast fast hand struck me across the face and iron rolled around in my head and my cheek pulsed with heat and felt like it had swollen up to twice its size.” Benji’s father punches him in the face again and again, each time demanding, “Can he hit you harder than this?” Through most of “Sag Harbor” Benji learns and grows very little, but here the moral is unmistakable: “The lesson was, Don’t be afraid of being hit, but over the years I took it as, No one can hurt you more than I can.” He goes back and punches the boy in the face.

The autobiography has been an integral part of African-American literature since before Frederick Douglass. Most examples — Richard Wright’s “Black Boy,” Claude Brown’s “Manchild in the Promised Land,” Maya Angelou’s “I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings,” Kody Scott’s “Monster” — could have been subtitled “My Journey Out of Hell.” They document the horror of being black and enslaved or segregated or impoverished or imprisoned. But Whitehead’s Benji starts with tremendous class advantages and summers in a vacation paradise where life doesn’t assault him but rather affords him the time to figure out who he wants to be. Benji may be an outlier, but he is not alone. It’s time for us to hear more post-black stories like his. (source)

Originally Posted 5/6/2009

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