Toure doesn't have the answers in 'Post-Blackness,' but why should he?

STEPHON JOHNSON Amsterdam News Staff | 10/21/2011, 11:03 a.m.

Writer, cultural commentator and MSNBC contributor Toure has found himself in several mini-commotions the past several months. A cynical person would state the obvious and say controversy was expected leading up to the release of his new book, "Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?" (Free Press/Simon & Schuster), but controversy seems to find him more than he seeks it out. His book demonstrates why.

Toure was raised middle class in a mostly white neighborhood, went to white private schools and attended a mostly white college, but his family made sure he received Black culture in the form of a Black-owned and -run tennis club he frequented as a teen and the books he read growing up. No, he hasn't experienced the stereotypical "ghetto life" often associated with Black Americans-that should be a good thing, but somehow his credentials have lately been questioned by other Blacks.

Toure has found himself on the wrong end of proverbial stick in several incidents, including a piece he wrote for ESPN the Magazine discussing how race might have affected the public perception of Michael Vick. He (jokingly) questioned the Blackness of people who didn't like James Brown on Twitter, which caused others to wonder why they should read his book if he's going to question a person's Blackness. And the biggest social media blowup occurred when he was promoting the book itself.

In a YouTube video of Toure reading an excerpt from his book, he tells a story from "Post-Blackness" about when a student at his alma mater, Emory University, told him he wasn't Black during a party his junior year. This sparked him to write a column about the incident in the school paper, which, according to him, became the talk of the campus.

But according to Kimberly C. Ellis PhD (who goes by the Twitter handle Dr. Goddess), who also attended Emory, Toure didn't really hang out with the Black student body until his junior year, which was the reason behind the statement. The two engaged in a Twitter war of words for a day or two, with each recounting a completely different set of events.

To many who have been on Toure's end of the stick, it seemed par for the course. Blacks who have a number of white friends have always been looked at suspiciously by other Black folks.

What might irk some Blacks about Toure is not his lack of fear of the "white gaze," it's his lack of fear of the "Black gaze" as well. For a significant sect of the Black population, this is extremely liberating to read. An unspoken thought that many in the Black community have is the fear of doing something because of what other Blacks might think.

While there are those who focus on what white people will think if a Black public figure behaves badly, Toure holds the middle of the double-edged sword with gloves, fighting white and Black restrictions equally. To him, "being Black" doesn't have a definition. Being Black is fluid. Being Black, while unique to the history of America, shouldn't stifle one from being oneself, which is more important.

The only problem here is that Toure's interview subjects tend to make his points better than he does. That's the nature of being a journalist sometimes, and it's fine. Talking to everyone from Tennessee Rep. Harold Ford to recording artist Santigold, from writers like Barry Michael Cooper and Stanley Crouch to professors like Dr. Melissa Harris-Perry and Dr. Michael Eric Dyson, the talking heads in "Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness?" demonstrate intelligence, wit and diverse opinions-all of the attributes Toure thinks the Black community should apply to itself.