I just read an excerpt from cultural critic and essayist Toure’ s upcoming book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?, due out September 13th. In it he explores the meaning of race for the 21st Century African American. From the excerpt I think he is entering some treacherous waters as I anticipate he will break some rules of blackness. In the excerpt I read he already at least broke one, which is “thou shalt always show a united front around white folk.” He seems to be openly wrestling with the meaning of his racial classification for everyone to see. Brave man!
One incident he talks about happened while he was a college student at Emory University. At 2:30 am he entered into a discussion with some fellow black students concerning always being stuck with cleaning up after a party. A linebacker sized black man who wasn’t even in the conversation silenced the whole room by shouting angrily “Shut up, Toure’! You ain’t black!” He talks about the embarrassment of being charged with being an Uncle Tom and reflects on the racial wrestling that followed. Good stuff.
As our nation grows more and more racially diverse I think more memoirs like this will surface. People who are paying attention know that our racial categories are undergoing a redefinition. My life is radically racially different from my father’s – its not even close. I remember one day driving around the campus of Miami University on a beautiful summer day with the windows down. While at a stop light I heard and saw a young white man yell “What’s up niggah!?!” Be rest assured that if my dad, while growing up in Anniston, Alabama, had heard this while driving down the street he may have lost his life depending on how he responded.
Not me. First I recognized the diction – niggah vs. nigger (“niggah” as a term of endearment vs. “nigger” as an insult is a post for another day!) Looking out the window to see closer who this might be I found out the greeting wasn’t for me at all. It was one young white dude greeting some other white kids in the car in front of me. What is the meaning of that? I have no idea, but I think it is time to explore the implications.