The PJ Tatler

Post-Modern Blackness in Theory and Practice

My previous blogging series explored Critical Race Theory founder Derrick Bell’s Afrolantica Legacies and its connections to current events and the Obama administration’s public policies.

Bell was born in 1930, and his generation would go on to lead the ’60s campus revolts and the various components of the New Left. (See Ron Radosh’s memoir Commies: A Journey Through the Old Left, the New Left and the Leftover Left for the stories of Bell’s radical peers.) By the early 1970s this Silent Generation cohort produced not only their pivotal works (Bell’s Race, Racism and American Law came in 1973) but also the children who would some day gain the name Generation X.

Touré was born in 1971, and now 40 years later you can read how his generation of writer-activists has updated Bell’s political theology.

My motives for reading Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness remain as selfish as for Afrolantica Legacies: I want to know “what it means to be black now.” Or rather: who counts as black today? Do those with one African-American and one Caucasian parent count as black? What about one grandparent?

What do those in multi-racial families need to know in order to raise the next generation of mixed race children? How do you explain “blackness” and “whiteness” to a child who falls into neither category?

What is the theory of blackness and how does one live it out in practice? Touré has an answer — borrowed from Henry Louis Gates, Jr. — and it’s worthless:

“There’s 40 million ways” might as well be 40,000 or 40 billion, the number still says the same thing: within Touré’s Gen-X conception, “blackness” can mean whatever one wants.

Touré basing his ideology on Gates’ throwaway line creates a new political faith that aligns with Merriam-Webster‘s definition of Post-Modernism:

a: of, relating to, or being any of various movements in reaction to modernism that are typically characterized by a return to traditional materials and forms (as in architecture) or by ironic self-reference and absurdity (as in literature) b: of, relating to, or being a theory that involves a radical reappraisal of modern assumptions about culture, identity, history, or language <postmodern feminism>

If you hoped “post-black” might mean “post-racial” think again. In Touré’s world “Blackness” and “whiteness” remain very real and locked in permanent class conflict. Never mind that today the front lines of this racial war pass down the double helix of tens of millions. Touré will still open his book with an author’s note justifying his decision to capitalize “Black” but keep “white” lowercase.

And even though Touré pays lip serve to a diversity of 40 million visions of “authentic Blackness” in reality his book lays out a series of dogmas defining his new hybrid of racialism, progressive politics, and New Age spirituality. Next week I’ll begin presenting various excerpts that define Touré’s dogma, which I’m calling The 10 Commandments of Post-Modern Blackness.