So, I’ve been at war with a project better known as my master thesis. My project, on James Baldwin, focuses on the exile trope and the way he expresses this through his characters. A major focal point is that Baldwin felt the need to leave America in order to produce his work and to survive. According to Baldwin, had he stayed in America with her racial tensions rising, he would’ve killed or been killed. In the midst of working on my project, I became overwhelmed and considered taking a break from it all. I decided to read something else to kind of scale things back a bit.
I purchased Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now at the 2011 Brooklyn Book Festival where Toure was scheduled to sit on a panel. I’m all about discussions regarding race-relations and couldn’t wait to dig in to this text to find out what was this “post-blackness” term he referred to.
I thought the text provided a platform for many of us to address ideologies, traits and stereotypes that we’re probably conscious of all the time but don’t display in front of white people. But what’s more, Who’s Afraid… allowed me to be relaxed in knowing I’m not the only one who is self-conscious of eating chicken or watermelon in front of white people, which is proof that the white gaze still remains a factor and further confirms the effects of racism have been deeply embedded in our psyche.
This text was an insightful read and I attracted all types of gazes as I read it on the train. I enjoy Toure’s honesty when he acknowledges his experience as a burgeoning journalist and how he was questioned when it came to performing his craft. The fact that Toure had been accused of not being Black or Black enough was the motivation of this book. He was forced to examine why someone would feel that way about him and what allowed someone to think that there was a checklist to being Black? Black is however you do Black and that Blackness is limitless.
There is an entire section on Dave Chappelle which I enjoyed and thought was brilliant. Chappelle’s satire of racism poked fun at the white gaze and how that gaze interprets Black people. I have to say the part that intrigued me the most is The Most Racist Thing That Ever Happened…. section with Henry Louis Gates and how racism literally crippled him:
In 1964, in West Virginia a fourteen-year-old Henry Louis Gates Jr. broke his hip and went to a doctor who x-rayed his knew, which was also in pain. The doctor saw nothing wrong with his knee and deemed his pain psychosomatic. “He said that I had a nervous breakdown because I was an overachiever,” Gates said. “He said colored people weren’t supposed to do as well as I had done. I had been stressed out and there was nothing wrong with my knee. White guy thought I was imagining things. And that’s why I walk with a cane and I’ve had a dozen operations since I was fourteen.” Gates remains bitter about the whole thing. “I hope that motherfucker’s burning in hell.”
I have to admit that there are times I find myself feeling weird around white people and I’ve been in situations where I felt I needed to validate myself or my knowledge of certain topics because of the white gaze. I’ve had white friends say things that I thought were inappropriate and I would quickly respond sarcastically to let them know what they said was dumb. There are still some ideas and ways of thinking that I’m working on and will probably continue to work through for the rest of my life. I’m sure there were jobs or opportunities I didn’t get because I am Black and there are Black people who do embarrass me. I mean, I have my reservations about Section 8 tenants like the Black tenants who destroyed my house….(very bitter about that, lol.) This, again, are ideologies I am forced to confront and work through everyday and I was relieved to know that I’m not the only one who feels the way that I feel. I’m also comforted that listening to bands like America, Bread, Nirvana and Nickelback doesn’t make me less Black either.
What does being Black mean to you?
Kudos to Toure for this book. Enjoy