Who's Afraid of Post-Blackness: Touré's Post-Blackness Theory

The Fallacy of Touré's Post-Blackness Theory

In his latest book, the cultural critic argues that African Americans should never have their racial loyalty or authenticity questioned. This reviewer disagrees.

The Fallacy of Touré's Post-Blackness Theory


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Improper policing can indeed impinge unduly on individual freedoms, prompt excessive self-censorship, truncate needed debate and nurture demagoguery. But policing is part of the unavoidable cost of group maintenance. That is why all nations have criminal laws, including prohibitions against treason.

Boycotting Clarence Thomas

To the extent that Touré wants to perpetuate black communities but eschew policing, he seeks a sociological impossibility. The erection of boundaries and the enforcement of stigmatization, including the threat of expulsion, are inescapable, albeit dangerous, aspects of any collective enterprise.

Some folks ought to have their racial credentials lifted. Consider Supreme Court Justice Clarence Thomas -- the most vilified black official in American history, a man whose very name has become synonymous with selling out. Many organizations, including scores of law schools, refuse to bestow any semblance of prestige or support through association with him. He is being massively boycotted. And like all boycotts, this one is coercive. It applies pressure to the target.

It also applies pressure to third parties, threatening with disapproval those who might cross the boycotters' picket line. The boycott of Thomas is largely monitored by blacks who detest his reactionary politics and rue his paradoxical success in exploiting black racial loyalism. Remember that but for his appeal for protection against a "high-tech lynching," he would probably have failed to win senatorial confirmation to the seat once occupied by Thurgood Marshall.

Is it right for blacks to cast Thomas from their communion? Is it appropriate to indict him for betrayal? These questions have arisen on numerous occasions. In confronting them now, I conclude that I have erred in the past. Previously I have criticized Thomas' performance as a jurist -- his complacent acceptance of policies that unjustly harm those tragically vulnerable to ingrained prejudices; his naked Republican Party parochialism; and his proud, Palinesque ignorance. But I have also chastised those who labeled him a sellout.

I was a sap. Blacks should ostracize Thomas as persona non grata. Despite his parentage, physiognomy and racial self-identification, he ought to be put outside of respectful affiliation with black folk because of his indifference or hostility to their collective condition. His conduct has been so hurtful to and antagonistic toward the black American community that he ought to be expelled from membership in it.

Touré rejects the idea that an African American can ever properly be dismissed from the race -- "de-blacked," to use the memorable term coined by Washington University professor Kimberly Jade Norwood. How one stands on this matter depends on how one conceptualizes racial membership. Some view racial membership as an immutable status -- you are born black and that is it. I do not. I view choice as an integral element of membership. In my view, a person (or at least an adult person) should be black by choice, with a recognized right of resignation.

Carrying through with that contractualist conception, I also believe that a black person should have no immunity from being de-blacked. Any Negro should be subject to having his or her membership in blackness revoked if he or she pursues a course of conduct that convincingly demonstrates the absence of even a minimal communal allegiance. 

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