New Book from Milton Alumnus Touré
by The Milton Measure on Friday, September 16th, 2011
But the pressure exerted by people who associate with each other can be much more complicated; it’s easy to shrug at a cheap media stereotype, but the conscious and subconscious messages sent from people within a tightly social, cultural, or ethnic group can be far more poweful. In his new book Who’s Afraid of Post-blackness, Touré (‘89) approaches the question ‘what does it mean to be black from an inside perspective and resists defining “blackness” for everyone.
Not surprisingly, the development of this thesis has been an internal, life-long process, starting from his days at Milton Academy. Spending grades one through twelve at Milton made him who he is today as a “writer, thinker, and a person” he told us in his interview. “Milton opened the world for me.”
Still, he shared with us, in a different tone, an incident in the 8th grade which he cites as a major driving force in his work. Randall Dunn, the head monitor at Milton that year, was the first black head monitor in Milton history. At one morning assembly, another student approached him saying “you’re head monitor and stuff…but the reason you got into Brown is cuz you’re black.” Recalling this story, Touré wittily added that “stuff” had in fact been “varsity letters” and “great grades”, but, humor aside, noted how the moment had “stung” him.“Randall was more successful than I’d be,” he remembers thinking, “I knew that.”
Where did that leave him? More directly, another remark he endured in college “shaped the book”, and clearly
drives at his main sentiment: “you ain’t black” he remembers being told, although he was “living in the black House, majoring in black studies, dating a black med student and running the [school publication] Fire This Time. After a good deal of “soul-searching” he was able to put this person (and other people’s) perspective on blackness into “context”; his opinions, he concluded, did not have to coincide with theirs.
Asked about how he defines “blackness” in his book, Touré declares “Blackness is now whatever a black person wants it to be. Skip Gates says if there’s 40 million black people there’s 40 million ways to be black. A black person needn’t love hip hop or soul music to be black. If you love rock or country or classical that’s fine, that doesn’t make you less black or
With this, he left the subject of ethnic affinity behind and gave us a picture of his career as a writer. After two years of college, he moved to New York and interned with the Rolling Stone magazine, carving a path for himself with hip-hop record reviews. Soon this narrow subject field “mushroomed” and he found himself writing on larger and more diverse stories.
Asked about the difficulties he found as a writer and a black writer in particular, he
noted that “all writers have similar challenges”. “You have to learn to shape your voice and find the courage to say really honest things.”
While his specific challenge was emerging from his niche role as a hip hop reviewer, any other writer would have to face the same basic difficulty, though to varying degrees.
Touré urges writers to pursue what intrigues them, regardless of what others may think; “don’t just say things in order to shock, but don’t be afraid to say things that will shock.”
Hip hop review was not a topic thrust upon him by force; he has a genuine interest in shaping the way people treat this genre of music. “When I write about hip hop, I want to
expand the complexity of the discussion about the brilliant creators we love. Many people like to look at rappers as dumb and I know they’re not.”
His words exude passion, and demonstrate his attachment to the subject matter. Of course, Touré would not want us to use this to define him as a writer, as he has expanded far beyond this comfort zone.
As a writer and as an African- American, he embraces a wider variety of ideas and interests than one could give him credit for.
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