I consume MSNBC 24/7, with brief breaks for Scandal, but I’ve often complained that the network doesn’t have a vested interest in reaching the millennial electorate. This issue was addressed with the introduction of “The Cycle,” an afternoon program featuring four pop culture and political pundits trading jabs on issues relevant to Generation Y.
One of those commentators is Touré, a hip-hop fanatic who rose to prominence in the Village Voice-dominated 1990s. He has leveraged his beautifully-crafted celeb profiles into bestselling books, a TIME column and pioneering positions as CNN’s first pop-culture correspondent and the host of Fuse’s Hip-Hop Shop. The afro-clad wordsmith, who has shot hoops with Prince and wrote a provocative “I Hate Mary J. Blige” essay, is often tapped to provide the “black” perspective on social issues for cable news networks. He even debated the pros and cons of Tyler Perry on CNN.
His distinctive ability to combine wittiness with wisdom has made his entertainment value inextricable to his brand, so I wasn’t surprised when he was hired to start in the afternoons alongside S.E. Cupp (a Republican that I adore), Krystal Ball and Steve Kornacki. On a network where Afro-Americans – sans Tamron Hall and Melissa Harris-Perry – are often relegated to guest spots, it was exciting to witness Touré take a seat on an MSNBC set where his name is in the opening credits.
As a 23-year-old writer with huge aspirations, Touré represents the success that I strive to attain. But I’m beginning to realize that most other black folks aren’t thrilled about his fame and aren’t ardent admirers of his work. The black twiterati have blasted him for maintaining a “blocked” list, a place he’s reserved for Twitter commentators that disagree with him. But it doesn’t end there.
Boyce D. Watkins, Ph.D., an author, political analyst and academic with several esteemed scholarship appointments blasted Touré in an op-ed where he refers to him as the “Kim Kardashian of social commentary.” His points include:
“Touré of MSNBC is the man who has every intelligent black person in America wondering why he’s on TV, myself included. There are no credentials in his background which lead you to believe that he should be defining the direction of national thought on serious political issues…”
…and it continues…
“Touré, on the other hand, offers the kind of empty insights that make you wonder what the 23-year old television producer was thinking when she booked him to discuss the intricacies of African American politics. The man who hunts for his next sound bite like a teenage girl trying to find the coolest Coach purse doesn’t seem to know how to make his remarks without saying something that appears to be flat-out stupid. Some might even consider him to be a simple-minded clown.”
There was a frenzied response to Dr. Watkins’ piece. A lot of intellectual black folks rejoiced. I am not one of them.
Outside of the blatant illogical complaints that Dr. Watkins lodges against Touré, including an attempt to discredit his perspective because he doesn’t have a political science background and unjustly lumping him into the same category as a woman famous for fame’s sake, what’s most troubling is Dr. Watkin’s insistence that we should condemn Touré instead of celebrating him. Rather than presenting a both/and argument, where we can criticize and uplift Touré, Dr. Watkins is debating the need of an either/or. You can either love or hate Touré; there is no middle ground for moderates.
But like Oprah, Condoleeza Rice, Whitney Houston before Bobby Brown and the host of other African-Americans embattled with this same struggle, the subliminal message in Dr. Watkin’s essay is that Touré simply isn’t black enough to be considered a grio for our community.
At least Touré was expecting it. In fact, he’s accustomed to being ousted to the role of the outlier among blacks. In “A Funky Fresh Talented Tenth,” an essay from his 2006 collection, Never Drank the Koolaid, he writes that,
“…I breezed in the classroom … and struggled with my Black classmates. I pledged a White fraternity. That’s when the Whisper started.
The Whisper clung quietly to my shadow through sophomore year when I began actively courting Black friends and became a Black-studies major and junior year when I moved into the Black house. One night at the Black house, after a party, a stupid argument turned hot. And someone, finally, stated The Whisper. ‘Shut up Toure,’ it went. ‘You ain’t Black.’
It was a searing epiphany. Years later, I understood the flimsyness [sic] of that so-called spear, the ease with which almost anyone at anytime could be stabbed with a you-ain’t-Black for any number of offenses—where you live, who you love, what you think, how you walk. But still, that day there was some truth in it. There’s some truth in it now.”
This consistent characterizing of some of us as “black enough” while others are relegated to the outskirts of predetermined blackness is an issue that will continue to plague us as long as we continue to perpetuate it. The fact that Condoleeza Rice, in all of her controversial Republican glory, ain’t made it the promised black land, but Louis Farrakhan is the Holy Grail, is backward Aryan Nation ideology. We are attempting to purify our race by casting out those we have deemed not black enough to be representative of our collective. Our island is diverse and grand enough to include Herman Cain and Malcolm X, Flavor Flav and Barack Obama.
This “voted off the black island” concept is most caricatured in Dave Chapelle’s racial draft, where ethnicities were given the option to trade their least-desired people in favor of those that more identified with their culture. However, life isn’t Comedy Central parodies and the requirements for paradigmatic “blackness” are sketchy at best. If our oppressors instituted the one-drop rule to exclude even those unwilling to self-identify as African-Americans, what constitutes inclusion in our era?
Now, does Touré chase sound bites? Yes. Did I cringe at his “niggerization” comment? Yes. He is flawed as we all are. Though I’m all for pointing out the faults of others if it is constructive and meant to stimulate growth, I think it’s high time that we stop shunning other black folks.