40 Million Ways

In Uncategorized on October 25, 2011 at 11:23 am

In speaking with J. Freedom du Lac, writer and cultural critic Touré repeats a line from Henry Louis Gates: “if there are 40 million black Americans, then there are 40 million ways to be black.” In his latest book Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?, Touré’s objective is to “to attack and destroy the idea that there is a correct or legitimate way of doing blackness.” Most recently, Republican Presidential hopeful Herman Cain stated he prefers to be called a Black American rather than an African American. In an interview with Meet the Press, Cain said that “My roots go back through slavery in this country. Yes, they came from Africa, but the roots of my heritage are in the United States of America. So I consider myself a black American.”

In the late 1980s Jesse Jackson’s push to refer to Blacks as African Americans was met with, as noted in a 1989 New York Times article, controversy and celebration. Many opposed, many supported, and yes the debate continues today. The move to connect to Africa was a sign of showing that Blacks were accepting their connections with Africa, no matter how difficult or painful it was to retrace history. As Roger Wilkins stated in 1989, “Whenever I go to Africa, I feel like a person with a legitimate place to stand on this earth. This is the name for all the feelings I’ve had all these years.”

With the election of President Barack Obama, many pointed out that society was now celebrating its great march toward post-racialism. Especially with Herman Cain as a viable Republican candidate, race continues to dominate discussions, and what it means to be black or African American is often evoked in these dialogues—the constant search for identity, an identity, a racial identity, that for Cain is tied to a political one. Cain says that African Americans have been “brainwashed” against the Republican Party.

Perhaps, this “brainwash” that Cain speaks of has less to do with race…For Touré, what does it mean to be Black in America? Actually he says it is important to “Be black however the hell you want!” 40 million Blacks, 40 million ways, and not each way it is exactly the same…

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