On February 26, 2012, George Zimmerman (a self-appointed neighborhood watchman) shot and killed Trayvon Martin, a black teenager in a gated community in Sanford, Florida, while the teenager walked from the grocery store to his father’s girlfriend’s house. According to 911 transcripts Zimmerman spotted Martin walking through the community, thought he looked suspicious, and followed him—first in his vehicle and then on foot, after the 911 operator explicitly told him not to. According to Zimmerman, he lost track of Martin, and then began walking back to the car. Martin then approached him and a scuffle occurred, causing Zimmerman to shoot Martin with a Tec 9mm handgun.
However Martin was talking to his girlfriend at the time, and his girlfriend suggests Zimmerman continued to follow Martin and accosted him. After shooting Martin, Zimmerman claimed self-defense under Florida’s Stand Your Ground law. As a result, Zimmerman was not arrested immediately. In fact the police conducted drug tests on Trayvon Martin’s body instead of on Zimmerman. Through the efforts of black news websites, the case garnered international attention. When asked about the case by a reporter, President Obama expressed regret, noting that if he had a son he would look like Trayvon.
A number of questions remain unanswered about the case. And given that Trayvon Martin is not here to tell his side of the story, some questions will remain unanswered. However what we do know is that the leading cause of death for young black men like Trayvon Martin is homicide. And we know that Martin’s story is a very familiar one for African Americans—after the Martin murder became national news, journalists began to report stories of similar incidents.
As of 2010, the US Parachute Association (USPA) had approximately 33,000 members. Combined they skydived approximately 3 million times. Based on USPA data we know that approximately 85% of its members are male, and 15% are female. Because the USPA doesn’t collect data on the race of its members, we don’t know how many black members it has. However, it is likely that more than 90% of its members are white.
I myself have never skydived. The first time I even thought about doing it was when one of my (white) undergraduate students decided to do it as a graduation gift for herself. I went online to see how much lessons cost—it isn’t as expensive as you’d think. But I never ended up doing it.
Reading Trayvon Martin’s tragic tale and then an account of skydiving may seem jarring to you. And that’s because it is. The two don’t seem to have anything to do with each other.
But I mash them together for a reason. Over the past several years it seems as if we’ve been having two very different conversations about blackness. One conversation is driven by an intense desire to unpack its essence in order to get beyond it, primarily for artistic purposes. Another conversation is driven by an intense desire to build a more progressive politics for black populations. Desire in general is a complex thing—a rich stew of emotions so powerful we often don’t know what to do with it. But these very different desires lead to and come from very different political orientations.
Over the past few years an array of intellectuals have delved deep into and beyond “blackness”. They’ve done this in films (Barry Jenkins “Medicine for Melancholy”), in music (Robert Glasper’s “Black Radio”, The Roots “Undun”), in art (the work of Kehinde Wiley and Hank Willis Thomas stand out here), in literature (Victor Lavalle’s Big Machine, Mat Johnson’s Pym), and in nonfiction (Rebecca Walker’s Black Cool, Baratunde Thurston’s How to Be Black, and Touré’s Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness). These works reflect on and interrogate what it means to be black, what it means to produce black art, and indirectly what it means to be a black artist. Many of these works are groundbreaking.[foot]With few exceptions, science fiction has been the purview of white men, yet both Wiley and Johnson use traditional science fiction narratives to examine changes in the modern racial landscape. And while Kehinde Wiley fuses the traditional and the afro-modern by painting heroic young urban African Americans using poses and imagery borrowed (more like sampled) from the Renaissance era, Hank Willis Thomas powerfully combines pictures of black basketball players with imagery borrowed from slavery.[/foot]
I am particularly interested in the non-fiction accounts. Rebecca Walker’s Black Cool masterfully arrays the essential elements of black cool, (reserve, audacity, eccentricity, soulful, crazy, among others) on a black periodic table. Baratunde Thurston’s How to Be Black playfully examines blackness as something that can (and should be) taught outside of the month of February.[foot]Black people should know that there are not one but two kinds of oreos. There’s the Oreo you eat (the black cookie with white filling), and the Oreo that walks on two feet (the “black” person with “white” insides). [/foot] And Touré uses dozens of interviews with famous African Americans trying to ferret out what it all means. Indeed I begin this chapter with a brief examination of skydiving because Touré begins Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness with a discussion of his own attempt to skydive.
These intellectuals mine territory blacks have dug into for decades.
Writing about race over 100 years ago, W.E.B. Dubois defined blackness in two different ways. Being black was in part a political identity that determined whether you rode in the Jim Crow car, or the Whites-only car on the train. But being black was also in part a cultural identity deeply embedded in a set of practices and ideas.
For Dubois black artists had a personal and a collective responsibility to the race to create unabashedly propagandistic art. Black families had the responsibility of consuming and displaying black art in their homes.[foot]Fast forwarding more than sixty years after The Souls of Black Folk was published, the Black Arts Movement embodied this responsibility. Movement artists like Amiri Baraka tasked black poets to write “assassin poems”, in order to fulfill their responsibilities to the race.
[/foot] James Weldon Johnson articulated the burden of this responsibility in 1928. According to him, black writers were torn between whites who wanted stereotypical black characters, and blacks who wanted “positive images”. The effects of this burden on black art were pretty heavy. How could writers create true literature, if every character had to be “perfectly black”? If every character had to have a “positive image”?
So although the way they tackle their subject matter is different Walker, Thurston, and Touré (among others) are engaging in a question with a long history. But there’s a reason why they tackle this question at this particular moment. Just as there was a specific reason why their predecessors tackled this question at the beginning of the twentieth century, then again during the Harlem Renaissance and then yet again during the Black Arts Movement. This most recent burst comes in the wake of Obama’s election.
Obama directly inspired Walker’s book on black cool, as well as Hank Willis Thomas’ show Pitch Blackness. Michael Eric Dyson begins his introduction to Touré’s book by presenting his standard defense of then-candidate Obama (who had to fight off minor claims that he wasn’t black enough during the 2008 Presidential campaign).[foot]What’s particularly interesting about this claim is the fact that it appears to be a total media creation, generated largely by the response to two black intellectuals (Stanley Crouch and Debra Dickerson), neither of which had or have significant followings among black people.[/foot] In fact while Touré’s book on post-blackness claims to be about blackness in the post-civil rights era, it’s really about identity crisis in the post-Obama era.
What does it mean to be black now?
We take the political aspect of our black identity for granted. Of course we know that being black has certain political consequences. But here I refer instead to the way in which some Americans are identified as black, and some Americans are not. We shouldn’t take this process for granted, if for no other reason than it helps us understand the ways in which race itself is an institutional construction.
I am “black” for example, for the same reason my sister and brother are black—our parents are black. But if I were born and raised in France, I wouldn’t be black. At least I wouldn’t be classified as black by the government, because classifying people by race is illegal in France. The government can’t do it, private businesses can’t do it, schools can’t do it.
Now it isn’t as if people Americans would classify as black don’t exist. Of course they do. France is filled with people my skin color and darker, and has one of the strongest hip-hop communities in Europe. However “black people” as such don’t exist.
What about Brazil? More enslaved Africans were shipped there than anywhere else in the world.
In Brazil, I wouldn’t be classified by race as much as I’d be classified by color. If I were in Brazil I’d probably be classified as “pardo” (brown). But it’s complicated. In the United States I have the same racial classification as my parents, the same as my brother and my sister, the same as my children. In Brazil though, it would be different. If we lived in Brazil instead of the United States we’d be placed in different categories because our skin shades differ.
I use these examples to show that how we classify people isn’t necessarily a given—it isn’t natural that I am “black”. I am black in part because the government labels me as such. I can claim to be “white” all I want, as long as I live in America and as long as the government classifies me as such, I’m going to be “black”.
Now what does this classification mean?
The government originally racially classified populations for the purpose of unequally allocating resources—populations classified as white got a certain level of resources, while populations not classified as white got fewer resources. Fifty years ago being black meant that I couldn’t vote in some areas of the country. It meant that I had to sit in the back of the bus. It meant I couldn’t live in certain neighborhoods. Racial classification schemes don’t just put people into categories, they also tend to lead to the inequitable distribution of resources based on those schemes.
However the government isn’t the only institution at work here. The mass media, neighborhood associations, fraternal orders, professional organizations, churches—all add meaning to the racial classifications created and modified by the government. It isn’t just that being black puts me in a different category than being white, or that being black means that I get fewer resources. It’s that being “black” becomes equated with a set of ideas about “black” behavior. “Black” men are dangerous, lazy, sexually aggressive, unintelligent. “Black” women are loud, angry, and over-reproductive.
When George Zimmerman identified Trayvon Martin as black he automatically drew on these assumptions. Zimmerman interpreted how Martin walked, the way be reached into his pocket, even the hoodie he wore as signs Martin was dangerous. Everything Martin did became suspicious once Zimmerman identified him as black—Martin supporters have focused on Martin’s hoodie, but prior to killing Martin, Zimmerman made a number of 911 calls about black teens wearing a variety of different clothes. It wasn’t Martin’s clothes that did the work here, it was Martin’s body.
These ideas about “black” people swiftly bubble up and become ideas about “black” neighborhoods, and “black” cities, and “black” institutions.
But these processes don’t work exactly the same way in 2012 as they did eighty years earlier. Government classification schemes have changed. In 1920 the child of an inter-racial couple would be classified as “mulatto”. In 1930 though, that child would be classified as “negro.” Now for the first time American citizens are allowed to check more than one category—such a child could theoretically at least be black and white simultaneously.
The meanings people assign to race change over time as well. The majority of whites used to believe black people were dangerous, lazy, unintelligent, and sexually aggressive. Now far fewer whites believe this. And whereas people who held this opinion 50 years ago were likely to do so because they believed black people were genetically inferior, now these beliefs to the degree they still exist are far more likely to be traced to culture rather than genetics.
In tracing this process of racial classification and racial meaning making, I’ve focused on government, and on society as a whole. However, if blackness were the sole product of these two forces black people really would be dangerous, lazy, intellectually inferior, etc. And would likely not have spurred something as deeply democratic as the Civil Rights Movement, would likely not have created something as beautiful and complex as jazz.
As a result, in considering blackness we have to consider the role black people play. We don’t have the political power to change how the government classifies us, nor do we have full control over racial meanings. With that said however, black people do have the ability to resist, to respond, and to reshape racial meanings. We routinely talk about “black colleges” and “black churches” as if those institutions are particularly “black”.
Similarly we talk about “uniquely “black” parenting styles.
I noted above that Dubois defined blackness in two different ways. The first definition was tied to the realities of Jim Crow. The second definition was tied to the rich set of cultural practices black people either engaged in or were expected to engage in. As the editor of The Crisis magazine, W.E.B. Dubois tried to shape what being black meant through a variety of practices up to and including shaping black parenting. Like the U.S. Department of Labor, Dubois routinely held “beautiful baby” contests in the magazine. And this was part of a much broader effort—black newspapers, black churches, black masonic orders, black churches, and black organizations like the Urban League all got in the parenting game. Marcus Garvey suggested black parents teach their kids black history and show their children images of God that looked like them. In a 1948 speech delivered to the annual convention of Sigma Pi Phi the most prestigious black fraternity in the country, Dubois made the radical suggestion of arranging marriages between professional black families in order to create what he called the Guiding Hundredth.
The logic employed here was simple. Dubois and other prominent black leaders felt thoughtful Negro parents would have thoughtful Negro babies. Thoughtful Negro babies would grow up to be thoughtful Negro men and women. And if you get enough of those thoughtful Negro men and women, why you’d not only have a powerful cadre of Negro leaders, you’d have a much smaller group of unthoughtful, problematic black parents and black babies. They all understood having and raising children as reproduction, not just biological reproduction, but as social reproduction.
As a parent I have done my own part to make sure I raise my children as “black” as I can. My wife and I gave our children African (or African-derived) names to pay homage to their African roots. And we gave each of them two middle names to pay homage to their African American roots (with each middle name coming from the family). While their great-grandparents were alive we made sure to take our children to see them so they recognized that we didn’t just give them the middle names we did because they sounded cute, we did it so they could understand their own life as part of a legacy.
We played “black” music in our home, exposing my children to soul and to classic jazz just as my father and grandfather exposed me. When my daughter began to play with dolls we made sure the dolls she played with looked like her, and had her hair.
As every parent does, we had to make decisions about discipline. My wife and I came from disciplinarian households, and while we didn’t feel we were as strict on our children as our parents were on us, we still used most of the disciplinary techniques our parents used on us. And along these lines we made the decision early on that our children were not our friends—while we were far more democratic in decison-making than our parents were, our children understand that we are the parents, with parental authority.
There were some things we didn’t do. We never joined Jack and Jill. We rarely celebrated Kwanzaa. But we engaged in a number of practices that we thought of as uniquely “black” in an attempt to raise our “black” children. Why’d we do this? Did we do this because we read Dubois’ work, and agreed with his philosophy on “beautiful babies” and arranged marriages? No. In fact I hadn’t even read Dubois’ take on black families until long after I’d already started my own. However I did so because I felt a distinct responsibility to raise black children with a certain perspective on life, with certain ideas about how to move and act in the world. And this responsibility wasn’t something I was born with—I wasn’t born with some genetic code that would force me to “think black” when I parented. This responsibility was developed in me, by my parents, and by a bevy of black institutions.
We never had to think about daycare when we lived but a half hour away from both sets of grandparents. But when we moved to Saint Louis, we had to think about daycare for the first time. We put our second child in one of the best daycares in Saint Louis. But several months in, we ended up pulling him out. He started acting out at home and “talking back” to us as if we were his friends rather than his parents, violating one of our central rules.
This is the type of problem parents, regardless of race, deal with regularly.
But we viewed this problem a bit differently. Black kids don’t act like that.
Black kids don’t talk back to their parents. Black kids don’t act out in public. Black parents don’t use “time out” as the be-all end-all to every problem.
We’d come to understand the way we were parented, and the way we wanted to parent as being uniquely “black”. Further we expected our black child to behave in a black way to our black parenting style. And when we saw evidence that our child did not appear to be acting black enough, we responded by taking him out of day care, and by spanking his little bottom when he got home.
(This process doesn’t stop once you enter adulthood. In 2007, I had a routine operation. When I told my father about the operation he counseled me against it. He didn’t think that a black man should leave certain types of operations to white doctors. I came up against the distinctions he made.)
So my ideas of parenting have been shaped by my particular ideas about what blackness is and what blackness is supposed to be. My father’s own ideas about parenting have been shaped by his particular ideas about what blackness is and what blackness is supposed to be. And in thinking about what blackness is supposed to be we draw a set of constructed borders that distinguish black parenting practices from non-black parenting practices.
But we don’t just distinguish blacks from non-blacks.
I take public transportation to work everyday. Get up at the crack of dawn to be the first person in the office. So I often end up on the bus with black school kids. The boys routinely wear pants sagging below the waist line. The gum-smacking girls sitting at the back of the bus talk so loud (and sometimes so vulgarly) I can hear them even when I’m near the front of the bus.
Most black people my age detest these behaviors. We believe black boys wearing jeans two or more sizes too large disrespect themselves and their families by dressing so lazily. It suggests a lack of self-respect, discipline, and self-love. We believe black girls who don’t know the value of silence are out of control, and are likely to be the same black girls having kids out of wedlock. But more importantly, we think how these kids affect us. My law abiding, non-pants sagging sons might not get a job because someone thinks of that pants sagging kid. Some teacher may punish them thinking about that pants sagging kid. Some police officer might profile him because of that pants sagging kid. That pants sagging black kid in effect becomes the stand-in for all black kids whether their pants are sagging or not. Black men with three piece suits? Might as well be pants sagging black boys. Black boys with tasteful athletic warmups? Might as well be pants sagging black boys. Black kids wearing their one-size-too large hand me downs from their older brother? My non-gum smacking, soft-talking daughters might get sexually harassed because someone thinks of that gum-smacking loud talking girl. If they’re between a B and an A in class, some teacher might give them the lower grade because they think of some gum-smacking loud talking girl.
I don’t just distinguish my black kids from white ones, I distinguish my black kids from the other black kids I ride the bus with. And from the people who work on “Colored People’s Time” (CPT). And from the black kids blasting rap out of their MP3s on the subway. And from the black kids that curse in public.
“Good” black kids act like my kids do. They are respectful to their elders, they are aware of their history, they are well-read, they don’t act out in public. As a “good” black parent I never let any of my sons wear pants too loose around their waists. As a “good” black parent I’ve already trained all of my children to be respectful and decent in public.
Now neither of these examples deal with what we would think of as formal politics. But just as we learn what are responsibilities are as “black” parents we learn what our political responsibilities are as “black voters.” Black voters are expected to vote for black (Democratic) candidates when they run against candidates who are not black. Black voters are expected to turn out to vote even if we don’t see a reason to do so, because voting is something black people shouldn’t take for granted given our history.
On the flip side, black representatives learn what their unique responsibilities are. They have certain responsibilities not only to their black constituents, but to black people who may not be their constituents. Representative Maxine Waters is expected to not only fight for the interests of her constituents in South Central Los Angeles (many of whom are black), she is also expected to fight for the interests of black people who may not be her constituents. And more than twenty years after his appointment we still find Justice Clarence Thomas’ actions wanting because he doesn’t act the way we expect a black Supreme Court Justice to act.
Through a variety of individual and institutional practices we develop, shape, and hand down ideas about blackness just as one might hand down a family heirloom. We tinker with the ideas of blackness handed down to us and then adopt them as our own. In making those decisions we place some people, some issues, some actions—the ones worthy of emulation—inside the black box, and we place other people, other issues, and other actions—the ones unworthy of emulation—outside of that black box. Being black in the wrong way in the beginning of the twentieth century could get you killed. In fact we don’t even have to go back that far—during World War 2 there were several “zoot suit riots”—riots in which white soldiers attacked and murdered black and Latino men in major cities because the soldiers felt they were being unpatriotic by wearing “zoot suits” (baggy suits viewed as being extravagant given World War 2 rations).
But what is it about this moment that requires me to somehow raise my children in a distinctly “black” way? That requires black voters cote for a uniquely “black” interest? That requires black art be used in the service of black people? This is the $64,000 post-black question critics ask. Shouldn’t there be a way of being “black” that isn’t quite stuck in the government’s need to racially classify people or black people’s need to create, maintain, and police “black” borders? If we should be able to be in any way we want to be without fear of being racially harassed by the police for being in the wrong place at the wrong time with the wrong skin color, then why shouldn’t we be able to produce work that affirms and acknowledges this being?
For the artists and intellectuals asking this question the stakes are clear. For most of the twentieth century the artists that faced the biggest risk were the artists that were too black. If an artist’s work was deemed to speak too much to that black audience, then the artist would run the risk of not being able to feed his/her family. But given the rise of hip-hop this risk doesn’t seem as important. JayZ is worth more than $400 million, and while we can critique him for any number of things, not being black enough isn’t one of them. For “post-black” artists and intellectuals the risk of not being black enough looms large. Fail this test and these men and women run the risk of not being able to feed themselves and their families.
When the stakes are laid down like this, when it becomes clear that someone might actually lose their ability to make a living just because they aren’t black the way some of us think they should be, it becomes much harder to ignore or refute the argument for “post-blackness”. Good luck finding a person who’d agree that black artists shouldn’t be able to make a living if they aren’t black enough.
And this brings me back to skydiving.
Touré went skydiving for the television show “I’d Do Anything Once”. In fact he almost died skydiving (the parachute didn’t open upon first try, causing him to deploy what some might call a uniquely “black” form of cool). Before he performed the stunt he went to a local restaurant and ended up seeing a few black men who recognized him from the show. After telling them what he planned on doing the men responded somewhat predictably. Black people didn’t skydive. Skydiving was for white people. Their response bothered Touré because he felt black people were policing him, were excluding him from blackness in a certain way. In fact, he’d felt policed by black people on more than one occasion, in a number of different circumstances.
But here there don’t really appear to be any stakes, do there? Think about it this way. When was the last time black people prevented someone black from skydiving? When was the last time black people took tickets away from a black woman about to attend a Russian ballet performance because black people don’t do ballet? When was the last time black people prevented a black man from eating caviar at a high priced soiree?
Although Touré was criticized for skydiving because black men didn’t do that, the reality is that even though he was criticized he in fact skydived.
While I can imagine a black man taking the time to go through the process of learning to skydive, only to decide against it after talking to his best (African American) friend who says “skydiving isn’t really black”, a far more likely scenario would be a black man wanting to learn how to skydive but being prevented from doing so because either there are no skydiving trainers near him/her, because the skydiving trainers don’t want to train blacks, or because he doesn’t have the money to do so.
No one black prevented Touré from skydiving. And given that Touré still routinely writes, comments, (and tweets) on “blackness” I don’t think anyone has successfully taken his black pass away.
To the extent we should be concerned then about the ability of black people to police and enforce borders of blackness in ways that have real stakes the last thing we should be concerned about is skydiving.
What should we be concerned about?
Tragedies like the one that befell Trayvon Martin bring all talks about “post-blackness” and “black cool” back to Earth. There was absolutely nothing Martin could do to prevent Zimmerman from treating him as a suspicious figure, suspicious enough to follow. The only thing Martin did was be black, and too young. There was no post-black moment for Trayvon. There was no way of being black that would have saved his life. He could have likely carried a dozen long stem roses in the rain that day and Zimmerman still would have pursued him.
But here’s the catch.
Would we have reacted to the Martin case the way we had, had Martin himself been one of those black kids I compared my own black children do? Would we have donned hoodies in his honor of Martin was revealed to have cursed out Zimmerman? Would we have gathered by the thousands all over the country if Martin had a record, no matter how small?
In the mid-nineties, Chris Rock is on the comeback trail. At the height of this comeback he does a standup special for HBO taped in Washington D.C. Bring the Pain. At about the 29 minute mark in what has to be one of the best comedy concerts of the nineties, Rock asks the predominantly black audience a single question:
“Who is more racist, black people or white people?”
He then answers his own question.
“Black people, because black people hate black people too!”
Rock then goes on to make a stark distinction, dividing black people into two populations—black people, and “keeping it real” niggas. Black people want to go see a blockbuster movie the first weekend…but niggas will wreck the experience because they’re too busy talking to the screen. Black people will want to go hang out at a fresh nightclub, but they can’t because niggas will shoot the club up. You get the picture. For Rock, niggas are so problematic he goes as far as to say he’d join the Ku Klux Klan if he could. In fact, according to Rock he’d do a drive by on them from DC to Brooklyn if he could. Rock’s performance here is absolutely brilliant. Whereas Richard Pryor in Live on the Sunset Strip talks about eradicating the word “nigga’ from his vocabulary after going to Africa and not meeting a single one, Rock uses the term to split black people almost down the middle.
Care is a political resource. In writing about post-blackness the way we have, focusing on the post-blackness of the skydiving, caviar eating, ballet attending black man, we are, in effect making a political choice. There are populations of people we are willing to fight for, populations we’re willing to go to the mat for to make sure they get care. And then there are populations we care less about—in fact, there are populations we not only care less about, there are populations we absolutely despise.
I’d do a drive-by from here to Brooklyn if I could.
I don’t just raise my children “black” because I believe there is something inherently valuable about doing so, because I believe that raising my kids “black” will give them the tools they need to pursue their dreams. I raise my children “black” because I want them to be enveloped in the community of care that properly “black” kids receive.
Blackness is something we create and construct. It is also something that is created and constructed for us. The concept of post-blackness can potentially create more space for different ways of being, can give us a richer palette of “black” choices. But the concept of post-blackness is a political concept, as is blackness itself. And I think there is a clear reason why we talk about post-blackness in very specific ways that tend to benefit black people that already possess the lion’s share of the resources black people have. There is a reason for example why Touré might use someone like Clarence Thomas—one of the most powerful men in America—to argue for a post-blackness that disregards personal politics. There is a reason why Touré might begin his book with a dialogue about skydiving.
And this is because there are some ways of policing blackness that most black people—including those willing to fight for “post-blackness” agree with.
To the extent we fight for post-blackness, it is a post-blackness that includes those most policed that we should fight for. As far as choices go, it seems to me that we need to spend more time making way for the pants-sagging black boy, than we do the skydiving brother. And our contemporary condition—the death of the public, the exacerbation of insecurity, the disgust and derision we routinely visit upon those less fortunate than us—is driven by our ideas about this person, far more than they are driven by the personal anxieties of well-to-do television personalities.
Again, while it is difficult to imagine someone black preventing Touré (or anyone else for that matter) from skydiving, it is relatively easy to imagine someone black withholding a job or some other life-affirming resource from the kid wearing the sagging jeans. And to the extent we withhold care from someone who isn’t appropriately black, it isn’t that hard to imagine someone like Trayvon losing his life because someone black made a conscious decision not to fight for him.
 With few exceptions, science fiction has been the purview of white men, yet both Wiley and Johnson use traditional science fiction narratives to examine changes in the modern racial landscape. And while Kehinde Wiley fuses the traditional and the afro-modern by painting heroic young urban African Americans using poses and imagery borrowed (more like sampled) from the Renaissance era, Hank Willis Thomas powerfully combines pictures of black basketball players with imagery borrowed from slavery.
 Black people should know that there are not one but two kinds of oreos. There’s the Oreo you eat (the black cookie with white filling), and the Oreo that walks on two feet (the “black” person with “white” insides).
 Fast forwarding more than sixty years after The Souls of Black Folk was published, the Black Arts Movement embodied this responsibility. Movement artists like Amiri Baraka tasked black poets to write “assassin poems”, in order to fulfill their responsibilities to the race.
 What’s particularly interesting about this claim is the fact that it appears to be a total media creation, generated largely by the response to two black intellectuals (Stanley Crouch and Debra Dickerson), neither of which had or have significant followings among black people.
 The NAACP’s national magazine.
 The youngest is the exception here, as his full name (Khari Lester Kenyatta) is taken from my brother and I.