Thursday, February 7, 2013

Notes on commentator, journalist Touré's talk at SIUE

Touré conversing with students after presentation
Last night, I got the chance to catch a talk by the commentator and journalist Touré, who was speaking on campus. For years now, I've followed Touré, especially his writings on music and popular culture, and in recent years, I've kept up with his columns appearing on Time and in other venues such as his thoughtful essay "How America and hip-hop failed each other," which appeared in The Washington Post. Oh yeah, Touré is also active and humorous on twitter; the poor play of the Lakers has been a key and hilarious muse for him over the last couple of months. 

During his talk here on campus, Touré touched on a range of topics, including the significance and limits of Barack Obama's second term, the challenges and ineptitude of the Republican party, mass incarceration, the operation of white privilege, gun control, and more. He covered quite a bit of ground. In formal academic settings, I'm mostly interested in a presenter working through a single, clear and small problem or puzzle with large implications; however, I found the broadness of Touré's discussion appropriate given that the event was primarily for students.

Speaking of students, the thought occurred to me while listening to Touré's presentation that our students have too few opportunities on campus to hear prominent and knowledgeable black men and women offering perspectives on a range of pressing subjects. Thank goodness for Black History Month, eh? It's my sense that the people on campus with knowledge concerning the struggles of conscious folks and the benign neglect of black students don't have the resources to affect campus policy and enact widespread interventions. By contrast, the people with the resources simply are not as knowledgeable, experienced, or invested enough to work with, say, communities of African Americans and potential conscious folks on campus and in the region in any concrete and sustained ways. More on all of that later.

For now, similar to the presentation by Ta-Nehisi Coates in 2011, Touré's talk was useful on a few different levels. For one, both speakers succeeded in demonstrating the vibrancy of a black writer-intellect. Touré and Coates are different kinds of writer-thinkers, yet they cover common topics and occupy related publishing venues. Touré's talk also gave several students with related intellectual and political interests a somewhat rare chance to gather together for a single event.    

Based on the questions from students during the Q & A, I did not get the sense that folks were as aware of Touré's long career as a writer, which is what I would have been interested in hearing him talk a little more about, but again, I understand why my small interest would not have been as interesting for a general audience. Whatever the case, I'm pleased that I got the chance to catch this important commentator and thinker.  

Touré's talk was sponsored by SIUE's Campus Activities Board.

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