by Dr. Boyce Watkins
Oddly enough, I woke up this morning wondering about the enigma who calls himself “Toure.” No last name, just “Toure.” I normally wouldn’t be spending my time writing solely about another person, but out of respect for serious political analysts that white television networks tend to ignore, I had to discuss this issue out loud.
Toure 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 (the bio I found says that he dropped out of Emory University in 1992). He also seems to say things for entertainment, rather than substantive, value and doesn’t seem to take his work all that seriously.
I’ve heard grumblings from political science experts who can’t get two seconds of airtime on national TV, and I feel bad for them. Usually, their concerns are expressed about men like Roland Martin, whose Masters Degree in Christian communications seems to make him a better fit for the 700 Club than CNN. But actually, I usually defend Martin, whose time as a journalist in the political hotbed of Washington DC gives him the background necessary to give opinions worth listening to. This doesn’t mean that many of our brilliant black political science professors, attorneys, or judges would not be better suited to speak on American politics (after all, their backgrounds in the field are quite extensive), but Roland at least takes his role (and himself) quite seriously.
Toure, 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 soundbite 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.
Case-in-point: When Toure and I were on CNN debating Tyler Perry films, I thought we were there to have a productive dialogue about Perry’s work. I don’t watch most of Perry’s films, and some of it is certainly questionable, but I respect that Tyler is trying to connect to his audience in what he believes to be a helpful way. I also wanted to show some respect to the millions of people who watch Perry movies, many of them being intelligent, conscientious black people who just happen to think that Madea is funny.
Toure didn’t care to go beyond one syllable thinking on the matter, simply referring to Perry films as “Cinematic malt liquor for the masses.”
In addition to these “brilliant” remarks, Toure was also the man who got into a Twitter argument with Roland Martin and joked about Martin not being able to have any kids, which was a low and unnecessary blow. I admit that I wonder how Toure is aware of another man’s fertility status, and I also wonder what Roland’s ability to have kids has to do with the issue they were discussing at the time. In another interesting Toure highlight, there was the moment when he stated that Mitt Romney was trying to “niggerize” President Obama. Just a day later, Toure whimpered out the kind of pathetic apology that would only be uttered by a sad little man begging to keep his job.
I refer to Toure as the Kim Kardashian of social commentary because both Toure and Kim are the kinds of fascinating cartoon characters who are famous for damn near nothing. His talent is that he is able to make white folks keep him propped up as a relevant black face when everything on his resume says that he’s disgustingly unqualified. He enters debates with brilliant and well-trained scholars like Michael Eric Dyson with nothing more to say than “I agree with what he just said.” Seeing Dyson debating with Toure is like watching Denzel Washington perform Shakespeare with Young Jeezy.
I also admit that it’s difficult to take someone seriously when they don’t even have a last name. The name “Toure” is the sort of name that would be connected to an entertainment-based, diva-like personality, like “Madonna” or “Prince.” It’s not the name that would be attached to a man responsible for serious socio-political commentary that shapes the way millions of people think and the way white people perceive an entire black community.
Toure started off as an entertainment writer, and perhaps that’s where he belongs. He should be writing about Soulja Boy’s new girlfriend or MC Hammer’s comeback album, and has little business commenting on the presidential election or matters that should be preserved for analysts who don’t use stage names. Thought leaders like Dr. Wilmer Leon, Professor Michael Fauntroy, Dr. Bryant Marks and MIT-educated Dr. Julianne Malveaux should be defining the direction of black America, not the modestly-educated guy who looks like he’s planning to drop an album.
Forgive me for stating the obvious when it comes to Toure, but networks need to respect black experts who know what the hell they’re talking about, and not just chase after their favorite go-to negro who entertains them the most. Times and issues are too serious for this kind of buffoonery, and it’s time to call it for what it is.
Dr Boyce Watkins is a Professor at Syracuse University and founder of YourBlackWorld.net. He also stars in the Janks Morton film, “Hoodwinked,” with Steve Perry, Marc Lamont Hill and Jawanza Kunjufu. To have Dr. Boyce commentary delivered to your email, please click here.