The Love-Hate Complexities of Touré

Consider this full disclosure: I’m an avid MSNBC viewer. It has been the default channel in my parent’s home since childhood and has continued its reign as I’ve gained independence with my own apartment.

So each television season, I anxiously await the announcement of the updated mid-afternoon and prime time lineups. It’s always interesting to see which political personalities will be granted a chance to showcase their political pundit chops.

I rejoiced when Melissa Harris-Perry’s dope twists made it to Saturday mornings and was equally as thrilled when I learned that four younger folks would be debating politics and pop culture five days a week on “The Cycle.”

One of those green-lighted for a starring role is Touré, a hip-hop fanatic most known for his books, popular TIME column and role as host of Fuse’s Hip-Hop Shop. He often covers issues in black America for cable networks and even debated the pros and cons of Tyler Perry on CNN.

He has an astounding ability to mix wittiness with facts, making for an effective commentary style that has been vital to his brand’s sustainability. Needless to say, I wasn’t surprised when he was tapped to star alongside S.E. Cupp (a Republican that I love) and two others every weekday afternoon.

In fact, I was ecstatic. A black man with an afro, undeniable credentials and hip-hop knowledge was being brought into the national spotlight. This was a moment worth celebrating; after all, Touré offers MSNBC the “black” perspective often neglected when covering politics. But I quickly realized that most other black folks aren’t fans of Touré or his work.

Twitter intellectuals have blasted him for having a “blocked” list, a place reserved for people that bust shots at him or his work on the social network. But it gets worse.

Boyce D. Watkins, Ph.D., an author, political analyst and academic with several esteemed scholarship appointments blasted Touré in a new 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.”

And my fellow black folks rejoiced. I came across the article after it was posted on Facebook by a fellow student journalist. She agrees with Dr. Watkins and I’m sure the Twitter intellectuals will as well.

I’m on the fence. In his article, Dr. Watkins states that Touré doesn’t have a background in politics – as if that discredits his perspective – and that there are tons of “intellectuals” with specific knowledge that are more worthy of MSNBC’s airtime and bucks.

“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.”

But President Ronald Reagan, one of the Republican and Democrat’s most revered Commander-in-Chief’s was Hollywood’s golden child before he decided to pursue residency on 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue. Was Reagan’s lack of a “solid political background” a disqualifier? And let’s be real here: Touré is not to blame for these experts’ bad luck.

The television industry is in the business of selling audiences to advertisers. We can debate whether that’s a positive or negative element that impacts quality, but MSNBC is concerned with entertainment value.  “Political science experts” must be dynamic to be considered. Chris Matthews, Rachel Maddow and Ed Schultz epitomize this fiery passion that attracts viewers. These “experts” need to rethink a career in television if they aren’t witty and can’t offer unique perspectives to social issues.

While I understand the disconcert that those with degrees in political science might feel toward Touré – I find myself in that same position when athletes and singers are promoted to positions as talk show hosts – is that the concern of Touré or the network? Who is to blame here?

Another reason I can’t support Dr. Watkins on this is because his inflection seems to discredit Touré because he doesn’t have the standard political background. In the piece, Dr. Watkins names several experts that need to shine.

“Thought leaders like Dr. Wilmer Leon, Professor Michael Fauntroy, Dr. Bryant Marks and Julianne Malveaux should be defining the direction of black America, not the modestly-educated guy hoping to break into Hollywood.”

I love Dr. J.* She is the Bennett College president that mentored and uplifted me most while I was a student there. But what makes the good doctor and her colleagues more qualified than Touré? Their doctorate degrees? Some of our world’s greatest minds weren’t formally educated. There were no significant titles after their surnames.

Malcolm X graduated from the school of hard knocks and his work is equally as important Marcus Garvey, W.E.B. DuBois’ and others. It is elitist to think that only those with degrees are worthy of discussing serious subjects such as politics.

Furthermore, Touré can never be compared to Kim Kardashian. He has earned his respect and prestige within the journalism community. His Who’s Afraid of Post-Blackness?: What It Means to Be Black Now is a New York Times notable book selection. His catalyst to success wasn’t a sex tape or reality television show; Touré is accomplished. His accolades are lengthy and deserved. His perspective on politics matters.

Just like the Reverend Al Sharpton’s opinion matters. The reverend is a civil rights icon that happened to dabble in politics. He has no formal education in political science, but he now hosts Politics Nation on MSNBC as well. Based on the talking points, shouldn’t Reverend Al be lumped into this “undeserving” category? Or is he black enough to be excluded from this criticism?

Now, does Touré chase sound bites? Yes. Did I cringe at the niggerization comment? Yes. Would I love to see Dr. Malveaux on MSNBC? Absolutely. It is beneficial to pinpoint the fault of others if those comments are meant to be constructive and will stimulate growth in the individual. But what Dr. Watkins and the Twitter intellectuals are engaging in is  far from objective or beneficial. Personally, I think it’s high time that we recognize others accomplishments before tearing them down.

I’m not a fan of Nicki Minaj, as evidenced in this post. But can I knock her hustle? No. I have to respect her business acumen and marketing strategies. Let’s give Touré that respect as well.

*By the way, thanks for the leaving the Ph.D. off of Dr. Malveaux’s name in the article Dr. Watkins.

8 thoughts on “The Love-Hate Complexities of Touré

  1. Hi, I’ve just discovered your blog. Very nice. You make some salient points and I am definitely no fan of Boyce Watkins. I unsubscribed from his blog several months ago because of his over-the-top rants against people I admire. However, I am no great fan of Toure’. either. At one time I was. I’ve read his books, both fiction and nonfiction and admired the work he did with BET. But in the last couple of years he has lost cool points with me when he made some unflattering remarks about black women. Politics aside, that just ain’t cool. He attempted to back track but the damage was done, He lost fans of several black women I know. Nevertheless, I wish him well.

  2. I absolutely love this entry. It really underscores the (mostly imagined) boundaries that exist between academics and informed observers. Just because someone doesn’t have a post-grad degree in a subject (or 900 years’ of experience) does not exclude them from being able to offer insightful topical commentary.

    It’s also refreshing to find an insightful and professional writer who’s my age (I’m 23) and uses her blog as another opportunity to showcase her writing talent. I’m looking very forward to reading more.

  3. Late to the party, but dude just irks me to no end. I’ve never been one to put down Black success so I’m happy for what Touré has been able to accomplish during his time in the spotlight. I’m a little older (32), and remember how years ago, I loved the fact that a young, smart brotha was given a platform to speak his mind and offer the perspective of (some) black youth on pop culture and politics. But somewhere along the line, it seems like Touré stopped informing and started just…

    …saying stuff.

    Like he was there on stage but forgot the words to the song he had to sing. Maybe I’ve just grown up. Or maybe the conversation has. Whatever the reason, I’m not the only one who’s noticed. Yet he continues to get booked–even though it’s obvious that he has become more of a spokesperson for himself and the outlet that booked him than the demographic whose views he has made a career of supposedly espousing.

    I don’t agree with shading dude for his lack of “credentials” either. Sharp commentary is sharp commentary — degrees or no. Taking that line of attack undercuts the arguments against made by some of these Black intellectuals and, in my opinion, exposes their blatant jealousy of his more prominent place in the pundit hierarchy.

    Touré got there by hustling his ass off back in the day on radio, TV, and print media much the same way as these elitist detractors busted out articles, research, and dissertations. You don’t see him taking to Twitter to rail about not getting prime speaking slots at academic conferences. His degrees are in ‘Getting on T.V.’ and ‘Being All Up in Yo Shit Alladatime.’

    So there. In joining the criticism of Touré, I’ve simultaneously defended the guy. Boo to that. I respect his grind and success but still reserve the right to admonish people who retweet him into my timeline. I’m also pissed that I sat here and wrote all of this. Better on your blog than mine! haha 😉


    1. Thanks for reading and commenting! Though I understand everyone’s issues with Touré, discrediting him and his body of work serves no one. There’s room for him and progressives to voice their opinions.

  4. I read Dr. Watkins’ post some time ago, and I understood his point. Academics are the experts in their field; why isn’t their advice sought after more often? That doesn’t mean they make good guests on radio or television shows, or entertaining and watchable hosts, but that’s not where I wanted to go with this.

    I don’t have cable and have lost interest in much of what Toure says in print, but I’ve also been on the Toure side of this debate. I write commentary, occasionally, and I don’t have any letters behind my name. I also don’t have a degree in journalism or communications, and I’ve heard other journalists who do make disparaging remarks about people like Toure (and me) for not paying their dues. (And the ones making those comments don’t know their dues may not look like mine.) Even though I commit to not saying anything unless I have a unique perspective that doesn’t add to the cacophony of opinions–some of which are poorly written–not having the respect of “real” journalists has affected my confidence in my work. Thanks for seeing that the peons can have keen observation and analytical skills, too.

    On another note, my next blog post was going to be about a modern day Sarah Baartman, but it will have to wait until I think of something different to say.

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