By now you’re probably familiar with the term “New Black” and its negative connotations. Producer Pharrell Williams first coined the term in 2014 during an interview with Oprah, stating “The New Black doesn’t blame other races for our issues. The New Black dreams and realizes that it’s not pigmentation; it’s a mentality. And it’s either going to work for you, or it’s going to work against you. And you’ve got to pick the side you’re gonna be on.”
Social media exploded with responses. Writer Feminista Jones created the hashtag #whatkindofblackareyou which quickly became a trending topic. Though some responses were light-hearted in nature (“I am a ‘fried chicken as valid, unapologetic self-care’ black”), others seemed to be directly in reference to Pharrell’s empty comments on race (“I’m a ‘your respectability politics will not save you and will not keep your children safe’ black”).
Actress Raven Symone identified herself as a proud member of the New Black community when, also during an Oprah interview, she denounced the term African American. “I don’t know where my roots go to; I don’t know how far back they go. I don’t know what country in Africa I’m from. But I do know that my roots are in Louisiana. I’m an American, and that’s a colorless person, because we’re all people.” She further cemented her position as a New Black ambassador when she defended a Univision host who compared First Lady Michelle Obama to an ape. “Some people really do look like animals,” she reasoned.
And there’s more.
Over the past few months, actor-comedian Chris Rock has shared photos of himself being pulled over by police. Former “Grey’s Anatomy” star Isaiah Washington offered his solution on Twitter, stating “I sold my $90,000.00 Mercedes G500 and bought three Prius’s because I got tired of being pulled over by police. Adapt.”
So, to summarize, if you are a New Black, the first thing you must do is criticize people’s reactions to personal and structural racism—not the actual racism. And despite the fact that Blacks in America deal with issues such as socioeconomic inequality, disproportionate amounts of police violence, and the fact that over 51% of Americans expressed anti-black sentiments in a recent poll, you must cling to the notion that color doesn’t exist in America. And most importantly, you must adapt to racism (if you choose to acknowledge it all).
These New Black messages are not just problematic—they hurt. Many celebrities have chosen not to speak on the current racial climate in America, and those who do seem to have their voices prioritized over those of us actively fighting for racial equality.
For the record, black people are not to blame for racism. It is not our job to absolve white guilt or to pretend that overt acts of racism are anything but that. The aforementioned celebrities and their New Black counterparts (Don Lemon, Common, Stacey Dash, and most recently, P. Diddy) seem to be far removed from the issues of race and racism that many of us “lesser knowns” experience daily.
The New Black mentality brings to mind a Marcus Garvey quote:
“The white man has succeeded in subduing the world by forcing everybody to think his way. The white man’s propaganda has made him the master of the world. And those who have come in contact with it and accepted it have become his slaves.”
I salute blacks who reject this mentality and who are working towards becoming masters of their own worlds.
So—what kind of black are you?