When Pharrell dropped the term "New Black" last year, it was as if the ethereal cultural phenomena that ushered in the era of words like ‘ratchet’ and ‘basic’ hit us with the biggest curveball: what was he TALKING about? Apparently the universe conspired and chose the artist formerly known a Skateboard P as the channel for revealing this new wave in our sojourn, and unlike the other terms that somehow just ironically made sense and stuck, many of us, including myself, have been scratching our heads to figure out exactly what New Black means.
In last year’s infamous one-on-one with Oprah, Pharrell declared that: "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 going to be on."
And there it was: a subcategory of racial identity that implies you’ve reached a higher, more progressive level of Blackness (likely reached around the time Jeezy dropped “My President is Black”) and somehow differentiates you in the eyes of the White America.
That being the case, there is actually nothing very new about New Black. As For Harriet’s Malaika Jabali recently pointed out, there has long been Black folks, celebrities in particular, trying to cross the borders into the fictitious and idealistic land of post-racial America.
Now that this term has been put out there, it’s quickly become ascribed to anyone treading into the realm of colorblind, 'we-have-overcome' rhetoric. In the wake of Common's controversial statement on improving race relations and just about everything Raven Symone has said in the last year, if there was ever a such thing as New Black it seems as though it has a lot to do with dismissing systematic racism for the sake of "progress" and warm fuzzy feelings. Or a new-aged way for folks to ascertain that their race is not a factor in how they move up the socio-economic ladder so the rest of us should stop pulling the “race card” and get with it.
Common’s comment that Black people need to extend a hand in love to our White brethren came across as a Sesame Street PSA on race relations only missing the instrumentals to "Reach Out and Touch”, while Raven Symone’s “Was he saying it racist-like?” response to Rodner Figueroa’s jab that First Lady Michelle Obama looked like a cast member of Planet of the Apes was just asking for side-eye.
Although neither Common or Raven have proclaimed their “New Blackness," much of the controversy surrounding their statements is likely backlash for appearing to embrace a mentality that comes across as way out-of-touch with the current racial climate and all too ready to Kumbaya to the mountaintop.
Blaming White people for all my personal issues and shortcomings is not the same as recognizing I live in a social structure built on the idea of one groups supremacy over another which has been translated into educational, economic, and judicial favor for Whites, which positions me to put those in places of power to task for this.
Of course, each of the aforementioned have a right to their opinion, and we all may hold ideas that live outside the larger consensus of Black America (because we’re still individuals), yet there’s a certain sting that comes with anything that hints at: time to get over it.
I don’t think it’s necessary to totally write people off or troll their mentions every time a quote surfaces that we disagree with, as in my eyes, this has become another counter-productive trend. Nor do I disagree that there’s a huge amount of work and healing to be done internally as I believe Kendrick attempted to point out in his Billboard interview. But, dismissing institutionalized racism to make others comfortable or for the sake of better days is a fairytale we can’t afford to buy into. Being aware of your race is not a badge of shame or an excuse, but it can be a consciousness that allows you to see the connection between history and the present, and hopefully gives you a sense of responsibility to take on the current challenges we face as a whole while journeying towards your individual aspirations and pursuits.
There’s a huge difference between acknowledging who you are and and being crippled by it. And if any of this is “old” thinking, I will gladly hang onto it until the reality of our men, women and children being murdered in the streets by law enforcement, as well as our astronomical prison rates and widening economic gap among other crucial issues, have been successfully tackled by New Black thought.
Shahida Muhammad loves avocado rolls and acting like a rapper on weekends. Her musings tend to lie within the spaces of Black culture, identity, and womanhood. She is also the creative channel for The Ahdashi collective. Follow @ShahidaMuhammad for writings, musings, and such.