New Black. I've been hearing this term more frequently of late. People who refer to themselves, to others, or to certain groups of people as the "New Black". Perhaps most notably, was the severe social media backlash received by mega-producer/pop artist, slash N.E.R.D. member, Pharell Williams, when he sat down for an interview with Oprah in 2014. In the interview, the "Happy" singer proclaimed himself to be "New Black" and stated:
(Feel free to watch the full interview on YouTube. At about 38 mins to 41 mins is where the "New Black" discussion occurs.)
When I originally heard/read the statement above - I admit, I had a bit of a knee-jerk reaction in my mind:
- Do I personally blame other races for my issues? Nope. Although there is no doubt in my mind that systemic racism exists across the globe, and that it has had damaging effects on generations of people of colour.
- STOP IT. Black is not a freaking mentality! It's a race, a biological marker, a genetic structure... One's mentality can change and shift over time. One's race simply CANNOT (not in a natural sense, of course)!
- "It’s either going to work for you, or it’s going to work against you. You've got to pick what side you're going to be on." That statement makes no damn sense either. Race is, for the most part, not subjective. And by that, I mean - sure, there are a variety of hues, shades, tones of "Black" - but generally speaking, society is easily able to distinguish a Black person from other races, simply by looking at them. And, by that same token, much of what happens to someone based solely on their skin tone is OUTSIDE of their control. They can't choose what happens to them or "pick a side" when being solely assessed by a visible and genetically-unmodifiable trait. There is no side to pick. You can't choose to be Black. You. Just. CAN'T. (*Yes. I'm absolutely side-eyeing you, Ms. Rachel Dolezal*). I know science has come a long way & all, but... No. Pause. Stop it.
This concept of the "New Black" is perplexing. On the one hand, I absolutely see where Pharell was coming from, despite his questionable word choices. If you continue to watch the interview, beyond the uttering of the above quote... it becomes more evident that what he's attempting to get to, is a basic point that "Black people should try to overcome colourism and the inferiority complexes that may have been instilled in them during the struggles of past generations". I can agree with Mr. "Skateboard P" on that. But, to say that Black isn't a pigmentation, but simply a mentality that we can pick and choose when convenient is both naive and insulting.
I'm a Pharell fan, don't get me wrong. I enjoy his energy and his hipsterish left-of-centerness; but perhaps with him being in the enviable position he is in now, he deems it harmless to make that comment from atop the class system, where he sits. Perhaps his mentality has shifted since his younger years when he was just another Black boy in the street. Regardless - it seems rather insensitive for someone to insinuate that Black is something you can choose to be. Does that then mean that things like Black-face are OK? Because if anyone can just choose to be BBM (Black By Mentality), then racism can't really be a thing... right?
Me personally? When I think of the term "New Black", if it had to be used... I'd prefer to think of it as a way to describe Black people who are loud and proud of their race, but who are just as equally proud to embrace things that are (unfortunately) "not commonly associated" with the Black community. Whether that be a love for extreme winter sports, heavy metal music, the fine arts, an appetite for world travel, obscure animé cartoons, haute-cuisine... whatever! Ideally, a person with the above characteristics would simply be referred to as a "person".. Just a multi-faceted and multi-dimensional person.
I recall meeting a guy for coffee a few months back, and as I spoke, he stared at me inquisitively. And when I finally asked "what?", the convo went as follows:
HIM: "Nothing... It's just interesting how you talk.."
ME: "How so?"
HIM: "Like, you speak so... I dunno... uppity, not bougie like Hilary Banks... but like..."
ME: "Proper English?"
HIM: " (laughs) Yeah, I guess that's it."
ME: "(internal, elongated eye-roll; smiles & sips drink) ... Well, I'm Canadian, soooo... not sure what to tell you."
(And yes, the guy in question was Black.)
As ridiculous as it seems, I wonder: is "speaking proper English while Black" considered as a "New Black" thing? Is "New Black" the equivalent of "white-washed" or "bougie behaviour"?
What's your take? Is there a valid argument for the "New Black" label?
How would you define it?