In the second episode of Jezebel Goes Digging, I look at the recent phenomenon of black celebrities like Kanye West, Common and Raven-Symoné declaring themselves New Black—at the same time that police continue killing Regular Black people all across America.
I don’t know about you, but this idea that someone can buy their way out of America’s racial landscape confuses me. I understand that some wealthy folks’ concerns probably don’t match the concerns of a woman with a journalist’s salary. They move in circles with billionaires, not thousand-aires like me, and it’s rare that a police officer would stop them over something other than a fight with a paparazzi photographer (hi, Kanye).
Still, just because celebrities like the ones I’ve mentioned don’t have to worry about a cop shooting them dead and then claiming they did so out of fear shouldn’t mean they can ignore others who do—especially in this heady time of Black Lives Matter protests pushing against a new police murder every week. But that’s what New Black is: using wealth as a protective hedge to say “I’m different, and the worries of middle-class or poor black folks don’t affect me so they must not be real.” I didn’t include Pharrell Williams in this video, but he’s another poster child for this way of thinking, with quotes like this from his Oprah Prime interview in 2014.
“The New Black doesn’t blame other races for our issues,” Pharrell told Winfrey. “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.”
It should be noted the Oprah didn’t really agree with Pharrell when he said this. She just kind of nodded, probably thinking, “These new money babies don’t know a damn thing, chile.”
In reality, it’s impossible to personally decide that racism and how it plays out structurally in America is not a real thing. There’s extensive proof—slums, higher rates of illness and death, wage and employment inequities, and so on—but that doesn’t seem to stop Kanye, Raven-Symoné and Common from trying.
So I’ve roped in a few smart folks to talk about this here, including VerySmartBrothas.com EIC and Ebony.com contributing editor Damon Young, writer, editor and cultural critic Jamilah Lemieux and freelance writer with great hair Judnick Mayard to discuss this topic with me, and I’d love to hear thoughts from Jezebel readers, too. Do you agree with the New Black? Are you New Black? How do the New Black and Black Lives Matter fit? Am I just crazy?
Contact the author at Hillary@jezebel.com.