The “New Black”

“The now-cool-for-black-people list: skateboarding, listening to rock music, wearing clothes that fit, being the token black guy.” ~Anonymous


I went to a Dave Matthews Band concert once. It seems like ages ago now. It was back in the time when I was hyper aware of race (when am I not?) and I kept looking around while I was at the show for other black folk. Concerts for DMB tend to skew white, whiter, and whitest, which is funny since more than half the band is black. Three hours long that show was. Not one other black person did I see.

This was back in 1997, though, so I’m sure things would be different if I were to go to another DMB show today. Right? The culture surrounding these kinds of shows is conducive for black people now, I’m sure. Or maybe the more things change the more they stay the same. Stereotypes are powerful deterrents for those who might otherwise partake in something, for those who might have been persuaded to go somewhere if those pervasive generalizations did not exist.

I’ve only been on a skateboard as a joke before. I’ve certainly never ridden one the way I’ve seen guys do at skate parks with all the tricks and such. It’s not because I feel it’s the territory of white folk, though. It’s because I’m just not interested in skinning up my arms, knees, and other body parts. You also wouldn’t catch me playing a game of roller hockey, or mixing it up in a boxing ring, or even at a demolition derby. That’s just not me.

cultureI do, however, adore rock music. I always have. There’s just something about a pure guitar lick that makes me feel like I’m in heaven. There’s just something in the guttural screaming of a rock god that transcends most other things here on earth. Don’t get me wrong. I listen to most different kinds of music, but rock music has been and remains my favorite. That’s why I was at that Dave Matthews Band concert, and why I’ve been to many others like it over the course of my life.

Some people call me the “new black,” as if cinching my pants at the waist with a belt is somehow anti-culture. Well, guess what? Black culture isn’t all watermelons, collard greens, saggy pants, cuss words, and gang signs. It’s what we make of it, those of us who identify as black, those of us who grew up in the ghettos and the inner cities of a black culture that has always been about surviving — and then, after we’ve survived, about having fun.

If that sounds familiar that’s because it should be. This idea of the “new black” is disconcerting to me because it disregards centuries of black people who haven’t fit the stereotype. Sure, the stereotype is there for a reason, but when did it stop being a judgment and start being a reason? Do these young black thugs hang out on street corners and sling dime bags because it’s an expectation based on where they come from and media perception? Or do they do it as a reaction to the system shutting them out for being black? Sounds like a catch-22 to me.

I’m often the token black guy, so I know what it’s like to be some white people’s only exposure to black culture. I realize they have been exposed to media definitions of black people, and that largely I don’t fit those stereotypes, so I imagine they’re confused by me. Often I’ve even gotten the question about what things were like growing up in the black ghetto, about being myself in the midst of things that are not me. And I tell them nothing is as black and white (no pun intended) as they’ve been led to believe.

I try to be the best version of me that I can possibly be…

We are all individuals, and this idea of a “new black” is just as misleading as the generalization that all black guys wear their pants around their ankles. The truth lies in the middle, in that gray area that we hardly ever see, much less give credence to as an alternative to the prevalent view. But I live with it. I try to be the best version of me that I can possibly be, so that others can see there isn’t one reality, that there isn’t only one way to be black.

Because I’m black, but that’s just one part of who I am. I am so much more that you can only find out by spending time with me, by exposing those stereotypes for what they are — judgments loosely based on general ideas about a culture, from one perspective. There are so many perspectives, though, so many black folk who can be found at Metallica concerts, who wear pocket squares, and who speak using correct grammatical structures. It might seem novel and new to you…

But that’s how it’s always been. And how it will always be.


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