New Slaves – Being Black in America (Final Draft)

Serena Williams, a black tennis player faced many challenges over the years. Starting in 2001 in Indian Wells, Serena and her family were constantly booed by the audience. Commentators were surprised by how calm she was, even though all odds were against her. In 2004, line judges called several false penalties against her. In 2009, she loses her temper against a line judge who calls a foot penalty causing her to be disqualified from the tournament. Over time the anger she felt being black against a white background has led to several outbursts of aggression during her tennis matches. This “Angry Nigger Exterior” is what the audience sees when Serena steps foot onto the court. Black people aren’t born angry! It’s not something genetic, although some people might disagree.

People always wonder “Why are Black People so Angry?”

“Whites who want blacks to “forget about race and past injustice” profess that, if they do and shed their “victim mentality,” blacks will then do well.”

-Mary C. Walters

In the book Black Identities, the author explains the reason why most Black people are angry. The main reason is because they are put in these “black and white” confrontations. In response they detach themselves from education, redefine social norms and behaviors such as speaking proper English, doing well in school and so on as oppositional to their core identity. They refuse to let them treat you like their great -great grandparents. Instead, they rather you hate them than to disrespect them.

However not all blacks think this way. I want to emphasize on this idea mentioned in the book, Citizen. She mentions the differences of opportunities for blacks verse whites. One example was “How to be a successful black artist”. This was a video he posted after his first video aired, “How to be a successful artist”. In the YouTube video of ART THOUGHTZ, “How to be a successful artist.” he makes it clear you must 1. Be White 2. Be Ambiguous 3. Be a White Female. I decided to change the phrasing in this title to this question.

Q: “How to be a successful American?” A: “Be White”

It’s not literal in terms of changing your skin color to white. Unless your making a joke about Michael Jackson. In this term we mean the idea of “acting white”. Many have heard this phrase before and black people have constantly defended themselves about this term. Getting rid of certain attributes that give the people the impression you’re a “stereotypical black”, one that is portrayed by the media. This idea is similar to a wolf dressing in sheep’s clothing. Some might consider straightening their hair, code switching or simply dressing in a suit and tie as “acting white”.

In 2013, Kanye West appeared on the Kris Jenner show and talked about his personal life with his wife, Kim Kardashian and daughter North West. After viewing the show people commented on the sudden change of voice he used on Kris Jenner’s show. People called commented that he was “talking white”. However he explains that it’s not about race but more about class. In an interview he explains the change in his voice when put in certain situations (code-switching).

As a black artist appearing on a television show for a primarily white audience he tries his best to fit in. He says that in these situations (black against a white background) you have to blend in. It’s similar to a Dinner for Smucks situation. You don’t know if you’re going to be apart of the joke or if you are the joke. It is these situations that black people feel the need to evaluate themselves before confronting others. It is also these situations that helped Kanye progress as an artist. Kanye West is known in the media for having this “angry nigger exterior.” Anger towards being rejected by fashion designers for his ideas and different corporations trying to control what he does. His latest album Yeezus expresses this anger in many of his songs. He says he had to earn the rights to become a good artist or even be recognized in the fashion world. Now he has sold out arena’s and front row seats at fashion shows. On the album he writes a song called “New Slaves” that mentions the discrimination he faced over the years. Writing “New slaves”, he comments on black people being controlled by materialistic ideas. In Kanye West earlier albums he writes a song, “All Falls Down”. He explains about being insecure in America and buying clothes helps to cover that up. Being black in America has its own personal insecurities. Blacks spend money on nice cars, expensive clothes and flashy jewelry to earn respect. In reality, being a good man won’t get you respect but the money you have will. The more attributes blacks share with “acting white” the more opportunities they have to explore. In his song, new slaves he considers the idea of two different men walking into a store. If a man looks poor, with a hoodie and baggy jeans stepping into a high-end store they automatically think they are up to no good. Change the outfit on the same man to something casual with a clean haircut, they will personal invite you to their fashion shows to buy more. Kanye West refers to this as Broke-Nigga Racism –“don’t touch anything in the store” and Rich-Nigga Racism – “come in please by more”!

So how does this idea of Materialism in Black culture relate to the book Citizen? When I read Citizen: An American Lyric specifically in chapter II, an idea of new slaves comes to mind. Being black on a white background, the attention of the room is focused on the one with the darkest skin. It’s impossible to take that kind of attention off a person. Still, it won’t hurt to try. The only image they have is the one that is stereotyped on TV. Black people are violent, stupid, lazy, athletic or criminals. It’s about perspective, associating black culture to something negative and anyone that resembles black culture is negative too. In the 19th century, many foreign groups were identified with black culture. Irish immigrants were known as the “niggers turned inside out” because they were considered lazy and disregarded Chinese immigrants for marrying blacks. However by separating themselves from black culture they were able to cross an invisible color line separating oneself from the idea of being “black” in America over to “white”. This means that by distancing themselves from black culture and common stereotypes that refer them to being black than they would then be accepted into American culture. It’s because being American means being white. By getting rid of some of the attributes that stereotype a person as black, it might take the attention off by finding other similar attributes to consider.

“A friend argues that Americans battle between the “historical self” and the “self self”


So now they spend money to have straight hair or long hair. Spend money on expensive education. Spend money to buy expensive clothes. Spend money to buy cars and houses they can’t afford so instead they use credit. This idea refers to one’s “historical self” verse “self self”. The “self self” about two Americans dressed fairly alike are that they live in the same upper-middle class neighborhood. Both of their kids go to the same private school and they both drive the same car. However the “historical self” is that one person is white and the other is black. A White male wonders what kind of job the Black male has to live in a neighborhood like this. He accepts him by his appearance, his “self self” of being successful with nice clothes, a house and car, however you still question him in curiosity because of his “historical self” of being black.

Kanye points out, give white men money they’ll buy a business, give black men money they’ll buy cars. I think most of black culture is focused on impressing others than themselves. This mentality to fit into a society where they feel they don’t belong. The idea that it’s possible for a black man in America to live exactly like a white man, no questions asked. It’s a different kind of slavery. It’s no longer whips and chains but a mind-set of oppression that in order for you to be accepted in America you must act how white people want you to act. More importantly, objects that are supposed to cover up these insecurities enslave black people. Society creating social norms of how to publicly act enslaves black people. Money that feeds a materialistic mindset to buy more things that will satisfy a “white culture” enslaves black people. New Slaves: working yet again to satisfy another race by oppression. What makes me angry is that no matter how hard you try to cover up your insecurities, people will always notice that you are black first.

Personal Story

One day I was sitting in my acting class waiting for my professor to assign the class our character roles. First thing he says, “I’m not going to ignore the fact that there are two African-American actresses in our class!” My first thought was “Oh my gosh, I have a slave role” then I thought about it some more and remembered all of the plays developed by African- Americans in theatre other than being a slave. However, the play turned out to be about a black woman in a predominately white cast in 1905, which to me is still the same thing. I wasn’t sure if I was happy that he recognized that I was black because in reality all roles will not be available for me, or if I should be offended that the only roles I’ll be able to take are the ones that specify the character has to be black. More importantly, why he couldn’t find a specific role for another person in my class who was non-white. I didn’t know how to take it. I was in acting class to learn how to act. The first role I get is of an African-American who isn’t given the same opportunities as everyone else. I’m not naïve to think that in society there aren’t roles in historical history that can only be casted by whites or blacks. I appreciate the acknowledgement of being an African-American in a pre-dominantly white class with a few other exceptions. However, it threw me by surprise because this is the first time that it was brought to my attention out loud that I was black and everybody else was not. It was like he was consciously saying everything out loud that I was subconsciously hoping everybody ignored in my head. I got a little offended but should I have spoken about it, let him know how I felt. No, instead I went out and bought a pair of Hunter rain boots.


-Bria Cohen


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