BY Sandra Appiah, 12:00am April 19, 2011,

“The New Black” | How The Phrase Translates to Today’s Generation

By Chioma Chinweoke

Photos by: Nii Dbarbeng

Bitch is the New Black. The New Black is Vogue Italia All-Black Issue. Obama is the New Black. Cosby is the New Black. Reality TV is the New Black. What’s Your Brand Boo? Sade is the New Black. Land lines are the new Black.

"The New Black" | How The Phrase Translates to Today’s GenerationAn eclectic mix of young Black professionals and fashion insiders gathered at the MAD Museum Theater near Central Park in New York City to join Essence Online Fashion Editor, Zandile Blay, Essence Online Managing Editor, Emil Wilbekin, Vogue Italia Editor at Large, Bethann Hardison, and former CNN Pop Culture Correspondent, Lola Ogunnaike on a discussion entitled The New Black: Fashion And Design On Branding Culture. The discussion was one of a kind, and dissected how the much-hyped term “The New Black” applies to a generation of Post-Black African Americans.

Emil, Bethann, and Zandile spoke on the New Black translating in definition, and how the effects of social and digital media have confused the terms “brand”, “fame” and “empire” to a flattened level.
Midway through the discussion, Emil elected a new, hip catchphrase – What’s Your Brand, Boo?

When the discussion turned towards how social media has either helped or hurt The New Black, the panelists fired up with their own instances. Emil expressed that social media has created the ability to inflate ego because “folks can now chat with the Puffy’s, Jay-Z’s, and Beyonce’s of the industry.”

On his official twitter page (@EmilWilbekin), the former Giant Magazine editor in chief not only provides his hilarious pop culture commentary, but follows several fashion industry insiders. His opinion, thus, comes from the inner circle looking out to the world. Do you agree with Emil on how social media has made making an easily accessible persona the new black?"The New Black" | How The Phrase Translates to Today’s Generation

Emil’s comments energized the panel discussion. In my opinion, social and digital media have also triggered communities to be able to express their opinions when traditionally, the platform  was reserved for journalists, critics, and editors. These individuals are now parallel with the industry folks.

Zandile, founder of The Blay Report, on the other hand argued that social media has had a positive effect on her writing career. “Social media did so much for my career.The Internet has leveled the playing field."

Lola, a former New York Times writer, wrapped up the comments presented by Zandile, Emil and Bethann with her bold statement, “Lots of people are walking around thinking they have the good because they have a hundred thousand page views or what I call eyeballs but most of the time these articles are poorly written. Doesn’t it undermine the content?” Like her colleagues, Lola also shares tweets and photos from her televised celebrity interviews for BET International on Twitter, @lolaogunnaike. Do you feel that “The New Black” is having a social/digital opinion for millions to embrace?

When the discussion focused on the distinction of brand, Lola said, “The word Brand means nothing to me. It’s been watered down.” Emil however preferred when brand means something. “When I think of a brand I think of McDonald’s or Essence. McDonald’s is a brand. Essence is a brand. Disney is a brand. A brand can be very powerful. What’s your brand, boo!"

I blame reality TV and social media for shifting the true definition of brand. Personality and personal style is what Brand is about now.” Zandile then felt that brand can be a “buzz emotion” or a “feeling.” She related the term to her public persona. “When I write something either on my website or on Twitter, I think it moves people. People not knowing you but feel your emotion. Emotion and brand isn’t topical. ‘Brand’ moves you to feel what a person is thinking.”  Do you agree with how social and digital media has changed the true meaning of branding or do you feel that the branding is the new black?

"The New Black" | How The Phrase Translates to Today’s Generation

Lola then addressed how fame and its definition have evolved over time. “Fame was once a pursuit of excellence. Now people are linking brand with fame. My fame! My brand! My shine! It’s become a pursuit of fame and not humbleness. This persona of wanting to have fame is important, loud, and known. If not you will feel like you failed.” Lola and Bethann also agreed upon how the work done by African designers such as the recent ARISE Magazine Fashion Week event is fantastic but it doesn’t mean a thing when there is not enough limited shops and boutiques opened to support their work.

Zandile expressed that “a lot of designers of colors are using right relationships and are popular but do not break through.” Bethann said that the problem with that many of our black designers do not come from a background in garment nor do they have that built-in support system like UK-based designer Duro Olowu. Do you think the change for the New Black is studying all aspects of your field and not just the surface?

Emil, Zandile, Bethann, and Lola all equally concluded that the term “The New Black” can be applied to an individual’s interests and environment by having a persona, an opinion, paying your dues, and having a sense of a professional achievement. One consensus that was between all the was how the lines behind branding and empire can be blurred by the positive and negative effects of digital and social media.

Protecting and building a brand and not an empire can also hinder the true growth of an individual hoping to seek fame in their industry. Ultimately an individual wanting to create or manifest great things must also realize that’s a great distinction between brand and empire. What do you think the new black means for today’s generation?

Last Edited by: Updated: March 25, 2016


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