The new black is militant. The new black is #blackgirlmagic. The new black is exploratory. And the new black is all-encompassing. All of these ideas are significant, yet do not perfectly encapsulate the movement that has been sweeping through African American communities for the past several years. However, it would be incredibly misleading to apply the same criteria to everyone within a set race. I, for example, despite my extensive knowledge and experience in the field of minority education and having taken a plethora classes in the field of African American Studies, have what some may consider to be an unreasonable affinity for the Oscar winning film Gone with the Wind. Despite my “wokeness,” as the kids say these days, I still would deem myself to be incredibly self-aware, introspective, and analytical – a testament which my close friends, family, and of course my professors would support. However, there are those who undoubtedly feel differently, and they are certainly entitled to their own opinions. It is my personal belief that the new black is complicated, investigative, and vigilant – all of which is to say that there is no set blanket criteria that could define such a group. Therefore, some may ask, almost reasonably, why even try? A fool’s errand, they might suggest. To that I would say, it is imperative to give a voice to those who need one, and give unity where things feel scattered, and lacking cohesion. Perhaps it is necessary to be more attentive and reasonable, while discerning the individuality of such a personal and unique aspect of one’s own identity.

The new black is omnipresent and vocal. Look no further than your own television set to get to the bottom of the most shallow of seemingly complex characters. As I previously alluded to, hotly debated topics like race and colorism are a critical part of the conversation of what it means to be black. Coming to terms with where it is possible to fit in and what it means to honor thyself and personal identity above all else is arguably the most essential aspect of self-acceptance. Speaking from personal experience, this is something that has only occurred to me recently, yet it feels as though I have taken my blinders off and am experiencing life with eyes wide open for the very first time. It is shocking how blatantly offensive comments and inconsiderate behaviors can be recognized. These microaggressions are omnipresent, if only one knows where to look for them. For instance, a previous employer made light of the black lives matter movement by sending me an email with Labradors in all different shades, protesting that “all Labs matter.” It would have been humorous if not for the fact that I am black, and was notably one of the very few minorities on that school’s campus. Making light of another group’s struggles, however trite they may seem, only serves to mitigate – nay, mock – a critical issue. Simply because you, standing atop your lofty pedestal of white privilege, flanked by others whose own thoughts are synonymous with static constancy, does not give you the power, perspective, or insight to cast aspersions on others’ tribulations. Rather, it makes you look ignorant, uncaring and honestly – just plain stupid. And this perhaps is the most offensive aspect of the entire situation. That someone is not even clever enough to offer up true thoughts; they need to crib their own and prop themselves up on the supposed brilliance of others is such a lazy and cowardly shortcut. It is underhanded, cheap, and almost uncivilized. It is pedestrian, unimaginative and condescending. It is miserly, evokes dolorousness, and stands in direct contrast for what it means to be newly black and accepted as such.

Finally, as an animal lover first and foremost, and in particular one with an affinity for Labradors, this struck a nerve. #alllabsmatter looks #ridiculous non? It is not equivalent – indeed, it is inherently misleading and cruel. Minimizing the suffering of an entire group of people by equating them with animals – that should have been the final straw that signaled the end of my tenure. But still I remained, fighting the good fight. Perseverance in the face of shocking opposition and hostility – this is #thenewblack. And yes, overall this experience registered as an eight or a nine easily on the awkward scale of ten for social interactions. In retrospect, I cannot recall the best way to handle that kind of situation – perhaps ignore the email? Or make no mention of it at least? Why is it always that the least funny, most offensive people court the greatest amount of attention? Or did I answer my own rhetorical question there? Intellectual curiosity is yet another hallmarker of #thenewblack.

This new black is taking a multifaceted approach to infiltrating society’s consciousness. Although many people do not enjoy it, I am a fan of the Real Housewives of Potomac. This is true primarily because I see shades of my own toxic family in the women who serve as caricatures for their area. Granted, I no longer speak to most of my family since they have serious issues with respecting boundaries, personal information, and generally adhering to socially acceptable behaviors, but it is still fun to observe, analyze and consume as a non-player. And the drama is delicious, especially since I am not involved.

Ultimately, race and acceptance is not something that can be decided overnight. It is an individual experience with which everyone must struggle until they reach a satisfactory conclusion. I have been forced into uncomfortable categories for most of my life, and it has gotten to the point where I refuse to acknowledge and engage with ignorance – if it is not possible to allow me my freedom and autonomy, than I simply do not want to bother dealing with the offending party. This is why blanket generalizations are inherently problematic – assuming that one situation holds the same weight for all individuals is ignorant and myopic.

Self-actualization and acceptance is one of the most significant indicators of maturity, it is a true signifier of one’s honesty and integrity that it is possible to accept all facets of their own identity, including those which may not make them proud. Arguably, #thenewblack lacks borders, definitions, boundaries and restraints. Rather, it seeks support, thriving as it expands, lessening the burden of the individual as more shoulder its heavy responsibilities. It requires allies, yet does not shrink from the grasp of those who pursue it. It is living, breathing, growing, ever-changing – it is everything. #Thenewblack is #thenewwayoflife.