The New Black Aesthetic

by Travis Henry

Recently, I’ve been trying to focus on the essence of Blackness and it brought me back to this essay I read over the summer titled “The New Black Aesthetic” written by Trey Ellis, an associate professor at Columbia University, in 1989 when he was writing a term paper for an African-American class during his junior year at Stanford University. How are we to define Blackness?

Our external colors and figures are large blinds to our personalities, especially to those who don’t look like us. Ellis said that “we all share a lot more than just skin color” like our artistry and our appreciated individualism, while maintaining our cultural sense of collectivism. The Blacks thriving in their own self-righteous originality are the same ones who are isolated, because our individuality is continuously being compromised for conformity.

Our love for being different is outweighed by our craving to be accepted.

Now, there’s a time when we look at some of the key points that Ellis brought up, calling himself a cultural mulatto due to his education by a multiracial mix of culture, giving him and those like him the access to navigate through the “White” world or “mainstream society.” 2016 is seeing this uproar and revolt against the cultural mulatto. This push for Black Lives Matter has inspired the youth culture to augment their super blackness, daydreaming about being in the ghetto with all of their brothers and sisters. We’re looking at a time when it is seen negatively to have the innate ability or the learned skill to code-switch and become an adaptable character. The ones growing up in this culture are being taught to embrace your Blackness and never allow it to compromise. At this point, even our art has taken on an ultra black lens, but I’m not sure if that’s a bad thing because it’s bringing topics and discussions about intersections and Afrofuturism to the forefront of the conversations. Issues? Not really. Except for when you sit at the intersections of what “Black” is and is not. We’re living at this point where “we now find ourselves the dominant culture’s “flavor of the month.” Isn’t that something?

I guess, Terry McMillian was right that “life’s a bitch no matter what color you are. You can’t blame the world. We’re not saying racism doesn’t exist, we’re just saying it’s not an excuse.”


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