Black Is the New White, By Femi Aribisala
First a black man became president of the United States of America. Then a black woman became a member of the royal family of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
Most men we call black are actually brown. Then there are the many in-betweens. But so jealous are the so-called whites in their whiteness that any black blood automatically makes you black. If you have any black ancestry, you are deemed to be black.
Certain ironies arise here. If you are of mixed race in Britain, for example, you are considered black. But if you are of mixed race in Nigeria, you are considered white or oyinbo.
What the British do not know is that their royal family is black by this very definition. The great great great grandmother of the present Queen Elizabeth II was a black woman – Queen Charlotte of Britain and Ireland. She was the grandmother of Queen Victoria.
For long, white was popularly preferred to black in Europe and the United States. Black was deemed inferior to white. Black features were demeaned as ugly. Pointed aqualine noses were preferred to flat African noses. Indoctrinated blacks courted skin cancer by bleaching their skins, and they straightened their hair.
But then black soon became the new white, as whites insisted on sunbathing in order to add colour to their skins. They added collagen to their lips to make them look more African, and even re-defined the sexy woman as one with big African hips. Today, popular white women, such as Kim Kardashian and Jennifer Lopez, are suspected to have had surgery to give more fullness to their behinds in the African fashion.
The “Black is Beautiful” and “Black Pride” movements of the 1960s sought to dispel racist notions about blackness and to celebrate black culture. The “afro” came into fashion in its resplendent glory, in contra-distinction to the straightened hair. It was popularised by radical black notables, such as Angela Davis, a counter-culture activist of the civil rights movement and the Black Panther party.
There also emerged an African answer in the black consciousness movement of Steve Biko in South Africa, in response to that country’s despicable apartheid system. Black resistance against that system brought to the scene Nelson Mandela, who spent 26 years in prison for the cause of black equality. On his release from prison, black became the new white as Mandela became, by all accounts, the most celebrated statesman in the world in his generation.
Elvis Presley made a fortune singing songs that black artists like Fats Domino and Chuck Berry wrote but could not sing because they were black. But soon, musicians like James Brown broke the mould in the 1960s singing songs with the refrain: “Say It Loud, I’m Black and I’m Proud.”
Everything soon changed as megastar black artists like Prince and Michael Jackson burst on the scene. Everyone, white and black, started dancing to black music written, played and performed by black artists. Prince wowed America and the world with his “Purple Rain,” and Michael Jackson’s Thriller became the highest grossing album of all time.
Today, virtually every popular mainstream musician in the United States is a rap artist, a musical genre popularised by blacks. White artists, like Eminem, sing as if they are black. Blacks like Jay Z and Sean Diddy Combs have become music moguls. People flocked to the cinema to watch Eddie Murphy. At one time, Will Smith became the highest paid Hollywood star.
The most popular show on American television was The Cosby Show, featuring a black family. Black talk-show host Oprah Winfrey became the highest paid TV personality in the United States, on the road to joining the rank of billionaires.
In 1972, I got a scholarship from an English university to go to the U.S.A to investigate the election of Maynard Jackson as the first black mayor of a major southern metropolis, Atlanta. Soon Reverend Jessie Jackson had the audacity to run for president of the United States; giving a good account of himself by winning some key southern states in the Democratic Party primaries.
Then came Barack Obama. After just one term in the U.S. Senate, Obama ran for the presidency of the United States under the slogan: “Yes We Can.” He not only defeated Hillary Clinton, the wife of a former president for the candidacy of the Democratic Party, he went all the way to become the first black President of the United States, defeating war hero John McCain in the process.
Barack Obama’s election was a watershed moment in American politics. With his election, conservative whites in America sensed imminent danger to white supremacy. Obama won by stringing together a rainbow coalition of blacks, whites, Hispanics and Indian voters. Conservative America feared that sooner, rather than later, non-whites would be the new whites in American politics.
Population trends confirm that it is a matter of time before the United States becomes a majority non-white society. But not without a fight from racists. So, a champion emerged in the person of Donald Trump, whose mission is to slow down the process, if not possibly derail it altogether.
Trump started his assault by claiming President Obama was not an American. He mobilised a group of racist whites who fueled a “birther campaign,” demanding that Obama should prove beyond reasonable doubt that he was born in the U.S.A. Even after it was shown conclusively through his birth certificate that Obama is a native-born American, they continued to popularise the fake news that he is a foreigner.
After two terms of Obama, Trump ran for president on a platform designed to reverse everything Obama did. He calls his agenda “Making America Great Again.” But this is a dog-whistle for “Making America White Again.” Trump is determined that non-white immigration to the United States must be restricted to the barest minimum. He lampooned African countries as “shitholes”, expressing a distinct preference for lily-white Scandinavian ones.
Trump lost the 2016 election by three million votes but won on the technicality of the electoral college, a system that exaggerates the political significance of the less populous states vis-à-vis the more populous ones. But the presidency of Trump has been so disastrous, it can only have one effect: To tell Americans that under no circumstances should they elect a man like Trump as president ever again.
Trump’s presidency has not stopped the ascendancy of blacks in American political space. Black issues are now on the front-burner of American politics. In all the bye-elections since the ascendance of Trump to the presidency, the black vote has been decisive in providing a resurgence of the Democratic Party. The “Black Lives Matter” movement has gained more impetus. Football players have joined in by kneeling during the playing of the American anthem before matches.
Then Hollywood made an economic calculus that opened yet another chapter in making black the new white, even in the era of Trumpism.
In the United States, Hollywood sets the trend as well as reflects new trends. It did this with the release of the iconic film Black Panther in 2018. The film is a black superhero action film, written by a black writer, directed by a black director, starring a majority black cast, set in a fictional technologically advanced black country called Wakanda.
Black Panther signaled that black is now the new white in American cinema. The film is an unabashed over-the-top celebration of everything African. It is set in Africa and the main characters are Africans; all speaking with distinctive African accents and showcasing a veritable plumage of African costumes.
Borrowing its name from the black power movement of the 1960s, Black Panther quickly became the 10th highest-grossing film of all time. It took only 26 days for it to amass a whopping $1 billion at the box office. To date, it has made $1.2 billion. Before Black Panther, the highest-grossing film with a black ensemble cast was Straight Out of Compton of 1988, which made $180 million. But Hollywood invested $200 million in filming Black Panther and spent an additional $150 million promoting the film.
For once in Black Panther, an African nation, albeit fictional, was presented as a role model for the world. Blacks were not presented in the usual fashion as criminals, drug barons, maids, servants and side-kicks of white heroes. Instead, blacks were the mainstream super-heroes of Black Panther. They were the kings, queens, princes, princesses, scientists and warriors.
Black Panther put the African heritage on display and everyone, blacks and whites the world over, flocked to the cinemas see it again and again. This indicates large mainstream audiences may be getting tired of watching propaganda adventure movies of amazing white Tarzans who are better at everything than everybody else. Already, there is a big demand for dolls featuring the black princess of Wakanda.
But before you could say Marco Polo, a real life black princess emerged. First a black man became president of the United States of America. Then a black woman became a member of the royal family of the United Kingdom of Great Britain.
Prince Harry of Britain fell in love with Meghan Markle, an African-American woman of mixed race origin. Their love story has held the world spellbound, culminating in their lavish wedding last month watched by an estimated international audience of over two billion people.
To everyone’s surprise, the wedding was a celebration, not only of black culture, but also black excellence, even within the context of a monarchy that colonised many black countries. A black cellist gave a breathtaking performance. A black gospel choir gave a powerful rendition of “Stand by Me” and the iconic African-American song “This Little Light of Mine.”
Then a rabble-rousing black preacher from Chicago, Bishop Michael Curry, delivered a passionate sermon on love that touched provocatively, given it white royal audience, on the trans-Atlantic slave trade, Martin Luther King Jr. and the American Civil Rights movement. Tongue-in-cheek, the bishop suggested that Harry and Meghan’s love redeemed the murky past of the British monarchy in the trans-Atlantic slave trade and in the history of black persecution.
In short, unlike Barack Obama who was constrained to de-emphasise his blackness during his presidency and committed the unpardonable sin of not visiting Africa’s biggest country, Nigeria, even once, this new black princess, Meghan Markle, put on display for the whole world to see her bold, African-American blackness. There was also the beautiful anomaly of her mother, a black African-American woman with dreadlocks and a nose-ring, standing tall as a new member of the extended British royal family.
In effect, Meghan Markle immediately became the symbol of a new era in the British royal family that promises to be modern, open-minded and inclusive. By the end of the wedding, it was clear that Meghan’s black was the new white of the British monarchy.