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  • Writer's pictureWhitney Dunlap-Fowler

The Invisible Evolution of Blackness: A New Cultural Moment




Increasingly, Black consumers are challenging predetermined life paths and taking it upon themselves to go their own way, rejecting stereotypes and expectations of who they are, or who they could be, based on their ethnicity.

This behavioral shift has led to a Black renaissance where African-Americans are increasingly leading the charge to carve out space and a moment in culture to demonstrate the breadth of their diversity.

This new black cultural moment couldn’t exist without broader societal shifts: Today self-prioritization has become a more integral part of the conversation. Mental and physical health are king, experiences trump material items and personal success is measured by uncompromised happiness.

This has given birth to a new kind of freedom and flexibility for Blacks who historically have been pigeonholed into specific industries, or roles based on preconceptions about their abilities. Today, a new generation of Black men and women are engaging in innovative, creatively inspired ideas and career paths more freely, and with less judgment. Now that the breadth of possibility for Blacks has expanded, they can have access to alternative spaces of opportunity that allow them to be more real, more accessible and more human.

Black NFL players are just one example of how this cultural shift is showing up in the lives of African Americans. Football players are increasingly retiring at age 30 in favor of alternative lifestyles that allow for more stable mental and physical wellbeing, and the ability to pursue their personal passions. Today, athletes like Marshawn Lynch, who retired earlier this year and Larry Fitzgerald, who secured his future outside of football by obtaining his college degree, are redefining what is aspirational in sports and beyond.

Media Reflecting the New Reality

This shift extends beyond real lives. As media is a very real part of how our realities are shaped, it also affects non-black perceptions of black identity. By portraying African Americans as scientists, scholars and love interests, instead of football players, gangsters, and down-trodden single mothers, we not only change negative associations of blackness; we also allow it to exist in all of its complexity and richness.

One need look no further than web series Creator Issa Rae’s newest series “Insecure” as an example of how African-Americans are forcing new narratives into the marketplace. The series, debuting on HBO in October, focuses on the “friendships, experiences and tribulations of two black women,” a narrative that may seem unremarkable. But for African-Americans it’s new and unusual to see blacks normalized, rendered less dangerous, less mysterious and more human. These shifting paradigms have just begun to trickle down into Hollywood with emerging stories like “Hidden Figures,” which chronicles black female mathematicians in the Jim Crow South, or “Queen Sugar,” which portrays a Black family with vulnerable narratives and complicated character nuances. Blacks are finally being given an alternative voice and are being portrayed outside the stereotyped, generalized roles typically associated with their race.

Brands Weigh in on this Cultural Moment

This Black cultural moment, led by the very real lives and voices of African-Americans, is now extending beyond the media to the world of brands and marketing.

Take Apple: to launch its new expressive messaging feature, Apple has chosen to tell a story about long distance love, where the character in the ad receives a text message from her significant other. The main love interest is a black woman- something that is not normally seen without stereotyped attributes accompanying it. This makes the ad culturally significant. Another of Apple’s recent campaigns features casual girlfriend moments between Tarji P. Henson, Mary J. Blige and Kerry Washington, who collectively ‘vibe out’ to some of their favorite songs in an everyday situation. By normalizing portrayals of Blackness, Apple has shown it has its finger on the cultural pulse.

Hopefully, as this cultural movement continues to evolve, new generations of brands will continue to challenge outdated assumptions and bring humanity back into the black cultural narrative.

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