In this 1957 clip from the program “The Open Mind,” Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. outlines the characteristics of a renaissance African American he refers to as the “New Negro.” Over 50 years later we must ask, has the Black Community in America evolved in its self-awareness to a point where the African American Dr.King describes in this clip exists? Has the Black community collectively stood for a dignity of conscience and defended its image against the onslaught of racism and White supremacy? Is the duplicity Dr. King spoke of a relic of the past, or are there elements within the Black community who still seek to undermine advancement in order to protect their own positions?
Interestingly, the first description Dr, King uses to categorize The New Negro is one possessing self respect and dignity. Considering the successes of the Civil Rights Movement in changing the overall racial tone of America, the ability of the average member of society to insult the sensibilities of African Americans based solely on race becomes unacceptable. As a nation we have raised our intolerance towards racial epithets. Furthermore, remedies have been created to outlaw using racist language in the workplace. The times when Black folk had to stomach being called “boy” and were expected to avoid looking Whites in the eye have clearly gone. However, self respect and dignity don’t only come from an absence of harsh racial language. Today in America Blacks still countenance television programming and advertisements that degrade the image and devalue the identity of African Americans. Reality TV has created a cottage industry of Black characters that are reminiscent of the old Steppin’ Fetch-it who shuffled along in black and white films in the early 20th century enforcing the most offensive stereotypes of African Americans. Programs such as “Flavor of Love”, “I love New York”, and “Tiny and Toya” traffic in the most damaging images at the expense of the dignity of the Black Community.
Over 50 years after Dr. Kings description of The New Negro one would think Blacks would have moved beyond allowing themselves to be characterized in such fashions. Unfortunately, Civil Rights did not guarantee economic power. As a consequence, African American media ownership is still at a point where shaping messaging lies mostly in the hands of those who must often be reminded of the harm they inflict. However, if there is little collective conscious among African Americans, the ability to secure the dignity and self respect Dr. King spoke of diminishes greatly. In retrospect, perhaps The New Negro has simply given in to the old stereotypes.