On SZA, Ferguson and the "New Black"

Categories: Michael Brown

Credit: SSENSE
When Pharrell coined the term "New Black" earlier this year, he clearly didn't anticipate the backlash. Sitting across from billionaire Oprah Winfrey, riding the success of a worldwide No. 1 record and a couple of Grammy wins, the singer/producer was eager to dismiss the idea that being black had in any way put him at a disadvantage.

"The New Black doesn't blame other races for our issues," he explained. "The New Black dreams and realizes that it's not pigmentation: It's a mentality, and it's either going to work for you or it's going to work against you. And you've got to pick the side you're going to be on."

Within days there were memes, articles and hashtags like #whatkindofblackareyou, calling out the implication that black people are responsible for their disenfranchisement, that the real problem isn't institutionalized racism but negative thinking. And just like that, "New Black," likely intended to be a positive, revolutionary declaration of 21st century blackness, became a kind of shorthand for the post-racial Uncle Tom, enthusiastically applied to the Don Lemons of the celebrity landscape.

The most recently accused is SZA, native St. Louisan and First Lady of Kendrick Lamar's music collective TDE. Known for ethereal jams like "Babylon" and "Warm Winds," the 23-year-old singer has made a name for herself as part of the doom-soul movement that includes artists like Kelela and FKA Twigs. Last week, with the aftermath of Mike Brown's death and reports of tear gas and rubber pellets reaching their height, she sparked a heated online debate when she took to her various social-media platforms to weigh in.

Courtesy of Tumblr
This tweet has since been deleted.

It started, as most things do these days, with a tweet: "Why instating Martial Law in a situation plagued with police brutality makes sense to you is beyond me," adding the tag, "#thisisbeyondrace." On her official Tumblr page, she posted a picture of a white woman being kicked in the head by a policeman (taken in 2012, in Rhode Island), with the caption, "This is deeper than color."

Almost instantly, the singer began receiving hundreds of angry messages, retweets, and reblogs from black fans taking issue with her seemingly arguing that the police brutality and excessive force used against the peacefully assembled citizens of Ferguson have nothing to do with the fact that they are predominantly black.

"The officer [in the photo] was put on unpaid suspension, eventually resigned from the force and convicted of felony battery with a dangerous weapon," one Tumblr user replied. "[Ferguson] police have been illegally arresting people and not telling them why and they still aren't answering questions about the shooting. So, tell me, you sing-sighing on the track ass bitch, is this deeper than color?"

SZA is no stranger to Internet hate; her authenticity and her blackness have continuously been called into question since her debut. She's been accused of drawing on her distinctive freckles, making up her Orthodox Muslim upbringing and allegedly lying about attending an Ivy League college to major in marine biology. It seems, as exciting an artist as she is, her realness has often been under scrutiny.

In the back-and-forth dialogue between SZA and her critics that followed, there were numerous accusations that the singer was a New Black sellout, neglecting her blackness in order to placate a burgeoning white fan base. Things, of course, get lost in translation. In her initial statements SZA seemed to be at the very least rightly criticizing the use of military power in a situation already sparked by needless violence, but much like actress and talk show host Keke Palmer's own social-media rant on the situation, she contradicted herself even as she sought to clarify.

SZA acknowledged the role of racism in her own life, claiming to have been called a nigger on several occasions as well as citing incidents of bricks being thrown through her father's mosque windows. Yet she also used the black-on-black crime argument, pointing out the "children dying all over the world and black ppl killing black ppl RIGHT NOW." Her statements are despite the fact that up until Brown's death, the 70 percent black town of Ferguson had seen no murders this year.

Continue to page two.

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@DarthBaeder no. She actually doesn't have valid points to me. We can always agree to disagree though. <3

Michael Neely
Michael Neely

I got the same thing from black people on social media for asking people to listen to all if the facts before making their minds up. For asking people to stop generalizing people of a certain race. For saying that I don't see color (my girlfriend is white, my children are bi-racial). I was called a disgrace to my race. And you know what? I couldn't care less. Far too many idiots with the ability to make their opinions known.

Kelli Mayahi
Kelli Mayahi

Have no clue who she man even is???????? Do tell


"What's most interesting about these artist-fan exchanges is how passionately and vehemently fans react to artists who apparently fall in line with a kind of "we all bleed red" or "I don't see color" post-racial ideology that derails conversations about racism rather than contributing to them."

What conversation?  There is no conversation.  Either you're on the national "anything blacks do is justified" or you're labeled a racist.  That's the only conversation allowed.

Never mind that you'd need to get tens of millions of whites together in order to find a single one who indirectly benefited from slavery.  Never mind that every transaction requires a buyer and a seller and that it certainly wasn't Caucasians selling slaves off the ivory coast.

Never mind that if YOUR neighborhood got repeatedly robbed by black men, you'd focus your neighborhood watch on them just as George Zimmerman did.  Never mind that surveillance isn't illegal but physically assaulting someone is.  Never mind that the media made a concerted effort to show pictures of Trayvon Martin as a young man and refused to show him throwing gang signs or acknowledge he was suspended from school for fighting.

Never mind that Michael Brown had just committed a strong arm robbery.  Never mind that there's no question what he had just done affected HIS mindset in dealing with the cop who shot him.  Never mind that even St Louis politicians such as the city comptroller (who last I checked isn't part of the judiciary system) has called for the cop's head.

But mostly, never mind that you didn't write an article when Megan Boken, Huang Hguyen or any of the hundreds of black people who've been murdered on the North Side died over the last several years.  Where were the protestors then?  Where as Al "I made my bones on a false rape case" Sharpton?  Oh, I see...it's only news when a white person shoots a black person.  When black people kill, it's just business as usual.  

The artists you mentioned are nothing new.  Bill Cosby (who probably did more to improve the image of African Americans than anyone in history) said the exact same thing years ago in his now infamous "Pound Cake" speech at the NAACP awards 50th anniversary of Brown vs. Board of Education commemoration.  A lot of black people crucified him then just as they are doing now to anyone who refuses to play the "poor me" card.  

Meanwhile, white people don't care.  No offense, but the Ferguson "agitators" and self righteous Generation Y liberals who would also protest the state sanctioned execution of a molesting child killer AREN'T representative of the majority.  The majority get hammered for being honest, so we just keep our mouths shut and go about our business.  But don't be fooled.  Our existence isn't predicated on what black people think or do.  We don't care what they do as long as they do it away from us.  

sweetliberty17761776 topcommenter

The Dems have made sure that weak minded blacks will always have that "safety net" to fallback on

and fall they will


@DarthBaeder And since I only found her music after reading her comments, makes it hard to get into her like I would have likely, before.


@DarthBaeder we differ. I could never listen to any of his music no matter how talented and not see a pedophile. \U0001f629


@LipstickYoda Totally respectable. I will always rock wit Michael Jackson, Rick James, and Jay-Z even tho I def disagree wit some personal

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