Why the “Black is the New Brown” Shirt Is Offensive

Black people are not defined by being black. And being Black is not being a color.

Being that less than 1 percent of the population in my neighborhood is African-American, I grew up in a predominantly white neighborhood and am married to a white man, I get a fair number of questions about race and Black culture. I think I own a special perspective on race and culture because I grew up where I did – my sister and I were the only Black kids in our elementary school for a while. My skin is fairly light and I talk like a TV news anchor. So throughout my school years I had to weather the “trying to act white” accusations and the “not black enough” comments – a different perspective.

This week when a friend of a friend made a comment about the fairly offensive “Black is the New Brown” t-shirt that was put up for sale on etsy and subsequently removed after public outcry, I felt compelled to share with him – and you – why so many people the shirt offensive.

It’s not the fact that the shirt was likely created and sold by a white person (if that is even the case). The race of the seller would not change the offensive sentiment behind the product.

This shirt is offensive because rather than acknowledging Charlie Strong for his record, his accomplishments or even by his name, the shirt maker chose to acknowledge only his blackness. And to boot, the venerable Mr. Strong is reduced to a black body and then compared to another man – a white man – who was acknowledged properly (by his name).

Black people are not defined by being black. And being Black is not being a color.

It would have been much more acceptable to have printed “Strong Is The New Brown” on that shirt. Such a slogan would acknowledge that the new Coach Strong is much more than the color of his skin. Calling him by his name accords Mr. Strong the level of respect every law abiding person deserves. Using his name would reflect in the shirt the strength his name represents. Even if the shirt maker is African-American, he or she should have respected Mr. Strong as a whole person – not just a black man.

We should never reduce a man to a color. As Martin Luther King said, we should judge him by the content of his character – as I’m sure the University of Texas did when they offered him a HELL OF A LOT of moolah to take the position.

Post script: Charlie Strong just released a demanding list of expectations to his players. It’s pretty badass. Somebody should make a t-shirt about this!