by Guest Contributor Jesse Singal, originally published at CampusProgress.org
Newbos: The Rise of America’s New Black Overclass, a one-hour CNBC documentary examining megarich black entrepreneurs which premiered last night, comes at an odd time. Hosted by Lee Hawkins of The Wall Street Journal (who is also a CNBC contributor), the show emphasizes the tremendous successes a select group of African-Americans have had in the sports and entertainment industries, but does so during a period in which African-Americans as a whole—along with just about every other demographic—are suffering immensely as a result of the United States’ collapsing economy. Why, then, focus an hour on stories of stratospheric accomplishment, some of which have as much to do with freakish distributions of natural talent as business savvy? Don’t we have more important things to learn about race and wealth, especially given that African-Americans were disproportionately affected by the subprime mortgage crisis?
Newbos could have overcome these troublesome questions if it had explained something novel about how race and wealth interact in America, or if it had advanced some bold new argument about what it means to be rich and African-American. Unfortunately, it does neither. In many regards, Newbos instead follows in the footsteps of the chronically ill and chronically myopic economic reporting that failed to predict the current collapse (a lot of which emanated from, ahem, CNBC). This reporting—which often looked more like cheerleading—was fixated on success stories, treated “millionaires created” as one of the only meaningful economic metrics, and decided not to bother tackling that whole pesky inequality thing. Newbos, despite the occasional noteworthy nugget, makes all the same blunders: It celebrates black entrepreneurship and focuses on some of the obstacles that very successful African-Americans must overcome, but refuses to face or address any of the real issues related to wealth distribution and race. Continue reading