The new black is back

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From TPM, a billboard in Houston:

The history of this phrasal template is here. Its future? Who knows.


  1. Dan Lufkin said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 10:30 am

    Interesting that part of their mission statement (from their Web site) is

    Although not a religious organization, we work for the glory of the Lord Jesus, in whom we put our trust and salvation.

    This is like Roman Christians sponsoring a be-kind-to-lions movement.

  2. mgh said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 10:52 am

    or vice versa

  3. Mr Fnortner said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 11:56 am

    More like Xe (Blackwater Worldwide) saying Although not a military organization, we work to destabilize governments and destroy countries around the world.

  4. GeorgeW said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 3:00 pm

    I initially had some difficulty with this because it doesn't follow the "phrasal template." In the template, X and Y are in the same general category like color ('pink is the new black'), age ("70 is the new 60"), etc.

    In the billboard, X (a political party) is the new Y (a racial minority). Huh?

  5. Iulus said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 6:06 pm

    This whole thing is very interesting in it's obscurity.

    It's clear that they are a Republican organization trying to win over black constituents, but what exactly are they saying? "Black" here does not simply seem to be a reference to the fashion cliche, but what does that make the relation between black people and the GOP? Was Democrat the old black (people)? It's almost like an attempt to coalesce the identity of black American with Republican. But then why are they "Raging" Elephants? Are white Republicans simply "Elephants"?

    I'm really not sure if this billboard is encouraging, offensive, empowering, embracing, or just unclear and stupid.

  6. dirk alan said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 6:17 pm

    totally unrefudiated.

  7. Ben Zimmer said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 7:25 pm

    GeorgeW: Perhaps we can blame "Saturday Night Live" for both the category mismatch and the ambiguous referent of "black" here. During the 2008 primaries, Tina Fey (in pro-Hillary mode) declared, "Bitch is the new black," while Tracy Morgan (pro-Obama) countered, "Black is the new president, bitch."

  8. Kylopod said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 8:30 pm

    It's clear what they mean. The GOP are an oppressed minority who will rise up from their past of having been enslaved and segregated to become the next president. Oh, and the GOP are also cool like blacks. I guess….

  9. Ran Ari-Gur said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 9:46 pm

    @GeorgeW: No, that's a slightly different phrasal template. That is, there are two phrasal templates here: "X is the new Y", where X and Y are in the same general category, and "X is the new black", where X is anything whatsoever, such as "patriotism" or "selfishness" — and those are literally the first two abstract nouns I tried Googling.

    I guess the two templates are two different generalized versions of "X is the new black", where X is a color.

  10. Mr. Fnortner said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 10:52 pm

    It's apparent that the phrase does not semantically match the intent of the template "X is the new Y/Black", an unfortunate fault but not one likely to be noticed by many people. The intended meaning seems clear to me: it is in, au courant, with it, etc. for Black people to be in the GOP, or conversely, the GOP is cool or hip for now being the party for Black people. In essence it says ""GOP is the new (place/home/party if you are) Black".

  11. ShadowFox said,

    October 30, 2010 @ 11:10 pm

    @Kylopod–no they don't! It's clear as day! They are saying that the GOP is the future of Black as a group. Here, "Black" is certainly not a reference to color so much as a cultural identity. And the billboard states that the future of this collective Black is with the GOP.

    Yes, yes, I know, you were mocking the group for their cluelessness…

    But there is a hint of a philosophical–or philological–question here. It is not clear from the statement which semantic choice we are to make. "A is the new B" could mean that A is like what B used to be or it could mean–in the snowclonish way–that the qualities of A are now the qualities of B, or, finally, it could mean that whatever positive association you might have had with B, now you should have it with A. Note that any two of these are mutually contradictory, so the context must provide the semantic choice. It's like a word being untranslatable in isolation, but being perfectly understandable in context… Oh, wait! That's another thread.

  12. D.O. said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 3:07 am

    Google gives 95 hits for "black is new black", some of them dubious, but still…

  13. Peter Taylor said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 3:15 am

    D.O. had me worried for a bit, but "hits" was a typo for "khits", which is much easier to believe. I'm pretty sure I've seen "Black is the new black" as a newspaper headline at least once.

  14. D.O. said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 5:19 am

    Just check for yourself black is new black

  15. D.O. said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 5:23 am

    I'm sorry to say, but Google does not insert article by itself. Well, it makes it around 500 hits black is the new black

  16. J. Goard said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 5:46 am

    What ShadowFox said.

    The oddness for me comes from the sense of replacement, as per SF's second frame. "Don't worry about being (thinking of yourself as?) black anymore; identify with the GOP instead."

  17. Joe said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 8:33 am

    Somebody put a lot of thought into this. At one level, the phrase "the new black," means "fashionable", in the sense that the GOP has (ostensibly) replaced the Dems as the party for African Americans. At the same time, "the new black" appears to be a reference to the (again, ostensibly) new class of African American professionals, suggesting that this class should differentiate themselves from, well, African Americans who are not members of this class (or what some have called the "undeserving poor") by voting for the GOP instead of the Dems. (and I hope it is clear that I do not endorse this message)

  18. delagar said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 11:50 am

    Joe: You will, I hope, notice that only the men in that billboard picture are dressed as professionals? The women are dressed as what we might call members of the sex class. Hardly the undeserving poor, I agree, but not executives. And a very telling split, frankly, by whoever put this ad together.

  19. Rodger C said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 1:26 pm

    @dirk alan: Don't you mean irrefudiable?

  20. GeorgeW said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 2:00 pm

    @J. Goard: Yes, It does seem to suggest that black identity and GOP membership are mutually exclusive.

    @Joe: Maybe they are hinting at a class distinction: If one is affluent, even if black, one should identify as Republican.

    Would the GOP ever overly admit that it is the party of white ethnicity and affluence identity?

  21. groki said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 6:56 pm

    @GeorgeW: Would the GOP ever overly admit that it is the party of white ethnicity and affluence identity?

    suggestive (presumed) typo there: yeah, their orchestra of dog whistles does 'overly admit' quite a bit of that message–and fairly overtly, too.

  22. mike said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 10:29 pm

    Where here "the new black" appears to mean something like "the fashionable political party for blacks", I saw another article where "the new black" had nothing to do with black (color, people, etc.). In an article, the author laments the continued usage of ASCII, "…when Unicode has been the new black for most of the past decade."

    Here's the link:

    It seems we have a phrase template "X is the new Y", but also an idiom "X is the new black".

  23. Ben Zimmer said,

    October 31, 2010 @ 10:57 pm

    It seems we have a phrase template "X is the new Y", but also an idiom "X is the new black".

    Yes, as we've documented in several posts. See, for instance, this 2006 post by Arnold Zwicky, which includes these examples:

    Nudity was clearly the new black. (model Kate Moss naked at a photo shoot)

    Folk is the New Black (Janis Ian album released earlier this year)

    I hope you're eating organic! Because organic is th' new "Fifty" and th' new black. (Zippy on food)

    Fat is the new black. (designer Isaac Mizrahi on men's fashions)

  24. GeorgeW said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 1:40 pm

    Ah, so X is the new black where black = current fashion?

  25. Kylopod said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 3:38 pm


    Would the GOP ever overly admit that it is the party of white ethnicity and affluence identity?

    Their use of phrases like "class warfare" and "reverse racism" more or less hint at this reality. But in 2004, it looked like the GOP was making serious inroads with the Latino vote. In the last two years, featuring racially tinged attacks on the first Latino Supreme Court justice and Sharron Angle's dreadful ads about brown-skinned illegal immigrants, they seem to have thrown that potential away.

  26. Paul M said,

    November 1, 2010 @ 6:42 pm

    .Ah, so X is the new black where black = current fashion?

    This is how it is used but there is some considerable irony here. If someone says pink is the new black is probably safe to say that pink is currently fashionable (though it is not likely to stay that way). What they are actually doing is making a (hyperbolic) comparison: In fashion black is known for being ubiquitous and never going out of fashion as a thing you can't go wrong wearing: c.f. the 'little black dress' as a perennial fashion must have. So to say pink in the new black is to make the claim that pink has now usurped blacks previous position as a standard (which has never actually proven to be the case). I have no idea when it was first used but it quickly became a instantly recognizable cliche of fashion journalism (and generally a sure sign of hyperbole on the part of the author) to the extent where it tended to be used ironically or as a short hand for (this seasons) must have/sure thing. To engage in wild speculation I would say that this is the point at which it spread outwards propelled by its ubiquity in fashion journalism, though carrying an ironic inflection of hyperbole that was lost by the time by the time it reached the cloth ears of republican organizations coming on like an creepy uncle trying to impress with his knowledge of the hip jive talk (Do my prejudices look big in this?).

    "…when Unicode has been the new black for most of the past decade." is quite clever phrasing since it has long been promoted as the new standard and is now almost ubiquitous on computer systems, though its forever faced with ASCII as the dog that won't die.

  27. outeast said,

    November 2, 2010 @ 6:31 am

    @PaulM: I know it's snarky, but there's really no excuse for not knowing how and when the phrase originated and became popular – Prof Liberman explicitly linked to Dr Zimmer's post on exactly those subjects. Why not read it?

  28. Tom V said,

    November 3, 2010 @ 4:38 pm

    In the comic "Shoe" a couple of days ago:

    New mother: "like 3:00 AM is the new 10:00 AM".
    (It's actually more like the new 8:30, but in general this fits real life.)

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