Warmed-over Myths of Black Wealth

Newsflash from CNBC's NEWBOs: If you're black and can't rap or play ball, forget about making it in America.

and entertainment as the most difficult way to achieve serious wealth, with the longest odds. The primary reasons to pursue a career in sports or entertainment is because you are good at it, and you like to do it—not because you have more than a prayer of ending up with Bob Johnson money. There are no athletes or entertainers on the most recent Forbes 400 list of the wealthiest Americans. (You needed a net worth of at least $1.3 billion to make the most recent list. Their combined net worth? $1.57 trillion.) I’ve personally come to suspect that black people are intentionally steered toward sports and entertainment to keep us away from the real sources of wealth in America.

Forget the fact that, as a television interviewer, Hawkins is a great newspaper journalist. Forget that there is nothing remotely new about a tiny percentage of black people from poor backgrounds suddenly achieving fame and fortune in sports and entertainment, often fulfilling the role of financial saviors for entire extended families. Forget the fact that there is nothing unusual about most of these NEWBOs being under the age of 40: sports and entertainment are youth-oriented industries—it’s extremely rare for a recording artist or athlete to maintain his or her earning power past the age of 35. (By the way, Bob Johnson is 62.) And don’t even get me started on the poor taste, if not outright insensitivity, of Hawkins focusing—as millions of Americans struggle through a devastating economic crisis—on how his subjects spend their money. (How many black kids could be put through college on the half-million dollars Cash Money’s Williams told Hawkins that his grill is worth? Williams has the right to spend his money as he pleases. But what’s the point of Hawkins celebrating it? Why is it that when wealthy whites are interviewed, the focus is on how they made their money, but wealthy blacks are usually stereotypically profiled as profligate spenders? When did CNBC start airing MTV Cribs?)

To be fair, to really identify the wealthiest black Americans would take a lot of digging—after all, truly wealthy black people, (including many of the corporate CEOs, Wall Street executives and owners of Black Enterprise 100s companies featured in Black Enterprise) are not eager to draw attention to their wealth. They’re quite happy to let Baby Williams and Terrell Owens get all the attention—and aggravation—that comes when people realize you’re earning big money. But isn’t that the kind of thorough, hard-hitting, uncompromising financial reporting CNBC is supposed to be known for?

NEWBOs is of the kind of check-the-box, toss-the-reporting-standards programming that black Americans have come to expect—and too often, regret—starting around the King Holiday in January through the month of February. To me, it feels like the show was created to serve two purposes: as a barely disguised infomercial for Hawkins’ book and a quick and easy way for CNBC to offer programming for Black History Month (whew—made it with two days to spare!).

Sorry CNBC—that’s not good enough. And no using the flack you’re going to get, and deservedly so, for lowering the CNBC bar with NEWBOs as an excuse to do no programming about black people at all.

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  • Andrew

    Alfred, this is an exceptional critique on a subject which troubled me greatly as I anticipated this term “NEWBOs” being “blessed” by the usually outstanding CNBC. I find the entire concept disturbing on many levels–but above all I am disturbed at having to question the editorial integrity of a news organization of which I had held in the highest regard prior to tonight’s reporting.

  • Victory Truth

    Thought I was watching BET or MTV. A wasted recording on my DVR.

  • Emmanuel

    Alfred, thank you for keeping us lucid and focused on the REAL Prize! Black Enterprise must be commended for helping our community understand how true wealth is measured and offering strategies for building wealth without selling our collective souls.
    That’s why I subscribe and will continue to.

  • Reg

    I feel when they air programs like that they are brainwashing our children the only way they will succeed and achieve financial freedom is with sports or entertainment. We need to see more images of business professionals and entrepreneurs in the media not someones crib and cars our kids need to see how to become wealthy and keep it not how to waste it.

  • Ify

    I definitely felt very–can I say–EMBARRASSED last night. Not only did I have serious pangs from CNNs “Black in America’s” re-airing last night (I missed it the first time), but I received a call that I should watch a “different” black program–“NEWBOs.” The arrogance of the label “black overclass” is sadly very cheap and equally very damaging. Have we “arrived” as a people to even acknowledge that such a class exists? Is the presence of 2 billionaires satisfactory to us? And is there no need for a simultaneous conversation on fiscal responsibility, group image, and consequences of exploiting YOUR OWN to make a buck (sorry, but Mr. Johnson and Cash Money DO NOT exemplify the American Dream).

  • Sakina

    Thanks for the review. I missed it but I see that I didn’t miss anything that would inspire me, since I can’t sing or play a sport.

  • Sakina

    the real problem with these messages about wealth creation being the highest among athletes and musicians is that it stifles the motivation of the rest of us who can’t jump or sing. so i’m glad u cleared it up so we can keep on keeping on to close that wealth gap.

  • Beverley Mitchell

    I agree with the editor’s comments wholeheartedly, here are my comments left on the CNBC website:

    I am very disappointed in CNBC on its new documentary “NEWBO”. CNBC considers itself to be a premier business channel but have chosen to cover the all too familiar cliché of Blacks in sports and entertainment instead of covering the true entrepreneurial nature of Blacks in America, even in the age of Obama. We’ve heard time and time again that Black America wealth is held mainly by sports and entertainment figures, however most well read, educated folks that would watch CNBC know that this is not true. There are real stories out there about the real Black Overclass and it is not centered around sports and
    entertainment. I will not watch this glitzy, attempt to grab ratings. If you want a solid story on the black, entrepreneurial experience pick up an issue of Black Enterprise.

  • Alfred, this is excellent. Put this one on the TV show and tell the real story. It is so true about truly wealthy Black people wanting to stay under the radar.

  • Jean Maurice

    Unfortunately it is sad that they like to portray this image of becoming wealthy for blacks is to be a athlete or be in the entertainment industry in witch most of us don’t have the ability or the opportunity to even get our foot in the door . No I want to hear more about the black business man who struggle but made it and is now wiring the checks. This type of program would better for our kids because it would show them that there can be success in hard work. Yes CNBC drop the ball on this one

  • Alfred, you said it! The real measure of wealth is not gross income, but net worth—a person’s assets minus their liabilities. The Hood Rich mode of success is pointless. CNBC dropped the ball just like CNN did with their Black in America series.

  • Huey

    Well wakeup!

    We are living in a time of white racism all over the world. The whole earth has been colonized and we analze the situation from within as if it is not a war against all people of color. Our leadership is asleep and miseducated. When will we begin to search from within?


  • Thank you Alfred! You hit the nail on the head. I was very offended by this “special” and I think CNBC should be ashamed of themselves. Lee Hawkins does himself a disservice by passionately bringing us thing nonsense. I was equally appalled by Bob Johnson who seemingly said that he encourages people to get into sports & entertainment to make their money. This coming from a man I long since admired for his business acumen. Then again, isn’t he the same one who gave us the hot garbage that is BET? We deserve better. CNBC’s thinnly veiled attempt at pacifying us with this “special” in light of Black History Month and at the very end of the month at that is sad and pathetic. How about we get some more real reporters of color on there. Poor Bertha Coombs is all by her lonesome. I’m insulted. CNBC, Lee Hawkins…DO BETTER!

  • John Troupe

    Alfred, Thanks for your commentary. My sentiments are very similar to yours. I did not watch the program because of after seeing the previews and realizing Bob Johnson was the only true non-entertainer to be featured, I asked myself, what’s the point? I saw the program as a feeble attempt at rebutting CNN’s program “Black in America” and as an even more misguided attempt to show the other end of the spectrum. I also viewed the program as some what of a setback to the Black Community at large because, as I have along with other Blacks in the communities in which I’ve lived, have tried to encourage our youth and reinforce the fact of we can be and are more than just entertainers and athletes and have made significant contributions to the world! And as we now have a man such President Obama standing at the fore front of this nation and the world to remind us everyday that “Yes we can” be more than entertainers and athletes and we shall be, the NEWBO’s story just highlight’s how some whites view us and how little they understand us. Now one comment I found equally disturbing was your comment regarding the reluctance of our wealthy Black folk to come out of the shadows and add some validity to the fact that they are proof we can be more than athletes and entertainers. As a retired Air Force Senior Non-Commission Officer (SNCO), it was always encouraging to me see a black Senior Officer or SNCO because, I knew they worked hard to get to where they were. And now as a small business owner seeing those successful Black CEO’s and Entrepreneurs is just as encouraging to me and the generations to come behind. Maybe, BE could host some kind of forum for wealthy and affluent Black CEO’s, Entrepreneurs, athletes and entertainers to encourage them to share. For me, not there money but, there story(testimony) of how they made it, despite the many struggles and obstacles they faced! Thanks again for your commitment to our community.

  • Doug Young

    Unfortunately,I did not get a chance to view the program;However,I am not surprise of countless networks continuosly showing blacks as the bottom of the barrel. Fortunately, Black Enterprise is doing its part to correct the message and reveal the real truth of our Wealth, Power and intellect.

  • @John Troupe, There are black CEOs and entrepreneurs willing to share their struggles, obstacles, strategies and triumphs. Of course, we feature them each month in Black Enterprise magazine. But more to your point, they gather each year to share their experiences at the Black Enterprise Entrepreneurs Conference, which will be held in Detroit, May 17-20, 2009. (Click on EVENTS for more info.) Also, each week we produce a show called the Black Enterprise Business Report, which profiles rising small entrepreneurs as well as established CEOs. Perhaps we should encourage CNBC to look at carrying the show, so that the accomplishments of blacks in business is covered year-round, not just as a “special” for Black History Month.

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  • I agree, I expected to see P.Diddy, Oprah, Don Peebles and perhaps Magic. Not these folly rappers. Bob Johnson was the only decent one.

    They could have did a better job

  • Kellykel

    Alfred, I agree wholeheartedly. As a black woman, I was totally insulted by the entire prorgam. Bob Johnson and Cash Money Records have built their fortunes by traficking in gross stereotypes about black women and black men as being oversexed, criminally minded and grotesquely obsessed with material gains. CNBC should be ashamed and I hope you sent your editiorial to them. Just the term NEWBOS made me cringe, so low brow. And, other than Kirk Franklin, Lebron James, and Bob Johnson, the tacky display of wealth by the others was so embarrassing. As the old saying goes, “Old money whispers, new money shouts”.

  • I just sent an email to CNBC about NEWBOS and I included a link to Alfred’s editorial:
    To Whom It May Concern At CNBC,

    As an educated black woman, I was totally insulted by the entire prorgam. Bob Johnson and Cash Money Records have built their fortunes by trafficking in gross stereotypes about black women and black men as being oversexed, criminally minded, and grotesquely obsessed with material gains. Yet, the host does not even address that elephant in the room.

    CNBC should be ashamed of producing a show like this that perpetuates the stereotype that the path to wealth for black men is with a basketball, baseball, or rap lyrics that defame black men and women. And,if you are a black woman, just forget about it because you don’t exist anyway.

    Why not contact Black Enterprise and get a list of black male and female millionaires who are educated and work in Corporate America? Or call some of the Friends of Obama so America can see the other side of black success and wealth through education? That probably would have required too much work on CNBC’s part. And since when did CNBC turn into MTV Cribs? I cringed in horror while the host interviewed the Cash Money crew. The tattoos, the disgusting mouth grills, the gaudy jewelry was painful to watch.

    The fight against black sterotype and black pathology never ends. As the Obamas shatter stereotypes, CNBC merely reinforced them.

    Just the term NEWBOS made me cringe. It’s so low brow, so tacky, and dare I say, ghetto? And, other than Kirk Franklin, Lebron James, and Bob Johnson, the tacky display of wealth by the others was so embarrassing. As the old saying goes, “Old money whispers, new money shouts”.

    Many affluent and educated blacks are equally disgusted by your program. Check out what the blogosphere is saying: http://blackenterprise.com/blogs/2009/02/27/warmed-over-myths-of-black-wealth/

    CNBC has lost many viewers because of this NEWBOS debacle. I have asked my family, friends, and colleagues to get their financial information from Bloomberg and CNN.

  • Bob

    You are right my friend we are being brainwashed

  • Teresa

    I didn’t like the term “Newbo” reminded me of “Sambo”.

    The host/interviewer is on another planet because he certaintly can’t be serious

    I’d like to see a contrast, a tv program that shows how other blacks have become wealthy in careers other than sports and entertainment

  • Leslie

    Hmmm…and why doesn’t TVOne or BET do a program on black wealth to fill this woeful gap? This is a perfect opportunity for a black network (and I do realize that BET is no longer black-owned) to put itself into a niche where there is no competition, and where it would have an audience that is receptive to the message. Instead, TVOne chooses to rerun old black shows with ridiculous stereotypes (Dyno-MITE!!!). They will obviously never cater to us, so we should cater to ourselves. Maybe Earl Graves should start a network.

  • Kimberly Stansell

    Your comments summarize percisely my reaction when I began watching the first 15 minutes of this “special” (and then turned it off). Thank you for calling out CNBC!

  • Barbara A. M.

    Excellent analysis. Even the most minimal research of back issues of Black Enterprise and Ebony magazines would have yielded a few more representative subjects – or even asking his Black friends – if he has any.

    What you end up with is opportunism and sensationalism at its worst. Lee Hawkins just wanted to meet these people, most likely, but worst of all, he continues in a long tradition of making fun of and diminishing African Americans at every opportunity. It comes so naturally to people like him that I’m sure he’s surprised – maybe even shocked – at this kind of reaction. He should check out Chris Rock on the subject of rich v. wealthy. And next time he should do a little more homework. Thank you, Alfred Edmond, for taking him to task.

  • Barbara A. M.

    …And one more thing. “NEWBO”? “OVERCLASS”? A thinly-vieled attempt to come up with something to rhyme with Sambo and turn these people into “boys” which is what certain people persist in ascribing to Black Men.

    I don’t want to take anything away from the people profiled. They worked hard to get where they are, but come on. It’s just like the New York Post cartoon. Do they really think we can’t read between the lines?!

    Do a program on the white overclass. That would be illuminating.

  • Nancy Brown

    I applaud Mr. Edmond and his on-target article. Some of us at Black Enterprise previewed CNBC’s NEWBOs: The Rise of America’s New Black Overclass and we all had the same reaction: disappointment and near disgust. Most of us perceived Lee Hawkins as an awkward and terrible interviewer, we were insulted by his choices of who and what represents us in the black community—his in-awe demeanor of the $500,000 platinum and diamond “grill” that defaces rapper Bryan “Baby” William’s mouth was puzzling.;But even more distressing was the obvious omission of successful females. As a staff with a higher percentage of women than men, we were very sensitive to the fact that there were no women profiled, that is, unless you’re married to a NEWBO. I don’t want rapper misogyny or athletic machismo defining who we are as black Americans; that world they live in transitory and limited. It’s bothersome to know that Hawkins, as an African American and who should know better, chose this avenue to depict us as limited buffoons. However, in this 21st Century, it bothers me even more that a major news outlet like CNBC would endorse such trash.

  • Howard

    Thank you Mr. Edmond, I also appreciate your informative observation of the sterotypical NEWBO program. I did not see it, as I do not reside in the United States anymore because of these very sterotypes that continue to brainwash generations upon generations of our children and the rest of the world as well. As an international educator, I was surprised by the number of questions and the misconceptions many children have about the African Community. These types of programs continue to perpetuate the myth that all we can do is jump, run, sing and kill (thanks to gangsta rap). I am so thankful GOD has shown the youth in our community and all underclass children for that matter, and the world, with the election of President Obama, that ‘school is cool!’ Why can’t they do programs that have shown the increase in academic achievement in our communities since his election? Wouldn’t that be a positive spin for Black History Month? A sign of hope? A belief that the gap will continue to close when we are priortizing what is important? But again, isn’t the whole underlying purpose to undermine us from using our brains, (our biggest asset) to achieve not only wealth, but a sense of purpose and pride for ones life? Thanks for speaking out and educating the rest of us with your critique!

  • Dianne D.

    Thank you for exposing the ill-conceived idea behind this “news” show. I hope that they are listening / reading all of these comments to see how they could have produced a show that would be truly informational and positive.

    They missed the mark by a country mile!

  • ulysses

    Nothing but net on this one Alfred.lol

  • Walter M Hanson

    Mr Edmund, I’m in total aggreement with your take on the Lee Hawkins piece. I was quite dissapointed with the content and probably should have spent more time watching the previews because then I would have seen more than just Kirk Franklin’s comments, which initially persuaded me to tell my children to watch it. I wish I had a radio station or some other profound method of public expression of opinion, because there “are” solutions. I’m working on getting them out soon. I look forward to seeing your informative opinions on CNBC’s Your Business, and the Black Enterprise Business Report. My entrepreneurial mind is always hard at work, and your advise and your perspectives help greatly.

    Walter H., BCE

  • Hello Mr. Alfred Edmund, Jr.,

    Yet another excellent post. I agree with the previous comments. Most of the truly wealthy people I know don’t advertise their financial status with materials things. Many are low-key, unassuming, and extremly comfortable dressing down instead of dressing to impress.

    We still have a long ways to go. Nevertheless, we’ve come to far by faith to turn back now.


  • I think the spotlight on athletes & entertainers is how those subjects came 2 rise. How many Lebron James can u find in other ethnic backgrounds with the same media attention? What that reporter used was the example that was right in his face instead of doing deeper research. With that said as African Americans we should definitely continue take advantage of any opportunity we have to lead the financial secure lives most of us want 2 live. Perfect example: writing a book about my experience as a young rookie cop is an opportunity that has the potential to help me start building a secure financial structure, but everything I do after will determine my actual financial growth & success. book titled “Through The Eyes of A Rookie” by Benjamin Mouzone

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  • Fionna

    CNBC just had to broadcast the show monkey’s. The key to wealth in this country is: 1) Education 2) Entreprenuership and 3) Perserverance. I am sorry, but I don’t support the entertainment or sports industry in any form or fashion whatsoever! The entertainment and sports industry are poisoning our youth’s mind and the long-term ramifications are not very bright for black youth. I am very disappointed to see black youth at good schools (even private) schools want to grow up and emulate the foolish garbage that they see on tv. It is time to set our sites on something much higher than the same old entertainment and sports industries. No one is stressing academia and entreprenuership. The future of Black America looks really bright.

  • Fionna

    Look what I just found as I entered the Yahoo homepage. Sports is not the key to wealth after all.


  • I am a Black American international aviation company owner, and 1 time I met with a group of all white investors when I first started. They asked me “What are you doing in aviation anyway?” I face this every day because of the shows such as the NEWBOs.. I am currently still seeking investors, http://www.airtours-usa.com email flymcghee@hotmail.com

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