Hosted by journalist Lee Hawkins of The Wall Street Journal
, "NEWBO: The Rise of America's New Black Overclass" is a 43-minute CNBC special aired in February 2009 that sheds light on the nascent trend of black people joining the list of the super wealthy. The show is based on Hawkins' book of the same title, and the term "NEWBO" (not to be confused with the "New England Women Business Owners") was coined by Hawkins. Most NEWBOs are self-made, young, and also grew up poor, although it is not a requirement since the term only refers to wealth itself, and not how it is made. The content of the show is almost exclusively comprised of stories and interviews with 6 black multimillionaires:
- Basketball player Lebron James
- Baseball player Torii Hunter
- Gospel recording artist Kirk Franklin
- Entrepreneur and BET Founder Bob Johnson
- Football player Terrell Owens
- The Williams Brothers, owners of Cash Money Records
At one time, you could watch the whole video for free on: Hulu
. If it is not available then you can buy it on Amazon
, or watch partial clips on CNBC
This show was horrible. Despite recognizing - over and over - the well-known phenomenon of super-wealthy blacks being disproportionately represented in the sports and entertainment industry, the show nonetheless chooses those very kinds of people to use as examples of black wealth.
The show profiles the unapologietic high-spending habits of The Williams Brothers, one of whom has $500,000 worth of diamonds in his teeth. This embarassing display of spending just reinforces the cliché of the black rapper with a big gold chain but small bank account. The show tries to justify the Williams Brothers' flaunting of their wealth by pointing out that it is part of their strategic plan of "lifestyle marketing". But this just doesn't cut it, in my opinion.
Hawkins tells how Lebron James is using his celebrity endorsements to leverage his wealth, similar to Michael Jordan's ground-breaking "Air Jordan" marketing strategies. (Although Jordan's use of fame to create a personal brand was not totally original, it was different in it's scale and scope, and represented a quantum leap in the trend of branding and marketing celebrities.) But the show only gave superficial coverage to Lebron's actual business life, namely his company, LRMR.
The show's main message, despite being very simple (blacks are joining the super-wealthy), still manages to get jumbled at certain points. When Hawkins cites the fact that there are only 3 black billionaires, he uses this fact to point out "how far we [black people] have to go." That statement does more to promote class domination, rather than racial-economic progress.
In addition to the content of the show being horrible, the style of the show was also horrible - for a couple of reasons. First, Hawkins fawns all over his subjects, and second, he spends as much time talking as his guests.
The most glaring weakness of the show was that it shed no light on the main mechanisms of wealth creation - that is, ownership and leadership. With regard to ownership, half of the people profiled in the show were simply high-paid laborers. Any business owner will immediately recognize how much of a glaring error this is. Even if someone makes $20 million per year playing baksetball, that money goes away the second that they retire. But if someone creates a company that lasts forever, those profits will continue into perpetuity. With regard to leadership, the fruits of collective labor can't be realized if one isn't able to get other people to work for you. A sole proprietor who starts and runs a company by himself will rarely amass a fortune of more than a few million dollars.
There wasn't even a single thing about the show that I found valuable. The interview with Bob Johnson was semi-interesting when he talked about how wealthy blacks felt a much stronger sense to use their wealth for a social cause. The most interesting part, which should have been given more time, was how Bob Johnson talked about how being a black billionaire was lonely because there is literally only one other black billionaire in the U.S. (Oprah Winfrey). Out of all of the people profiled, Johnson gave off the distinct vibe of being a "real" (for lack of a better word) wealthy person.