In today's digitally driven, snap-judgment world, virtually every major product, company or institution has a "brand," i.e., a popular reputation by which it is known, for better or worse. The strength of a brand today determines levels of consumer support and the ability of political parties and candidates to attract voters (as in "Brand Obama" or "Brand Gingrich"). It also impacts potential for government funding, and even the ongoing quality of media coverage.
Over the past 20 years, or so, China has changed its brand from being a heavily populated but marginally important global player to being seen now as the world's most important exporter and economic engine.
With that new "brand," China has been able to create a new, more respected global reputation for itself, including the image of dominant military capacity, whether it's actually true or not.
Over the same period, African Americans have done an absolutely abysmal job of managing our own brand, and it's now costing us dearly.
When most people in this country think about the mass African-American population, they automatically conjure up images that include "unemployable," "uneducated," "incarcerated," "irresponsible," "lack of ambition" and "economically marginal."
Accurate description or not, that "brand," perpetuated and enhanced by largely negative media coverage and our own lack of involvement in racial reputation management, has stamped Black folks as a less-valued commodity in the United States. As such, even when we want jobs, people have an excuse for not offering them to us; when we seek political support, candidates, more and more, don't want to be seen with us publicly.
The "Black American brand" more and more each day, therefore, is creating the new Black American reality.
Even worse, there seems to be no group and precious few individuals today serving as unabashed advocates for building the "Black American brand."
At one time, while we were still largely poor, we were nevertheless seen as people who could be successfully transitioned into the economy, who wanted to get ahead, and who were capable of making a valuable contribution.
That was during a period when the "Black American brand" was being attentively managed by civil rights leaders, church pastors, elected officials, community activists and business leaders. Today our reputation is being largely unmanaged, and is generally seen as undesirable and fading fast.