I recently read an article posted last fall titled “ Is Black Excellence Killing Us ?” My first thought was, “…nigga what ?” Just from the title itself but I decided to keep going out of curiosity. Here’s an excerpt from the article:
“Black exceptionalism is a specter of our community that harms us as much as we imagine it helps. It is the idea that by virtue of being Black, we are gifted, burdened or obligated to excel. Anything short of one’s best is a divergent off the straight and narrow set up for us by whatever generation suffered before us – and a dishonor to what we owe them.
The history of Black exceptionalism and Black excellence can be associated with early philosophies of Black culture and the rise of Blackness as a distinct ethnic identity. During the early 20th century of Black culture, there was a clear agenda to re-frame the narrative of what it meant to be Black as we distanced ourselves from rural life and into urbanized existences. For many, it meant climbing to the apex of what America had to offer and carving out a space where it was impossible to deny African-Americans as contributing members of society.
Today, Black excellence has mutated into something horrifying: ill-defined expectations of grandeur. We attribute Black excellence largely by the situational outcomes of Black life and Black experience. It’s not a participation trophy, but it also isn’t a “First-in-Show” ribbon. It’s an epithet or a title that requires a communal agreement more so than any amount of schooling.
To highlight the hypocrisy of Black excellence and its damages: despite Black women holding higher rates of college attendance, but of graduation and collective GPA, they’re also increasingly pigeonholed culturally for their escalating achievement. At the same time, Black women are also perceived as far more unsuccessful.
Black womens’ successes are trivialized at best and at worse posed as a threat towards the greater African-American community. Thus, how many avenues for Black excellence is there offered that also doesn’t, in some way, “threaten” the community and are seen as something worthy of this undefined goal considering even greatness is seen as the usual?
Perhaps, that’s the key issue with Black excellence. It’s always pursuing the vanity of the “First Black” to do anything. It transforms personal achievements into “already trodden paths”. Even achievements like a college degree have become trivialized next to the expected greatnesses set to follow it.”
It’s a hard pill to swallow but we cannot deny the fact that many valid points were made here. A lot of what we’ve been deeming excellence is less than and being celebrated for mediocrity only perpetuates mediocrity. But at the same time, what about speaking life into people and giving them hope ? If you hear and see your entire life that black men are “thugs” you will often become the product of your environment, because representation matters. So is it foolish to assume that if we speak excellence up that more of us will become excellent ?
It’s understood that not everyone will reach a high status of almost surreal grandeur but what about shooting for the stars and at least landing in the sky ? When we highlight firsts, we show others that something is now possible whereas we didn’t believe it was before.
At the end of the day perception is everything. Two things can and always will be true at once. To some the Black Excellence movement is discouraging and to others it’s the light they needed to ignite a life changing fire.
What do you think of when you think of black excellence ?