Writing about Black people again you say!?!?! Yes.
Basically, this Black excellence thing is really interesting to me. I think a lot of opinions surrounding it are really polarised. On the one hand, some people think black excellence is amazing and sets a good example for our community. On the other hand, some find it problematic and make it seem like Black people are essentially saying “I’m just as good as you massa!!”. I think each view sort of makes sense, but I’d like to offer my view.
What does Black excellence mean at the moment?
Perhaps my view is narrow but I think, generally speaking, Black excellence is defined by things that are praised in this wonderful capitalist economy! Academic achievement (Oxbridge/Brampton Manor), making it into the corporate world, entering a higher tax bracket, beating your non-Black peers in areas which they dominate. Now I’m not saying these are terrible things. My question is are we trying to be like rich white men? Kidding. My actual question is, what matters to us as a community and what role does our success play in that?
While it is excellent to “beat the odds”, what else does it do? Representation does matter, and we absolutely do need Black people in corporate spaces and higher education, but I think there’s more to this that is too often ignored.
What’s a better way to define Black excellence? (imo)
I think that the society we live in defines success in a pretty simple way, success is basically just having a career that pays really well and if you’re lucky, loving what you do. Even though with my generation there is more weight added to loving what you do, love doesn’t pay the bills as my mother says (she’s Ghanaian). Such a simple definition makes the path to success relatively clear, you go to school, you work hard, you get good grades, you go to uni, you work hard again, you get good grades again, you graduate, you find a job and then you make lots of money and become rich enough to start tax evading. The hard part is the tax-evading. Kidding, again.
The hard part is all the hard work (who would have thought?). It’s the countless hours of revision, studying a curriculum that looks nothing like you, maybe you work a job, your parents are on your ass about chores, etc. The list goes on. I’m sure a lot of us have heard the saying that you have to be twice as good to get half as far and to be honest, I think a lot of us have felt that. So obviously being successful in this sense earns you the Black excellence badge. You deserve it. You have suffered.
But do you deserve it thoughhhhhhh?
I think Black excellence is how much of an asset you are to your community.
If you’ve done all the work climbing up the corporate ladder just to snatch the ladder away when you get to the top, then you are a word that rhymes with spoon. And it’s not goon. What is the point in working so hard to do so little for anyone but yourself? Does that seem like excellence?
And what about our activists and community workers? What about the people in our community who look out for us but aren’t seen as excellent because they don’t dress fancy or dominate in their industries. What about the artists? The non-academics? They need to be recognised too. Just because we can’t quantify their value in terms of their earnings doesn’t mean we should overlook them. The same way Black people in education and the corporate world are more than just their grades and wages.
This isn’t to say that non-corporate Black people are never recognised, but it’s just that Black excellence is predominantly presented to us as rich Black people. And Martin Luther King.
Just because you do well doesn’t mean you do good. And in a time where we still have to be doubly better, I genuinely believe it’s our duty to look out for each other rather than be complacent with our own achievements.
How much of the good stuff is happening?
There are tons of great programs, internships, insight events etc. that allow young Black people in particular to improve their social mobility BUT a lot of them are incredibly elitist. Let’s say you have 3 groups of young Black people and let’s say they’re all at GCSE/6th Form age (for the sake of the example there are 3 groups obviously this isn’t literally the case but it helps demonstrate my point) :
- Group 1 – Gifted Academically (The A/A* type)
- Group 2 – Giften Artistically (E.g. Writers, Music makers, Painters)
- Group 3 – Haven’t discovered what their craft is yet
Group 1 tends to have it pretty good in terms of how they are received by the community and education, particularly when the system of education best suits your abilities, is always encouraged. We see this all the time, especially on platforms like LinkedIn or Twitter on A-Level results day.
Group 2 tends to have it a little harder. I can imagine it being fairly difficult for Black parents, in particular, to encourage the arts when their child shows an interest and I know a lot of people who have had to bear the brunt of this. Not only that but making music, for example, is always seen as just a hobby for most as opposed to something that they genuinely could make a living off of. Now unlike Group 1, most schools don’t offer opportunities for these kids to artistically thrive. Whilst their Group 1 peers are applying for an array of summer schools and internships that they are readily presented with, Group 2 has to figure out an entire industry on their own. I don’t know about you but it was extremely rare for me to see any opportunities for creative industries at school pop up, and this was not because there weren’t any.
“Well not everyone can make it in music!”, well not everyone can become a CEO or an investment banker either but people don’t seem to keep that same energy.
And then if you’re in Group 3 you’re basically punished for not knowing what you want to do with the majority of your life when you’ve only lived a minority of it. It’s ludicrous. It seems like when it comes to tackling careers there’s always an assumption that you know what you want to do so that when an opportunity is presented to you, you just take it. Like if you’re broadly interested in Engineering, there are an array of different things you can sign up for. But if you have no idea, you have to select from the narrow industries you’re presented with at school and just pray that something sticks. Who is going to take the time to tell these kids they don’t have to have it all figure out? That a lot of successful people who love their jobs peaked “late”?
How does Black excellence tie into all of this? Attitudes towards success start at a young age.
My general point with the examples is a lot of good is happening for the Group 1’s, and that’s great. But there are other avenues to explore and it’s up to schools, mentors and parents to present their children with a map that has more than 3 roads on it (Medicine, Engineering and Finance are the 3 roads if you didn’t already know). Even in saying this, the opportunities presented are so elitist that value-added is completely ignored. What about the students who are not getting A’s and A*’s, they might not be working any less hard, they might not have any less to offer than their “smarter” peers yet they will be denied access to experiences they deserve because they are already just not good enough. What message does this send? This trickle-down economics of harnessing the best of the best and investing loads into them doesn’t work if we want to look at the bigger picture of where we see our community in the future. This sort of progress is bottom-up.
To put it simply, who needs sponsorship the most? The Oxbridge student who is guaranteed employability or the young Musician who can’t afford studio time but needs it? You could argue that you can have both, but do you need both? There is no point in an altruism that isn’t effective.
We should be avoiding unjust hierarchies within our groups, not perpetuating them.
If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go together. – African Proverb