Academia, Race

Who does Black excellence look like?

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, 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 arguably 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.

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.

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

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