Black excellence was initially used as a phrase to celebrate the successes of black people in a society that continues to insist in word and deed that black people’s lives are of less value and they contribute less to society. Enter black excellence to celebrate high levels of achievement and success among black people, to affirm them. For some reason it was limited to people of a specific social class, your doctors, lawyers, entrepreneurs, entertainers of all kinds, award-winning athletes, you get the drift. In recent years, people have begun to criticize the whole idea of having to prove that black people can do things and do them well, sorry excellently. Here are some of the criticisms people have about the concept as a whole.
Individualistic not about the community
Like the rest of the ideals underpinning capitalism, black excellence centers on the individual. We are encouraged to believe that individual wins are wins for the community. If a few black people can rise to the top and join the elite, it must mean the systemic things that were holding black people back have been eliminated a la the president is black so racism has been solved. Overall it says to everyone if African people can make it in the system, then anyone can. The American dream is real, systemic barriers are gone.
Slavery and colonialism completely destroyed colonized people’s psyche and sense of self. White people made sure black people internalized this inferiority. So black people are constantly trying to prove that they are valuable and sometimes that looks like trying to distinguish themselves as better than the rest, a version of the exceptional negro.
A narrow definition of success
The group who qualify to be celebrated is narrow. If you’re not some kind of high earner in your field who’s considered beautiful and famous, you may not qualify. It’s not about what you do so much as what you have to show for it, stuff. It doesn’t include community organisers and other people daily working to improve the community but includes billionaires and thieves who exploit the labour of black and brown people all over the world. It doesn’t include activists but it includes people with beyond questionable morals who’ve been accused of heinous crimes including murder and rape.
Dehumanizes black people
Black people are not only worth celebrating when they achieve the markers of success that capitalist society values like fame and wealth. Black people are valuable and they deserve respect, they deserve to live dignified lives free from all manner of oppression. Black people like all other people should be able to be mediocre as all get out and still be treated with basic human dignity.
Opinion: In Defense Of Nepo Babies
Joy Ride Podcast: You’re Wrong! Children Come Before Your Partner
Opinion: The Deception Of The Gig Economy