Why Black Excellence Matters
It started as a phrase the black community used amongst themselves when saluting peers who portrayed great qualities and abilities. Now black excellence is a phrase that has been officially coined to celebrate people of colour globally.
The truth of the matter is that society deems a particular skin tone or shade more relevant, while others are swept under the rug and drowned out in the media. While some are treated as achievers for purely existing, others have to perform grandiose achievements just to get a pat on the back.
In a country where they are intersecting identities that exist simultaneously, sometimes who fits under the racial group “black” can be a sensitive topic. Others prefer to not be classified “black” and others who recognise our shared historic and present socio-economic and political marginalisation as a group do. Regardless of how we are different, it does not preclude us from celebrating and honouring the cultural richness of our distinct black, Indian and coloured heritage concurrently.
Looking back, how I understood the world was through two particular socially constructed views – racial and ethnic identity. Racial identity, relating to responses to racism and prejudice, while ethnic identity (also considered as tribalism in Africa) has included a sense of belonging to a group connected by heritage, values, traditions, languages, cuisines, spiritual beliefs and practices. This is not hate speech or one with the intention to divide, it is a pro-black piece.
Despite one’s socio-economic background, every ethnic person has experienced ethnicity as a burden. Some have experienced it while trying to make appointments with real estate agents to find accommodation in places where there are not predominantly ethnic people, while others are constantly insulted about their appearance instead of being celebrated for surpassing their colleagues in a particular profession.
In a world that tells people of colour that they are not enough, the notion of black excellence matters because it is a construct of a collective self-esteem. It encompasses positive feelings and pride towards one’s racial-ethnic group and has shown tremendous influence and pride among all ethnic groups, and most importantly the youth.
The notion of black excellence matters for both the achiever and the racial-ethnic group, because the achievement feels like one that belongs to all.
Not only does the achiever feel a sense of duty and pride to continue surpassing their own dreams, but the racial-ethnic group feels as if “one of them” did it, so they can too.
It allows parents who are raising young ethnic children to uproot the construct of beauty and success that society deems ideal but to confidently purchase a barbie doll that looks just like their daughters or have their sons dress up as a respected ethnic leader at school. If our parents and generations before them did so much with so little, who are we to do so little with so much? It is not difficult for ethnic groups to overcome adversity, the challenge is for ethnic groups to not slip back into self-doubt and failure. This is why black excellence is a phrase that needs to be lived and repeated constantly.
If we didn’t have black excellence, I fear we wouldn’t have months like “Black History Month” in America and “Heritage Month” in South Africa where we embrace the opportunity to bask in black history, discuss the stories of black leaders in their respective careers, and share the legacies of our ancestors across countless platforms. If we didn’t have black excellence I fear we wouldn’t have people of colour on the front page of leading websites and newspapers, celebrating academics like South Africa’s very own Professor Bongani Mayosi, who has discovered a new gene that is the major cause of death among young people and athletes. If it wasn’t for black excellence, a kid like Siyabulela Xuza from Mthatha wouldn’t believe it was possible to one day be a Harvard engineering graduate and later be NASA’s youngest member of the Africa 2.0 Energy Advisory Panel.
This is why “Black Excellence” is a phrase that needs to be lived.
A life without celebrating the very things that we as people of colour were constantly told we could never be would be tragic. Some of the very things we use daily that were invented by black people would have never existed if they did not believe in themselves enough to pursue their ideas. If it wasn’t for “Black Excellence”, we wouldn’t know our potential and make our dreams a reality.
Anelisa Mangcu is a Copywriter at Fort.