The Good And Bad Of “Black Excellence”

In today’s society, the term “Black Excellence” is often used when celebrating the achievements of Black people within the American community. While this phrase has no specific origin, the intention behind its use seems to be genuinely positive. While it is imperative to acknowledge the achievements of black individuals in this society structured for them to fail, is it possible that the term “Black Excellence” is hurting the black community more than it is upholding and celebrating us? To understand and answer this question, one must first understand both the good and bad implications in the use of this phrase.

Firstly, what is “Black Excellence”? Urban dictionary defines Black Excellence as “Someone that is black and portrays great qualities and abilities that make the black community proud.”However, this definition fails to fully grasp the meaning and importance of the phrase black excellence and its significance when used to talk about blacks achieving things. When describing the meaning of black excellence, one author states, “Black excellence is, in fact, our ancestor’s wildest dreams. It is what we, as people of African descent, strive for each and every day. It is the lifeblood of what keeps us going when it seems our humanity is being questioned. Black excellence is me and every other Black person working towards the advancement of our people (Anya).” This definition equates Black excellence to more of an action than “a catchy hashtag or words written across the front of a hooded sweatshirt (Anya).” This type of black excellence is beneficial to the black community because it equities this excellence to a black individual upholding his/her community, as opposed to a single action which primarily benefits that one individual. However, “Black Excellence” can also be perceived as mentality instead of an act or set of acts.

 The perception of “Black Excellence” as a mentality completely alters its impact on the black community as a whole. As a mindset, Black Excellence is defined by one author as “the mindset, backed by continuous action, to look within ourselves and act in ways that progress our communities without discrediting the effect of forces outside of our communities (Debotch).” This viewpoint changes the impact of the phrase black excellence because by equating the word to a mindset expressed through continuous action it no longer limits black excellence to singular actions, but a literal lifestyles, essentially promoting black self-love and solidarity while simultaneously acknowledging all the roadblocks placed in our way by systemic racism within America. With these roadblocks recognized Black Excellence as a mindset allows for blacks to celebrate their achievements and the achievements of their peers against the backdrop of a race-based society structured to hinder the progression of blacks, while removing the implications of complacency associated with black excellence being used to describe a singular action, not a set of actions or continued action. This use of “Black Excellence” as a term used to describe a singular work is where the potential for this phrase to be restraining to the Black community lies.

            How could a phrase with such good intention inadvertently hurt the black community? Well, the phrase itself is not the issue, its how it may be used that poses this question. A prime example of this can be seen in the use of Black Excellence when celebrating a black individual getting into college. When looking at the statistics for enrollment in colleges, we see that “Forty-two percent of white students aged 18 to 24 were enrolled in college in 2013, compared to 34 percent of black and Hispanic students that age, according to the U.S. Department of Education (Parks).” With these statistics in mind, it seems reasonable to equate a black individual getting into college to excellence, as it is clear that people of color entering higher education has yet to become a normality in American society. However, just because it isn’t the norm doesn’t mean that we shouldn’t treat it as such. When we call achievements such as enrolling in college “excellent,” it creates a distinction by implying that this is excellent behavior, or this is an achievement only accomplished by “excellent” people of color, as opposed to this being normal behavior, accomplishable by any black person. If a young black person were to go on social media and see post equating getting into college with someone being excellent, this raises the potential for the creation of a distinction in the mind of this young adult along the lines of “well I’m normal, not excellent.” In fact, this raises the potential for this distinction within the black community as a whole, by associating such an action with excellence as opposed to normality. This particular use of the word black excellence restrains the black community by making things that we should be striving to establish as commonplace excellent. Furthermore, self-perception plays a considerable role in beliefs in one’s self/abilities (Calder), and so the first step in making college enrollment normal in the black community is to stop calling it excellent and start treating it like an expectation.

 In conclusion, the phrase “Black Excellence” as both a mindset and a series of actions is capable of celebrating or upholding the black community and celebrating black achievements while acknowledging all the challenges blacks face while trying to achieve. However, this same phrase is just as capable of holding back the black community when used to describe singular actions that we should be striving to establish as normal, such as getting into college. This essentially means that while we as a community should continue to use “Black Excellence” when celebrating our peers’ achievements, we should be more conscious of when we use the word and what it implies for a given situation. 

Works Cited page

Anyu, Ndeh. “Why Is Black Excellence so Important?” Diverse, 16 Jan. 2019, diverseeducation.com/article/136192/.

Calder, Bobby J, and Barry M Staw. “PsycNET.” American Psychological Association, American Psychological Association, psycnet.apa.org/record/1975-31777-001.

Debouch, Roman. “Why Black Excellence Is a Mindset, Not Just a Hashtag.” Black Excellence, Black Excellence, 17 May 2019, blackexcellence.com/why-black-excellence-is-a-mindset-not-jut-a-hashtag/.

Parks, Casey, et al. “Facts about Race and College Admission.” The Hechinger Report, 14 Apr. 2019, hechingerreport.org/facts-about-race-and-college-admission/.

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