Does black people’s excellence look the same?

Inga Sikweyiya

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It is an important time to consider how this hashtag, positive as it is, has evolved to carry an ugly undertone that devalues the very people it serves.

Inga Sikweyiya

#BlackExcellence: A performance of privilege

With the age of social media we have seen blackness being redefined. Each week, a selected few black bodies are lauded as the gold standard of black excellence. Under the hashtag #BlackExcellence, likes and retweets of praise fill up social media timelines, from MBA graduates and launching of businesses by young people, to the purchase of latest cars. Rightfully, we ought to salute great achievements by applauding those we deem inspirational, especially in consideration of the continuous struggles that black people endure. It is an important time to consider how this hashtag, positive as it is, has evolved to carry an ugly undertone that devalues the very people it serves.

The Oxford Dictionary defines excellence as the quality of being outstanding or extremely good. By assumption, this is inclusive of any act with elements of brilliance. It has been, for great generations, a human tradition to applaud the extraordinary. Rightly so, it is important to wave the flag of recognition, especially in black communities. However, it becomes problematic when the said excellence is used as a weapon to suggest that other black people are not doing enough to better their lives.

Euphonik’s tweet blatantly ignores the impact of privilege. Without any consideration of economical differences and resources, it measures the human existence under the presumptive scope that we can all achieve the same things. Can 24 hours of a minimum wage worker who travels for hours on a daily basis, with a family to look after and bills to pay, ever be equal to 24 hours of a middle-class third-generation-educated individual who was gifted with a car for their 21st birthday? Or, think of an entry-level job advert that reads “own car essential, own computer(read Apple product) essential, must live in surrounding areas.” These two examples commonly overlooks close proximity to whiteness and how it directly relates to who shows up and who excels. Similarly, #BlackExcellence singles out a group of socially advantaged beings and blasts them on social media under the guise of them being the aspirational blackness.

Through its process of singling out a few pockets of black people, there exists an unspoken pool of exceptional black people who are ignored. With each praise, the truth of our inequalities stares right back at us. For example; even though the tweet below is written with a congratulatory tone, the addition of ‘#Blackexcellence’ blurs the line between perception of excellence and materialistic fortune.

In a country with at least half the population below the poverty line, It is a reckless move to make a blaring statement that prioritises financial wealth.

Commonly, the hashtag seems to indirectly suggest that any form of excellence is worthy of being celebrated only if achieved on “record time”. It is worth noting just how many times age is centralised in the black excellence conversation.

Although it is a notable achievement to obtain that postgraduate qualification in your early twenties, it is equally important to recognise just how great of an achievement it is for any black South African to even get to tertiary level. Economically, the majority of black people are working class who scrape through the high cost of living for survival. This moves the goalposts further away for the majority. Logically, the chances of settling into a dream career at a young age are close to non-existent.

What if you achieve your success in Kwamhlabuyalingana in KZN, Giyani in Limpopo or Qhorana in the Eastern Cape? Does the great distance to the usual Johannesburg, Soweto or Umlazi mean your success is too far from the black excellence radar? Does that make it any less legitimate? Additionally, if your success is not dressed in a move from a township to an urban area, should you forget being considered exceptional? These are some of the questions that remain unanswered when the same line of areas feature in the context of those who excel. This narrative plays down the existence of people in unspoken areas who make it work despite all the challenges.

This hashtag has become a weapon that black people use amongst each other. The hashtag is heavily laced with an “we all have 24 hours” undertone. It creates a false image of excellence that disregards the marginalised. It heavily implies that black people’s existence should always be on the scope palatable to white people’s expectations.

It’s a dangerous narrative that diminishes the value of black lives whose existence has not been accompanied by a university degree, the latest car model in a red ribbon and ownership of an overpriced house in an affluent ‘burb. If the intention of the hashtag is to celebrate, then it should never come at the heavy price of demeaning the already oppressed. Perhaps, black people’s existence is excellence on its own.