“Why Do Black People Always Feel The Need To Be Excellent, Why Can’t We Just Be Ourselves?” by Nonhle Matsebula
This is a quote abstracted from one of my favourite films of 2019, Queen and Slim.
It is such a relevant question. I felt it needed to be asked to the Black community at this time of intensification of the Black Lives Matter movement and Buy Black movement. Why are we always thriving towards excellence? What does that even mean? We see this almost everywhere, especially during events that commemorate the performance of black people in one way, shape or form. You hear them say “Black Excellence” or caption their social media posts and statuses using that phrase or hashtag. Is #BlackExcellence a good and necessary concept or does it actually erode the equality we seek?
On the other hand, we are constantly reading reports about how black people have to work twice as hard as their Caucasian counterparts to get recognized, rewarded or promoted. And this is fact all over the world. And this seems to be normalized. Recent Twitter threads by Caucasian managers show that it is a culture that black subordinates are not expected to excel and in fact should not be encouraged or supported to excel.
“Excellence is the best deterrent to racism or sexism.” Oprah Winfrey
So black excellence is a direct response to the inherent racism that black people face in all aspects of corporate or business world and beyond including in sports and the arts. Oprah Winfrey would be the first one to confirm that despite being excellent for decades as the leading talk show host in America with a global brand earning billions of dollars, her excellence has not shielded her from racism even now. I guess it is not too difficult to fathom what it means, black people thriving towards excellence in all that they do, becoming the masters of their crafts and leaders in that specific sector is not expected. But I just can’t help but think there is a negative aspect behind the term ‘black excellence’. I would hate to make a comparison between the black community and other communities because we do not all hold the same historical experience. It would seem only fair that we thrive for excellence after centuries that black communities globally have been suppressed and oppressed. It is only fair that we basically ‘yell’ into their faces that we are, in fact, thriving as a community even though it can be said that they wish we weren’t, considering all the measures that are still taken to ensure that we remain subservient to rest of the world’s communities.
Examples of the hurdles black achievers have to face are countless and can be downright discouraging. Look at Simone Biles, the American gymnast who has won more athletic awards than Usain Bolt and the likes, constantly has to face criticism because she is a black and female athlete. The same way that Serena Williams does too. So is ‘Black Excellence’ an even higher standard than excellence? To be black and excellent means we have to overcome so many more hurdles and challenges to achieve excellence, so we are doubly excellent? I believe so. Black excellence is a higher standard and should be celebrated until the playing field all over the world is such that all peoples have equal opportunity. But it is also exhausting!
But is there a negative side to this? A friend of mine who completely abhors affirmative action, who hates Black Economic Empowerment (BEE) and does not understand #BlackExcellence asks why do we feel the need to inform the rest of the world that we are more than what they expected of us, that we are doing just as great as everyone else when they have been winning for years and centuries at our expense? There just seems to be some kind of approval and validation that we need from everyone else. Why can’t we just know that we are excellent, it almost comes across as if at some moment in our journey we doubted that we are great? Excellence and greatness should be inherent in us all. For example, a successful businessman or woman simply knows that she is the greatest, a humble sense of pride, she is the G.O.A.T in her craft. It’s a deep, innate and confident feeling that she has, and she experiences it on a daily. Others know she is great because her work speaks for itself. She doesn’t need anyone else validating this, she is doing her best and sharing her best with her clients. We thrive so hard to be excellent, but how excellent are we if it’s only a fraction of our community that is doing excellent things? The problem with the idea of ‘excellence’ altogether is that it is very competitive with a very narrow funnel allowing very few to qualify as excellent, it is not one through which the majority can feel that their best is enough. It is one that celebrates and normalizes that in life there ‘winners and losers’ I doubt that we would wave the excellent term around so commonly if this were a standard thing amongst everyone in our community, because we would just be right.
It’s as if we are always on a quest to prove the world wrong and how satisfying is that? Believing that all our lives, all that we do is to make a point, why can’t we just be ourselves, do our thing, excellent or not? How gratifying is it to have to always announce #BlackExcellence? I mean heck the Jewish don’t do it, and we know the Jews run most of the global economy, they aren’t out there punting #JewishExcellence, no one else does it, and they are excellent. It’s not to say that we should only do what other communities do, no, we should go about things our own way, but just not in a way that renders the majority of our community as ‘losers’.
I guess I’m a bit wary of the fact that it may put children of the black community under unnecessary pressure, constantly thriving for excellence, to feel like they matter only when recognized by others. There are all kinds of psychological and mental health problems that arise with the pursuit of external validation. Does it mean that if you are not labeled as excellent that you are mediocre or perhaps disappointing to the community? Does it mean that your work is insignificant, if they do not deem it as excellent? That should not be the case.
Something about #BlackExcellence connotes acceptance and normalizes that the world and we ourselves as black people, consider people of African descent as less than. I really wish there was another or term we used to celebrate our progress. My argument is not a denial of the fact that people of African descent all over the world have to work twice as hard to earn what others earn, and that we don’t have equal access to opportunities that others have. Yes, we should thrive for greater heights all the time, but we do not have to do so at the cost of seeking external approval for our right to be seen as enough as we are. It’s a mentality that we should have with us at all times, we are great whether somebody chooses to recognize it or not. I am enough, I am great, period.
Most things in our lives are based on traditional values and systems or modus of operandi. The same can be said about our conventional ways of attaining recognizable degrees from prestigious and well-acknowledged institutions of higher or tertiary education. In the same breath, it can be said that the world is also shifting towards the unconventional. With the digital space simply booming, a lot of what was undermined in the past is gaining traction and value more so than ever before. The exposure to this phenomenon was revealed by a lot of what happened during the coronavirus pandemic. It’s not to say that access to educational material was nonexistent prior to this, but it kind of hit like a revelation, that people could actually work and study at home. To some, it may not be the ideal way to pursue their work and studies but for most, it is not only a matter of convenience but a lifestyle that can fit into some people’s lives.
For students who had already committed to self-study programmes, like those from the University of South Africa, this is just a walk in the park. But I guess the majority of students have had to learn the discipline that comes with such a practice. This has also been an opportunity for more people to take the time off and admit and apply themselves to learning opportunities that are available for all want to be students all over the world. We all face different and demanding circumstances in our lives. You may find that attending school at a physical institution was just not part of your life plan, maybe due to financial constraint, but attaining an education, of any kind, was always an achievement you sort after. Hence, taking up online courses may be exactly what could work in our favour to bag recognizable degree knowledge even if for no degree purposes.
Udemy has easily become a favourite, with over 100 000 courses to choose from, and with over 50 million students, and 57 000 instructors across the globe teaching courses in over 65 languages, there is actually no excuse as to why you are not fulfilling your educational desires. Get with the times, it’s honestly okay if you don’t find the load leading your life to traditional institutions, the question is what do you do with that and what are the means are you taking to empower yourself. It is true when they reiterate the term that students never stop learning, not because you are required to finish that Ph.D. to be recognizable human in society, but because there are increasing channels to pursue growth and education. Yes, a Ph.D. is honorary, but so are other milestones in your educational career. The only requirements for winning with online courses is the amount needed to sign yourself up for these courses, which are usually at a reasonable cost, a secure internet connection, and dedication. What’s even great is how quickly you can get through the course work and the material at hand. It should be noted that even when attending university, many students find that watching the recorded lecture, with the lecture’s material is a preferred way of studying, especially for students who have other commitments such as family or even work.
Here are some of the recommended online ‘schools’ that you can sign yourself up for, some are even free of charge:
1. Udemy – as mentioned this is a favorite that is aimed at professional adults and students. With tons of courses to choose from, with lecture videos, study material, quizzes, and more, it gives you the nearest experience to the real-life school experience. In the 10 years that Udemy has been operating, there has been a recorded 295 million course enrollments.
2. LinkedIn Learning –also targets professional adults and students who are looking to upskill. They offer online training courses for creative, technology, and business skills. These are fundamental skills that could really set you apart from the rest, as the world currently holds more opportunities for people who possess these skills.
3. Udacity – offers Nano degree programmes aimed at advancing one’s career with online courses in programming, data science, artificial intelligence, digital marketing, and more. This school is a for-profit educational organization with about 200 free courses.
4. Google – holds a variety of learning programmes and online courses that are highly acknowledged outside of the digital space. Some of the best and free Google courses &certificates for 2020 include Coursera, Google Digital Garage, Google Developers Training, and Google Analytics Academy Courses. These programmes include tutorials, training, class, and certificates.
5. Online School – if you are seriously bent on the idea of receiving a certificate from a prestigious university in or outside of your country, you may want to check out the courses that they offer online for students all over the world. Most institutions including Harvard, Oxford, Cambridge University, and the likes offer a range of certificates for their online courses and can be attended from anywhere.
The classroom idea is great for those of us who prefer traditional ways of attaining an education, however, there are now more opportunities than ever to gain an education just as significant as traditional degrees online. Whichever you choose, there are no longer that many excuses to give for your lack in anything really.
A Guide To Completing Your Post-Graduate Year In The Midst Of A Pandemic
We all have our dreams in terms of how and where we would like to work. My dream includes completing my post-graduate studies including my Master’s Degree, however, who knows how far I may take my academics in the future. This year, 2020, I am doing my Master’s Degree and it is challenging because we are in the midst of a pandemic and a lot of anxiety. I may not be able to control much about the environment, but I am determined to remain focused on my studies. At the time of writing this article we are just over 5 months from the end of the year, and yes we are in the middle of a pandemic and a lock down, but we can still complete our academic years with distinction.
I have remained in Grahamstown near Rhodes University where I am studying and this has enabled me to continue my Master’s work, I do not intend of letting this pandemic steal from my future. I am drawing on my experience in 2019 when I completed my Honour’s Degree, my fourth year of University studies, and I hope sharing my approach will also help you keep going as campuses in South Africa remain closed and some classes have moved online. To complete my Master’s I have to do a dissertation again as I did in my Honour’s, and also complete coursework.
Writing a thesis or dissertation takes time and requires a lot of attention. It can be a daunting task having to write a research proposal, doing your fieldwork (this is your data collection process), analyzing the data you have collected, writing your literature review and methodology. Considering the amount of work it takes to produce a great paper, it is important to prepare yourself mentally, physically and financially if you are funding your own research of course. You need to be ready and willing to begin such a process. Writing a thesis or dissertation can take years or months for some. It took me 7 months to complete my mini thesis in my Honors year. My final paper was between 20 000-25 000 words including the Appendix. It was a challenging process. Sometimes I could barely summon the motivation to get started on some of my chapters – but I managed to. The key is to actually start! We all have different approaches to research, but I hope that you might gain some useful insight from the way I approached my mini thesis. By the way, the reason why this is a mini thesis is because I was also doing coursework. The intention behind research is to help you grow, develop, mature and maximize your skill in your desired field of study.
Find Your Research Niche
Perhaps that particular social, economic, political or scientific problem that bothers you so much, you might be the solution to it. We all have a question and an answer within us that you just need to tap into.
Your research niche is a specialized area of your field that you could potentially conduct research on where you can create new knowledge or add to the existing body of knowledge in the world. Simply put, your niche is an area of study that you are really interested in and find great purpose in pursuing. What are you passionate about? What questions do you have and want to answer? What do you want to bring to the table? Why are you doing this thesis? These are some of the questions that you can ask yourself before starting any research paper. Find something that you are interested in because it will motivate you even when the research process gets challenging and tiresome. Have fun and be creative, and don’t limit yourself!
Keep The Final Date In Mind
It was difficult for me to do both research and coursework at the same time. Having to think about my assignment due dates and my proposal or literature review due dates, for example, at the same time drove me insane. I found myself overwhelmed 70% of the time. There had to be a better way to structure my time to avoid feeling like this.
Having a calendar on my wall, where I write down all of my due dates from the first submission to the last one so as to see the spaces and time in between submissions really helped me get the hang of things. This one change probably saved my thesis. I was calmer and could work efficiently and effectively. You don’t have to keep an actual calendar on your wall, you can use your phone or any other device you know you will check regularly.
Dealing With The Stress
Some of you may be doing research for the first time, just like I was at the time, and often get stressed out or panic about how big of a task it all seems to be. That is true, it is demanding and it can be emotionally and mentally taxing, but just remind yourself that it is just a moment and that you deserve to occupy the space you are occupying right now. You are here now, do not allow the stress of it all to consume you. It is okay to have a pity party for a few minutes. Cry if you must but get up after that! There is hidden beauty that you may only realize later on when you are done with your thesis.
So, when I would start panicking, I would stop doing what I was working on and would take some time out to breathe. When I faced a problem in my research, whether I was having writer’s block or found myself getting stressed about a deadline I would take walks, jog, take a nap, listen to music, meditate, cook or bake or talk to a friend about something completely different. It is important to take the time out to think about what it is that you need to do and to get yourself in the right frame of mind to come back and deal with the problem. It helps just to stop! You are less productive when stressed out. You need to rest and silence your mind. Whatever works for you, take the time to pause and then get up and try again.
I found that changing my working environment quite often helped me keep motivated. It will help the work seem less tiresome and it will spark creativity.
Set Weekly Goals – A Work Plan
Now that you have all your dates written down on your calendar and can productively deal with your stress, set weekly goals for yourself such as having a word target for each day. Doing this helped me submit my essays and research chapters on time. Working ahead of time affords you enough time to write up drafts of your chapters to send to your supervisor or have your peers read through them for you and give you feedback. You’ll have enough time to edit your work and resubmit an improved version of it, for example, your literature review or data analysis chapters. Planning your time is so important.
Write down all the things you want to achieve at the beginning of the week and stick to that. I know, sometimes life gets in the way, but the intention is what’s important. Be intentional about your work, that way you remain motivated and as consistent as can be. Moreover, planning your time will also afford you some time to play and enjoy yourself some free time with friends.
Adapting To Change and Thinking On Your Feet
Having to finish my thesis in 7 months forced me to adapt and act decisively. I had limited time, and so I had to make a few tough decisions. Towards the end of my writing, I had to let go of some things and focus on perfecting what I had already written. There were a few loose ends, but I made sure that I tied up most of them. Half the time, I did not know what I was doing! It was my first time after all right?! Also, remember that not all readings, books or journal articles that you have access to should be read. It’s not about the quantity (the number of journal articles or books you can reference in the end) but the quality of your work. 7 months is not enough time go through every single reading. So, pick what is important and relevant and try understand what’s going on there.
My fieldwork was the worst and most exciting part of my journey. Asking people to be your research participants is no joke! Presentation (how you present yourself and your wok) is everything as you recruit people. Not everyone is going to understand your research objectives, so it requires you to think on your feet. Basically, have 10 different ways you can explain your topic and the purpose of your research. You have to improvise when necessary. If you are doing your research in a country that has linguistic diversity like South Africa, you have to be willing to meet your participants halfway and speak their language if you can. Some people relate better to you when they can see or hear something they resonate with. They feel more comfortable and relaxed when answering interview questions, which is a bonus for you in your data collection process. Note that there are many other methods that you can utilize when collecting data, interviews were just my research method of choice.
Make sure to do all your brainless tasks at the end of the day when you are feeling tired. This means editing your work and checking grammatical and spelling errors. Lighten up your mood and listen to some music when doing this so it is not so tiresome.
Let A Draft Be Just That!
We get so caught up in trying to perfect our drafts, be it your research proposal or your data analysis chapter. You will never finish if you wait for perfection. I only had 7 months to start and finish my paper, so everything went by so fast. I had a short period of time to get so much done. Do what you can and do it well. You can perfect everything in the last few months when you are now just writing and putting everything together.
Your Relationships Are Important
Maintaining a good relationship with my peers, supervisor and department helped me get through my research, especially when it got really tough. We never really know everything, and the next person is an asset – use them. Keep healthy communication with your supervisor. Of course, every relationship is different, but make it work for you because you need their support.
I often broke down into tears when things got tough. There would be times when I had an entire page just full of comments and red markings. A piece of advice, don’t just put that paper away, read through it and then plan on how you are going to approach the correction (comments made in your draft). You do not have to get started on it that very same day, take the time to reward yourself and rest. Then start again tomorrow with a clear and rested minded. It’s important to pace yourself and develop a proper routine to avoid crashing.
One of my favorite speakers, teacher and author – Bishop T.D Jakes says that “taking one step in the right direction towards your destiny right now does not equal you seeing your future in all its glory tonight.” Everything that we do, especially things such as research take time and require patience. If we abort the development process that comes with doing research, then we will fail to reap the benefits that come after it’s all done. It is such a fulfilling journey and I hope that yours will be the same.
Isn’t it funny how we can sometimes be bad at something that we exercise on a daily, like communicating? Okay, so you might not be as bad as to not being able to communicate your thoughts or even get your point across when communicating with others, but there are some traits that you might lack which may leave you feeling slightly disempowered or overpowered by others. What I’m referring to is the ability to comprehensively articulate yourself. Some people are just better with words more than others. However, communication is a skill, a skill that some have mastered more than others, but it’s a skill that can be learned and improved by anyone.
It is estimated that, verbally, the average person speaks about at least 860.3 million words in their lifetime. It is also estimated that the average woman speaks about 20 000 words a day. That is 13 000 more words spoken than the average man. How can we possibly be bad at something that we are good at? Communication goes beyond the verbal articulation of our words; it is also the construction and the relaying of the message we wish to send across. It’s as simple as understanding words as a form of coding in which the receiver has to decode. If you think about it clearly, there are three aspects to this. There is the coder, the code, and the decoder. Anywhere in between the lines, the decoder could easily mistranslate the code, which was coded by the coder. Articulation, in this sense, would mean constructing the code in such a way that whoever decodes receives the message exactly as it was coded.
Communication is much about listening as it is about speaking. What most of us do not notice is that listening is an active skill, perhaps even more active than speaking. So for us to spectacular communicators, we also have to great listeners. There are ways in which we can improve our listening skills; we have to be active listeners. This would mean that we listen; we hold strong and constant eye contact, listen with our whole body, be alert, and avoid interrupting. Being an excellent listener would entail that we repeat what was said or make reference to what was said when speaking back. It also includes talking twice as less than listening. Being a great listener could largely improve your communication skills, simply by listening for the sake of listening and not listening for the sake of responding. We can all be guilty of this some times. We can hold on to thoughts that we want or feel we need to communicate that we forget to pay attention to all that is being said. It is easy to get trapped in one’s thoughts when listening. Hence, why you also need to work on being a great communicator so that you do not lose your audience when communicating with them.
Less is more when it comes to talking. You want to be clear and straight to the point, especially when explaining yourself, an idea, or a concept. In truth, people have a short listening span, so you want to catch and keep their attention and interest for as long as possible, but not for too long, of course. If possible clarify and summarize in this instance. Your tone is pivotal, but so is reading your audience and the environment. For example, giving an obituary at a funeral. Your tone needs to be set for the environment and circumstance, so you might not want to express too much exuberant energy during your speech as compared to pitching for funding for an idea you might have, which may require you to give more energy and excitement about your creative concept. Learn when to be empathetic, and learn how to follow instead of constantly leading.
Asking questions while speaking is a great way to keep anyone on track and on par with you and your thought flow. If engaged in a conversation and you wish to take the conversation deeper, simply ask open-ended questions. This would lead the other speaker to think and communicate much deeper than when asking closed-ended questions in which one can only respond with a yes/no answer. Are you asking the right questions? The questions you ask will determine how well of a listener you are. If you’re still trying to figure out the direction of the conversation, simply start with an easy question with an open-ended flow, however, avoid asking too many easy questions as this can lead to dead ends, and you might have not thought of your next question by then. A great way to kick off such conversations is by playing the guessing game (“let me guess”), and just watch the conversation flow on its own.
Gaining the trust of others when talking or communicating with them is an important aspect of being a great communicator. Developing trust is an indication of people’s genuine interest in what’s being said. Great ways to initiate this is by using people’s first names often and being present whilst talking. Gaining someone’s trust simply means that you have the ability to share your thoughts, feelings, and ideas on a particular subject and your opinion becomes valid to those individuals. It means that you now have the power to change the course of other people’s thoughts and beliefs, a power that many great leaders and communicators possess.
My name is Bontle Nxumalo. I was born in Botswana, but I’ve been living in Gauteng for most of my life and I’m currently completing my Matric year. As much as I enjoy binge-watching a good coming of age series, learning how to speak new languages though apps, or being on Astro Turf with a hooked bundle of fiberglass commonly known as a hockey stick, I have always had a passion for beauty.
After my first big chop in 2014, I realised that this natural hair thing wouldn’t come easy. Taking care of my hair is a lot of work, but 9/10 times the 4 hours of finger detangling and freezing at the wrath of a spray bottle is worth it the next morning. And most of the time, still so a week later. Every year since grade 9, without fail, my hair has been my English speech topic. It has, and continues to play a monumental role it plays in my life; it is one I’m quite well versed on (if I do say so myself) and although I understand I am not obligated to inform people on the importance of the natural hair movement, it` is one that is close to my heart so it tends to come up often.
Outside of my love for hair, I have always been fascinated by makeup and it is the only career path choice that’s remained consistent over the years. Together with my interest in science, my ultimate goal is to become a cosmetic chemist! (essentially, the scientist who makes makeup
1. How do you feel about going back to school?
We are still in the midst of a global pandemic and the number of confirmed cases is continuing to grow so I am very anxious for everyone’s health and safety. I wish it wasn’t so soon. However, I do understand that there is a lot of content we need to cover, nevermind exam preparation considering the fact that one of the three sets of exams matrics would normally go through won’t take place. I do appreciate getting back into the traditional school set up with a teacher standing in front of a board and classmates beside me.
2. What have you been doing during the lockdown?
Rediscovered a video game called Dance Central on YouTube which I think I can safely say was enough of a workout to replace this year’s hockey season. There’s also 80s dance aerobics video I’ve been obsessed with since the beginning of the year and I finally had time to learn it. 50+ consecutive movie nights had fun with make-up and hopped on the bandwagon by taking the mirror outside for pictures. Yes, my mother knows!
3. The good and the bad of being home…
I’d be lying if I said I don’t miss the structure school gave to my life. Having a detailed schedule of your Monday to Saturday handed to you was a lot easier not only because we could hold each other accountable for projects and practical’s, but it also provisioned quality time doing the last rounds of our winter sports derby days, musicals, inside jokes with our main combos among many other things. Now that we home 24/7, we’ve had to take on a tad bit more responsibility than most of our predecessors and realised how much we enjoy each other’s company and that we cannot take any more of it for granted. I hope for my peers to choose to see that this unexpected turn of events as a lesson on the uncertainty real life will present us with, we won’t always have control and that sometimes all we can do is our best.
That being said guilt free sleeping will be missed dearly. I’m lucky enough to go to a school signed onto an online platform that allows lessons to be recorded. If there is one aspect of regular school conditions I can simulate, it is doing school work during the graveyard shift.
4. Do you think you’ll get the marks that you desire?
I’m very tempted to say no because I know that onlookers from the outside might agree that these are difficult conditions, but I think they have the average South African matric learner in mind and I know I do not represent that. I am well aware of my privilege as a pupil of an affluent school in a suburb with a safe home environment. I’m not necessarily a top achiever academically, but I decide I want to work towards them, I could achieve them.
5. Plans for next year?
The plan is to start working towards a degree in Chemical Engineering and/or Psychology at a local university.