“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.
Just feeling so inspired right now, I haven’t even seen it yet, it drops in South Africa tomorrow at 8 pm on MNET (channel 101), but I know that is going to be one of the greatest films of all time, I mean the clue is in the name. We have been stuck on Beyonce’s social media pages for a minute, looking at the scenes and possible visual album production and I just know, deep in my heart that it’s going to shake the industry. She’s not only a musician; she is an artist, a creative genius. We know this from her previous and first visual album ever, Lemonade, and by the look of things, she definitely will not disappoint.
I love Beyoncé simply because she is a hard worker who is relentless in seeing her vision come to life. I absolutely admire her style of work as she does not limit herself to what the media leaders are currently doing, she really is capable of expanding one’s imagination beyond the conventional and the is truly inspiring. Her vision is so broad that the film Black is King was shot in all kinds of locations, from the backyard of her home to the streets of Johannesburg, Ghana, London, and Belgium. The film is based on the re-telling and re-imagination of the iconic movie and play, The Lion King. She uses all kinds of art to narrate the story, from fashion, dance, music videos, and astounding natural settings not forgetting raw talent.
The idea behind Black is King is born from wanting to change the perception of the word black on a global scale. It is about acknowledging the beauty, the love, the strength, and inspiration about everything black. Hence every character in the film is black, sourcing talent, directors, creatives, and artists from all over the globe to present to the world this fine piece of black art. I am in awe and beyond exuberant at this point. Sis, is bringing up and exposing not only black American talent but black talent from all corners of the map. That is the epitome of leadership, and we stan. She truly lives up to the understanding behind making it with your people. Like it’s great to make it, but it’s even better when your people make it with you. Perhaps this is one of the underlying reason why Beyonce will continue to soar in all that she does because her work is not only inclusive but it is empowering, like just imagine the doors that will open for all those who contributed to the making of this masterpiece, I feel so grateful on their behalf, and aspire to be living in the future; forever working to elevate and to better the black community as I grow myself.
The visual album is going to follow shortly after the film drops, there has already been a release of one music video, and of course, the bar is set sky-high. If we can remember from Lemonade, she is still unmatched, and we just love what she is doing to change the game. Ladies, just watch and learn. Black is King.
In the shower, every morning before I start my day, I always ask for the universe to bless me with more productive energy, because the universe knows better. For the longest time, I‘ve always believed that I was cursed with a sleeping disorder. I am literally those people, who jump out of bed, make their bed and before they leave the house, I look at my bed and say to it “I can’t wait to see you later” because if I’m being brutally honest with myself, that is my sacred haven. There is no better place in the world for me than my room, my bed. But this is not particularly something I am proud of. I wish I were more the type of person who hears their alarm go off once and springs out of bed. I wasn’t always like this though; I’d like to believe that my varsity time period had a lot to do with my changed body clock.
Back in my days, I use to be a part of the 5 am club. This is a concept by Robin Sharma who believes that the 5 am club is something practiced by some of the most successful CEOs in the world. The idea of waking up at 5 am means that you can do more with your day than others if you consider the fact that the average waking time for most people is at 7 am. You have a 2-hour head start, which means you can do more with your day. This was by far my most favorite routine as I found myself to be at my most productive during this time. It’s tricky now, I won’t lie, it being winter and all, but it is still a winning recipe. In those two hours, you can exercise, meditate/pray, journal, read, type up emails, work on a proposal and ideas you may have for yourself or your business. At times it may feel as if you are working with energy that you don’t even have to begin with, but the amount of energy you will have throughout the day is immeasurable.
This routine, including a supporting diet, is all one needs to be honest. The food that we eat contributes a significant amount to how hard we push during the day. Consume foods that flood your body with essential and good nutrition. You know during lunchtime, we tend to be unforgiving, especially if you work in the office and your colleagues just went to buy some food from the food truck station, and before you know it you’re also ordering your plate of a full meal with includes carbs, meat, salad, and excess oil. Not long after that meal you are stuffed. Being too full can hinder your ability to continue your day filled with energy. It’s imperative that we practice good diet habits and drink water regularly, and of course, get in those snoozes. Sleep is necessary; if you find that 7 hours of sleep may be too much, you can cut it down but nothing less than 5 hours. For as long your body rests, otherwise, it will eventually crash, and what is the purpose behind that?
Read more books that inspire your cause. There is honestly nothing as quite as motivating than reading books by authors whose journeys resonate with yours. It’s said that the top successful people in the world read an estimated 50 books a year, which is slightly over 1 book a week. You have to find the time to read. Nowadays there are audible books for those who aren’t big readers as yet, and for those who can’t find the time to sit down and read a book, it does, however, need your attention. But you must read, more than you are doing at the current moment.
Align your headspace. If there is clutter in mind you need to clear it pronto. You always need a clear head that steers away from the drama. Hence meditation is essential. A lot of people still do not understand the concept behind the meditation practice. But it’s basically about clearing your head from all of its distractions and finding a clear uninterrupted Zen that will allow you to connect better with God. Many people have reached unbelievable revelations about themselves, ideas, and answers through this process. There is no better way for you to get to know yourself. Just clear the clutter before each day then press the start button and you’re set. Lastly exercising, you need an exercising routine, one that works for you of course. These days I just find it impossible to be outside for too long, I just can’t seem to stomach the cold, so what I do is yoga, right in the middle of my sitting room. Whatever I do, I just make sure that I break a sweat at least 4 times a week. It motivates me, especially when I feel like I just cannot anymore. It reminds me of how much I can actually persist through, and it is pretty much the same with life.
When someone says, “it’s time to heal and move forward”, sometimes at that moment you think “where do I start, how does one heal, what does that even mean?!?!” Or that time heals all wounds?
Healing is a complex concept which needs understanding. We all have experienced some sort of hurt here and there and need to process it. I know in my younger days, I didn’t understand the concept of healing and would suppress my emotions with the thought “it will pass on its own”. But no, I was wrong. It catches up with you.
What I have come to realise and know for sure is that our human experience is a continuous journey of learning, unlearning and healing right until we are old. The sooner we understand and accept this, easier it becomes. Every interaction we have is an opportunity to learn and heal.
According to the NCBI website, healing is defined as “the process of bringing together aspects of one’s self, body-mind-spirit, at deeper levels of inner knowing, leading toward integration and balance with each aspect having equal importance and value.” So, when I see this definition, the phrase “pulling myself towards myself “comes to mind, so basically working on realigning and finding the balance to be whole. So, I am sharing a very basic guide on healing that I have found has helped me:
1. Identify The hurt
If you find yourself having restless nights, that is an indication that something is bothering you. It means something is on your mind and needs to be looked at. You will need to scan through your emotions and identify what you are truly feeling. Even if it means digging through circumstances that took place a long time ago. This is not always easy to do, sometimes something that happened recently triggers an underlying hurt from as far back as childhood.
You will need to ask yourself “Why”. The question “why” will come up a lot as it will help you break down the pain. E.g. “Why don’t I feel comfortable looking at myself in the mirror?” because not looking into the mirror is actually projecting self-denial. Another example can be, “Why do I chase love?” because there is the fear of not being loved. That’s how you will break it down bit by bit. But that is also just the beginning. To really get down to the root of it, you have to go back to the first time you felt fear of not being loved and heal that aspect of yourself, otherwise this will keep replaying itself in different ways in your life.
Then it’s important to ask ‘’How”, how will I heal this? The answer is Everyday. It’s an everyday practice where you’ll have to reprogram your mind. This means you also have to be patient with yourself. If you are healing from something that took place 5 years ago, you can’t expect to work through it in two days. Changing your mindset takes time.
Once you have identified why and how you should know that you are not the only one who has gone through this. There is a whole community, so you are not alone. Therefore, go further by doing research. Google the problem and read up on it. Many articles and journals will provide strategies and activities one can do it get to a place of acceptance and self-love.
5. It’ A Process
You have to understand the power of your mind. It can reprogram itself, the same way you programmed yourself into insecurity. It will take time and you have to give yourself light, space, room to grow, and change. Healing is a lifelong process and you have embrace yourself. Accept yourself. Accept the emotions you feel. Accept the tears. Accept you will be happy in the morning and sad in the evening. It’s a process and it’s not linear. You have to be gentle with yourself.
Write it all down. It’s good to document the process. Write the good, bad, ugly, and pretty. It will be good to look back and see the progress.
7. Get Help
It is hard going through a healing process. The fact that we need to heal means a part of our Self is fractured, and sometimes the fractured self cannot heal itself, it just creates a deflection in order to preserve itself and survive. It is advisable to seek assistance from a therapist. There are different kinds of therapists, and different therapists work well for different problems. It is important to choose a therapist that you are comfortable with, with whom you can be completely vulnerable with. And remember, it can never a one session ‘cure,’ it is still a process working with a therapist.
Healing is beautiful. It is a beautiful process where you really get intimate with yourself and come face to face with yourself. Healing is the peeling back of layers to get to your true, loving Self. In healing ourselves, we heal each other, we heal the world.