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Act 1: Train of bad thought

Image Credit: Shereen Stone/Mind Journal

Much of Black media today is a caricature of tokenized culture, modified into an image of success and grandeur that companies capitalize on. In Black culture, the same thought process is sold to us via the athletes we idolize. It goes without saying that Black culture is heavily ingrained in sports, seen with the championing of “zero to hero” stories like LeBron James and Usain Bolt. It’s the image of pulling yourself up by your bootstraps and becoming more than the oppression around you, a flawed idea we'll explore in act two.

Image Credit: Brandon Breaux/Andscape

Selling your talents by devoting your life to reaching corporate glamour is the hypocrisy of Black excellence that isn’t talked about enough. Essentially, we as Black people dream about infiltrating white spaces of corporate servitude without knowing what it entails. Excellence is exclusionary by definition, meaning a minimal number of us have achieved such a high position of perceived prominence. Thus when we enter these spaces, it's foreign and not built for us. Heading into these situations with expectations of grandeur without knowing that the higher and higher we go into the echelons of economic success, the fewer and fewer Black people we’ll see– becoming a token of a token of a token. Reaching that position of perceived excellence seems undoubtedly rewarding, but, it comes with the cost of adhering to white standards and becoming a puppet. Companies could care less about your morals, ethics, and culture– unless they're benefiting from it economically.

Image Credit: Najeebah Al-Ghadban/New York Times

Being Black in a place of prominence means complacency and expectations. Tolerance is enforced via your economic well-being, towards the whim of a system of supremacy and reinforced as professionalism that dictates how you should dress, what hairstyle you should wear, and how you should speak around your peers. Essentially sapping your life away for someone or something that's only using you to demonstrate “diversity”. Positions of prominence are still taken by the white majority and as hard as it is to get to this position of power as a Black individual, it's now ten times harder just to keep your job. Being forced into that threatened, subservient role causes Black people to feel an inherent disconnection with their Blackness as the mindset of corporate slavery leads to individualism being championed more than community– but can you blame those who feel that way? The allure of Black excellence is enamoring. As a community, we don't have the same societal powers that white people do, therefore the Black community is all a lot of us can rely on. White people have the privilege and comfort of being the societal norm, as well as the power balance which dictates social cognizance.

Image Credit: Nick McClanahan, featured in “White Silence”

No matter how high of a position of power you think you are as a Black person, you’re still Black. The same systems of racism will still affect you and your community no matter how much you bask in the glory of your perceived individualistic merit. When it's time to address Black issues, you are treated as a Black person. Systems of power can’t be changed from the inside out, and the imbalance of power between the Black and white communities has and will always exist as long as systemic racism is a factor in the western world. As such, Black excellence is a facade that works to give us a false sense of hope for the future.

However, we're missing a very important nuance. Every prominent Black figure who embodies the notion of excellence was once in the same system of disenfranchisement. What hurdles did they have to overcome in order to be “excellent”? What changed them? What changes us? What does being Black and excellent truly entail? Stay tuned for act two.

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