Updated: Apr 15
Black perception of white privilege is something we don’t delve into enough. Sure, white people can say that white privilege exists, but unless they practice intersectionality or find out what privilege means in their lives, acknowledging their privilege is useless. What we as a Black community don’t delve into enough is our internalization of whiteness in tandem with the Black experience. More than being Black is a culture, it’s a shared social identity. Black is a social construct the same way white is, but the western image of Black specifically came from the homogenization of slaves. This means the degradation of character, traits, and anti-black societal normality all centers around this evolution of imposed “bleached superiority” which was meant to give white people justifications for having more rights and freedoms than Black people. That bigotry has echoed through time, most notably on a social level.
Being an African-American and being an African immigrant means two entirely different cultures. The predisposed beliefs that African immigrant families, specifically first-generation immigrants hold, have been commonly aligned with harmful stereotypes made of Black people in America. Though we all look the same, African immigrant families tend to separate themselves from the African-Americans through demonization and scapegoating. Now, due to the popularity of Black culture and its imminent influence, visible in all facets of media, we’re faced with the truth that we, as African immigrants, have either been policing Blackness or have been complicit in the policing of Blackness and trying to steer away from it. There’s an element of assumed superiority, making African immigrants adopt the mindset that although African-Americans are poor because of x, y, and z, those factors don’t apply to them–even though they struggled through the same conditions back home. Though this thought process doesn’t apply to every African immigrant, ingrained colonialism and colorism have increased the level of anti-Black racism in immigrant families.
Black people in struggling communities are expected to individually leave the struggles of poverty behind- with their own power. But even if a Black individual is more hard-working than Jeff Bezos or smarter than Elon Musk, there’s still historical and social disenfranchisement that very much affects our day-to-day lives, making “making it out” extremely difficult. Black people don’t have the same inherent potential to achieve a comparable level of perceived excellence as a white person in a relative position of power can. Someone could work their whole life, going above and beyond every standard set for them, but because of being a disenfranchised person of color in the spear of the Black community, they’d be viewed as inadequate. A lot of this has to do with the fact that capitalism is so deeply ingrained in our perception of the way the world works. There’s a formula that’s been preached to us: take out a student loan, go to college, and secure a job. However, completing that formula for success has become increasingly difficult as we realize that that formula isn’t attainable. For the first time, people are looking to other avenues that aren’t capitalism, because it simply isn’t working for them anymore. As it stands right now, economically speaking, Black people are the only demographic that has a better chance of regressing financially than moving forward due to all the baggage that being Black entails.
What Black excellence boils down to is whether or not you have the ingredients for success. For those who do, who have a constant support system, an uplifting environment, and a means to be educated, they’re able to take those ingredients and make their cake; all the while telling those with no ingredients to do the same thing. What’s desperately needed for the whole Black community is the decolonization of thought that’s entrenched in capitalism. Realizing and instilling the fact that working harder doesn’t guarantee success and that systems of power are what will ultimately give us more is extremely important. We need to prioritize community above all else, though it’s admittedly easier said than done.
Despite my continuous commentary on Black excellence being an absolute lie, I myself haven’t fully given up on it. Yes, I want to be rich and to be able to care for my family, and to have some sort of recognition for the work that I do. On one hand, I can hold that capitalism forces me to aspire to harmful ends in order for me to excel academically or be good at my job. But at the same time, I think there’s plenty of empathy to be had towards aspiring to do what you do very well and supporting those who look like you to do what they do very well. Black excellence at its most positive is looking for the lights in our own community and therefore saying no, we no longer want to look up exclusively to George Clooney or Jennifer Anniston, but rather looking inward in our communities to find greatness. The experiences felt in a Black community aren’t tribalism to the same degree that it is in white communities– it transcends that. When marginalized groups form these societies and begin uplifting one another, there’s a self-determination factor removed from racial hierarchies that feels so freeing. As a Black person, there’s nothing more satisfying than not having to restrict your music taste because of outside bigoted opinions, using AAE freely and being understood, and having a place to be viewed as an individual rather than the tokenized facade of Blackness. Ultimately, understand that Black excellence is a loaded term. Don’t idolize the individuals, & don’t forget your community—they’re what make you, you.