THE BLOG
29/05/2018 15:20 SAST | Updated 29/05/2018 16:05 SAST

Who Decides What Defines 'Black Excellence'?

'In our quest to define black excellence, we run the risk of valuing certain stories, people, and materials at the expense of others.'

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I think by now it has been established that the term 'black excellence' is quite problematic — or is it? This piece will not provide answers or attempt to solve any complexities of this discourse — instead, it will ask many questions which have been bugging me for some time now.

In our quest to define black excellence, we run the risk of valuing certain stories, people, and materials at the expense of others. All this for the mere sake of fitting one into a box, the origin of which is uncertain.

What I find problematic about this type of excellence is that it implants pressure on black people to prove something to the world. Who is measuring it, and by which merits? Are there any age limits during which we can safely label you as "black excellence"? Is there a relationship between this "excellence" and your upbringing? Is it limited to one's nationality, or just your bank balance perhaps?

I need to know how far I should be in my academics to reach a level of "black excellence", as it already has been established that an undergraduate degree is not enough. A good friend of mine will always remind us that he is attracted to women with "at least a Master's degree", and that it is "even better if she has a Bachelor of Science in medicine".

You must have left the township and moved to an estate in the north, and that VW Vivo will not work for you in this context, sorry. We have not even gotten to your proficiency in English coupled with the proper rolling of the tongue, the title before your name, the number of followers on social media and how vocal you are on Twitter. Have you been to Dubai, Thailand and New York on holiday? Nope? Well, then sorry, you're not black-excellence material.

I know a lot of friends who frown on black peers whose English — according to them — is not noble enough, who look down on their black brothers if they're 27 with no bond, no German car, and no postgrad degree. According to them, this group is plain lazy.

On two occasions, the ANC Youth League has labelled a former CEO of the embattled parastatal Eskom "black excellence". Dr Mbuyiseni Ndlozi, EFF national spokesperson, has also been labeled "black excellence" — so has author, TV, and radio personality Bonang Matheba.

Cassper Nyovest has also been labelled "black excellence" after filling up both the TicketPro Dome and the FNB stadium. I label Justice Sisi Khampepe, Thabo Mbeki and my own mother "black excellence" — the single mothers who through socioeconomic circumstance beyond their control are forced to wake up at 4am to go to the market, stock up on fresh produce, and resell it on township corners to school and feed their children, lest they end up like their mothers.

"Black excellence" cannot and should not be imposed nor dictated by others. It can only be defined by you, for yourself, using your own standards, in accordance with your own merits.

In a society where success is measured by who we surround ourselves with, one could assume that "black excellence" is inherently exclusionary, because in order to assume excellence you have to have distinguished yourself from your peers — you have to be better than other black people.

I'm conflicted when your "black excellence" leaves me feeling inadequate, small, shortchanged and underperforming. It cannot and shouldn't be limited to your academic performance, entrepreneurial advancements, social media presence, car, northern Johannesburg apartment or even whiter-than-white accent.

What our society needs are black faces, black success stories and black names that define and inspire black excellence — faces and stories meant to leave one inspired and longing for greatness, demonstrating that black people work hard despite the ongoing narrative.