It’s October, which means its Black History Month, a celebration of the contributions of the African and Caribbean diaspora in the UK.
As I scroll through my Twitter timeline using the hashtag #blackexcellence, I am delighted to see countless examples of thriving black creatives, philanthropists, entrepreneurs, academics and business professionals who have beaten the odds.
Although there has always been successful black people, the concept of “black excellence” is a rather newer phenomena; born out of social media’s democratisation of the media landscape.
Viral hashtags such as #blackboyjoy and #blackgirlmagic have empowered us to combat the often negative stereotypes seen in mainstream media and create authentic positive images, reclaiming our narratives in the process.
However, as I’m sure you are aware, humans are not a monolith. We are coloured (excuse the pun) by a range of attributes, complex dimensions, emotions and characteristics. We have good days and bad days. Successes and lessons learned from failures. Our experiences are simply not black and white.
What I have sometimes observed in the media is the prevalence of bad stereotypes or shining examples of black people achieving exceptional feats, with little to fill the chasm in-between. In order to have our humanity recognised, we have literally had to save a fictitious technologically advanced civilisation in a superhuman catsuit, crack mathematical equations for NASA in Jim Crow-era America, or be a reformed inmate on death row in possession of superhuman healing abilities.
Although these examples may seem well-meaning and at the far end of the spectrum, these perceptions can result in “superhumanisation bias”. These prejudices can be just as damaging as their more glaring counterparts and perhaps the reason behind a plethora of issues, including the mistreatment of African Americans in healthcare and perceptions around black people possessing “magical abilities” (yes, this is actually a thing!). This is why I believe we must say ‘Black Mediocrity Matters’.
When I refer to “black mediocrity”, I am presenting an alternative solution to the starkly contrasting depictions of black people presently seen in the mainstream media. It is the simple idea that we should be afforded the same benefits as anybody else to simply exist authentically as our multi-dimensioned selves, without pressure of validation through acts of great excellence. Shows such as Insecure, Chewing Gum and Atlanta are disrupting mainstream narratives and presenting black people as everyday individuals who are experiencing everyday things. These characters are extremely relatable and multifaceted, hence why these shows have found great success, tapping into their respective millennial audiences who have been hungry for this content. They have transformed the concept of black mediocrity into a revolutionary act, all the while maintaining a sense of charisma and whit.
I do believe that we need more platforms which celebrate us in our “mundane glory”. It is indeed inconceivable to aspire to perfection, and it is also incredibly exhausting. In an ideal world, we would not have such precarious positions that to (inevitably) fall short of perfection is to run the risk of being sidelined.
This is of course easier said than done. Not to say that these pressures are always external in nature. As I am sure many from my community can testify; black parents often drill home the work ethic that you must be twice as good to even stand a chance of being seen as an equal. What may seem like parental hyperbole is unfortunately a harsh truth which is fundamental to compete in many modern-day institutions riddled with structural oppression and prejudicial biases.
Therefore, this piece should not be misconstrued as the belief that we should all aspire to mediocrity. Positive examples of black excellence are very necessary, but we should also strive towards a well-rounded representation of not only the black experience, but any group marginalised by the mainstream. When I refer to mediocrity it’s the assertion that we should all be allowed the liberty or privilege of simply existing. We shouldn’t have to be superhuman to recognise our humanity.
Andrew Odong is founder and CEO of Pesa Productions
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