Who decides?

2018-06-20 06:01

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, and 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 this excellence, and by what 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 got 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? No? 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 postgraduate 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, the EFF national spokesperson, has also been labelled “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”, and the single mothers who through socio-economic circumstance beyond their control are forced to wake up at 4 am 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, short-changed and feeling that I am underperforming. It cannot and should not be limited to your academic performance, entrepreneurial advancements, social media presence, the car you drive, a fancy apartment or even a 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.

— HuffPost SA.
• Tshepang Sebulela is a legal compliance officer for the South African Human Rights Commission.

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