By Veracia Ankrah
Posted on August 26, 2021
Every aspect of Blackness is exceptional, from the way our hair grows and defies gravity to the way rhythm flows in our bodies effortlessly when we dance. Our very essence is made up of the stuff that classifies world wonders. In the same breath, there is no doubt as to why the world continues to tell us that we are inadequate and undeserving of basic human rights. We fight these widespread falsified narratives by simply existing, but also by constantly exemplifying excellence. Sometimes, our need to display our merit manifests in an unhealthy pursuit of perfection–something that no human can ever attain–by way of elitism, individualism and an overall need to appeal to whiteness.
Often, conversations discussing “Black Excellence” are co-opted by an unspoken idea that Blackness is only valuable based on how much money or fame a Black person attains. Achieving financial freedom and assimilating into whiteness are believed to alleviate Black strife and suffering directly, creating a “new” version of Blackness by way of wealth and social status. Black elitism includes those of a higher economic class and is usually recognized as Black capitalists, business moguls, politicians and even celebrities. Artist and business mogul Sean Combs, popularly known as Diddy, has played a part in adding to the hip hop zeitgeist, using the phrase “Black Excellence” in an attempt to uplift Black people worldwide from feelings of defeat and hopelessness, to aspire to live limitless, extravagant lives. These are the kinds of lives most people in underserved communities in the Western world, Black countries ransacked by colonialism, and the working class, will never see. Not as a result of laziness or a lack of drive to succeed, but because capitalism thrives on the idea that a selected few will have access to and hoard wealth made off the backs of workers earning unlivable wages.
On Kanye West and Jay-Z’s joint album, Watch The Throne, Jay-Z speaks on his disdain for Black on Black murder and mirrors his understanding of Black excellence on the song “Murder To Excellence.” “Black excellence, opulence, decadence / Tuxes next to the President, I’m present / […] / Success never smelled so sweet / I stink of success, the new Black elite,” the founder and Roc Nation mogul proclaims. “Only spot a few Blacks the higher I go, uh / What’s up with Will? Uh, shout out to O, uh / That ain’t enough, we gonna need a million more, uh.” Jay-Z names prominent wealthy Black entertainers, Will Smith and Oprah Winfrey, further reinforcing his fixation on attaining capital and his need to encourage other Black people to do whatever they can to acquire wealth, as if it will, in turn, alleviate the state injustice and systemic racism.
These sentiments are ironic because on the 2004 single, “All Falls Down” West proclaimed, “F*** the police, that’s how I treat ’em/ We buy our way out of jail, but we can’t buy freedom/[…]/’Cause they made us hate ourself and love they wealth.” Here, an earlier knowingly conscious version of West before the current levels of fame and fortune refers to “they” as white capitalists and demonstrates his understanding that money does not afford Black people white privileges.
“Murder To Excellence” was released ten years ago, and since then, both Jay-Z and Kanye West became billionaires. West alone is on route to being the richest Black man in U.S history. To Jay-Z, attaining mass amounts of riches and earning a spot amongst the 1 percent of wealthy Americans is a way Black people can combat years of institutionalized racism and unjust treatment. However, a significant part of this analysis means that Black people who do not attain billionaire status do not meet the mould of excellence for Black people. Extensive money is considered a means to advance Black communities and although the onus is not on Black business moguls and rappers alone, wealth is a tool of capitalism that leads to individualism, a lethal weapon of white supremacy, rather than Black Pan-African ideals that focus on community and the advancement of all Black people.
Black is excellence by nature and not by how much money is made, how hard we work, overwork or work in the hopes that white people will acknowledge our work ethics and our humanity. Black people are excellent because we continue to boldly show up in a world that would rather we remain meek, oppressed, and unseen. Excellence can mean whatever you want it to mean, as a Black person, but your definition should leave room to rework our (Black community’s) understanding of success, hang up our badges in this hustle culture and abolish any inkling of appeasing white people. Black excellence exists without the achievement of any of these things. Blackness is excellent – full stop.