February marks Black History Month for America and Canada, with many across the pond using this time to highlight black people’s achievements and contributions to the world that may not be taught otherwise. It has come amid fervent discussions about black liberation and white supremacy – and last month actress and talk show co-host Stacey Dash took a wholly controversial stance, questioning it’s relevance.
She spoke out on both her blog and Fox News saying, “things like “Black History Month” and BET shouldn’t exist, since they further divide us. I feel like it’s hypocritical to say that we’re all the same, but then to self-segregate into little enclaves of society.” These comments were hit with huge amounts of backlash from the black community, who saw her views as denigrating to outlets that serve an important purpose for racial equality. BET is not segregation, it is much-needed representation.
Many see BHM as a time to highlight blacks who are commonly overlooked, and have done great things, with twitter users using the hashtag #blackexcellence. But what is black excellence? Did Stacey Dash have a point despite her provocative and frustratingly misinformed delivery?
‘Black excellence’ is the concept that black people with power and brilliance are making steps towards diminishing racism. ‘Black excellence’ is also inadvertently the notion that we as black people are special, and somehow different from the norm, when we succeed. This also suggests that we require Black History Month in order to highlight such specialty. Many have questioned this in the past, arguing that black history should be taught all year round.
Most people see success as having achieved a lot, become popular, and/or made a lot of money, but have different definitions of what achieving “a lot” is. Are blacks so different from the norm when they achieve success?
I believe the foundation of the ‘black excellence’ umbrella was in the late eighties/early nineties when people like Oprah Winfrey, Michael Jackson and MC Hammer became exceedingly wealthy in America, and their ‘success’ publicly inspired a generation of blacks. Youth who, until then, had never seen examples showing that somebody black could reach the same levels of wealth that a white person could. That is truly important. I want for young people to be able to identify with images of wealth and power and know that it is attainable for them.
But the problem with portrayals of this type of success is when they supersede normal ambitions and humble goals. 30 million dollars is not a benchmark for black success. Neither is being famous or a scholar. Success is working hard and doing as much as you can and being happy in what you do.
Great feats of success drive some but not others. We must not belittle the black man who is manager of TGI Fridays, supports his family and is happy doing that. We are all valuable people and we strengthen the campaign for equality when we collectively acknowledge that our success, just like our community, covers a wide spectrum.