Black in NH: The Trope of Black Excellence

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Black History Month offers many ways to engage with and understand the history, contributions, and excellence of the Black community and African diaspora. The month often serves as the only time in which people actively acknowledge all that Black people have endured and persevered through, most likely highlighting the extraordinary.

The list of accomplishments of the Black community is longer and more robust and diverse than our public education has allowed us to explore. The richness of contributions in all avenues of life – including medicine, law, mathematics, fine arts, journalism, politics, and social activism – cannot be overstated, over-celebrated, or over-examined. Black culture is one of the most, if not THE most, influential guides of everyday American life; and that includes New Hampshire. Style of dress, music, dance, food, vernacular and slang, and other facets of American pop culture folklore have been undeniably influenced by Black culture. And so, February, and Black History Month, feel like the perfect time to elevate and celebrate.

While it is certainly necessary to explore and celebrate all of the unique ways that Blackness has permeated our daily culture, the focus on the extraordinary continues to perpetuate marginalization of everyday Black folk. Oftentimes, in conversations about Black history, we focus on the larger-than-life icons of the Black community; those who have made an indelible mark on our country and culture. When that happens, we overlook the majority of Black folk in our local, national, and global communities. 

Black folk matter. Whether someone is able to galvanize thousands to descend upon the nation’s capital in protest of injustice or if they are raising their kids and being a good neighbor and member of their community, Black folk matter. The hyperfocus on ‘Black excellence’ creates unattainable standards of what it means to be seen, heard, respected, and uplifted for everyday people. 

By focusing on the ideas of excellence, it becomes easy to overlook the day-to-day contributions that Black folk make in our communities regularly. The parents who are involved in the local parent/teacher association, the neighbor who helps shovel your snow after a N’oreaster, the cashier at your local grocery store – all of these people display excellence in their daily lives. But our society has made it so that in order for a Black person to be seen as excellent, as worthy of celebration and validity in their personhood, more is required. 

Further, ideas of Black excellence are often coupled with ideas of wealth, materialism, and extreme participation in harmful capitalistic values. By aligning Black excellence with wealth, Black folk continue to be measured against their white counterparts. In the same way that Black Power does not manifest itself in the ways that white power does, Black excellence cannot be measured using the same metrics of the dominant community. We are living in a country in which Black folk were not meant to survive. Our survival, every day, in the most mundane ways, is excellent. Our ancestors’ struggle for freedom and personhood was not predicated on whether or not we achieve extreme wealth or notoriety; but on the hope that we would be able to live good and decent lives, while having a family, being in community with one another, and stewarding the Earth. All of these things are Black excellence. 

As we close out this Black History Month, take time to consider the metrics you hold for Black folk to be considered excellent- to be considered worthy of their full humanity. If those metrics continue to require Black folk to strive for the extraordinary and don’t make space for our ordinary lives and survival, it might be time to adjust and reconsider how your use of Black excellence prolongs the erasure of everyday Black life. Today, and every day, let’s celebrate the tenacity and steadfastness of survival of the Black community- that is Excellent!


Emerald Anderson Ford e1707750581249

Emerald Anderson-Ford can be reached at elanderson85@gmail.com

About this Author

Emerald Anderson-Ford

Emerald Anderson-Ford is a traveling philosopher, anti-racist strategist, and abolitionist. She resides in Manchester.