October means 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 have always been successful Black people, the widespread use of the concept of “Black excellence” is a newer phenomenon; 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, 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 the ‘mad-bad-and-dangerous-to-know’ anti-Black 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, possessing superhuman healing abilities.
Although these examples may seem well-meaning, at the far end of the spectrum, these perceptions can result in “superhumanisation bias”. These prejudices, can be just as damaging as their more glaringly negative counterparts and are 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 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, and the reason why these shows have found great success. They tap 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 wit.
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.
I do believe that we need more platforms which celebrate us in our “mundane glory”. It is unrealistic to constantly aspire to perfection, 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 generated far from home. As I am sure many will verify; black parents often drill home 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 matched by statistics that show a persistent employment gap for Black young people despite being more likely to have completed Higher Education than their white counterparts. Reports of ‘snowy peaks’ in state and corporate institutions are almost as reliably recurrent as Black History Month.
I’m not espousing 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 in the mainstream. When I refer to mediocrity it’s the assertion that we should all be allowed the liberty or privilege of simply existing.
In summary, we shouldn’t have to be superhuman to recognise our humanity. Though perhaps it is hard to imagine the placards or social media memes declaring #BlackMediocrityMatters
Andrew Odong is the Founder of Pesa Productions a production company specialising in socially conscious events, content generation and strategic brand partnerships with clients including Vice, Spotify and Interview Magazine.