In honor of Black History Month, the Foghorn staff reflected on what Black excellence means to us, and why it also needs to be celebrated by non-Black people. While allyship is critical in an ongoing fight for equity and racial justice, it is equally important that non-Black people celebrate Black success on a daily basis. Our society’s fixation on negative situations involving Black people, such as instances of police brutality, perpetuates an association between Black people and trauma and crisis. Black people should not be defined by these negative associations and, instead, should be recognized for their excellence, beauty, and power. Black excellence doesn’t only exist in historical events: it exists every day, all the time.
Black excellence means recognizing and celebrating the accomplishments of Black people in any aspect of our lives. Black people in the U.S. have had their achievements intentionally belittled, forgotten, and completely ignored for generations. As a result, Black success is often seen as a surprise, when it should be the status quo.
Many people have been taught — by deep-seated systems of oppression in our society — that making room to celebrate Black excellence means giving something up themselves. This is not the case. The truth is, everyone stands to benefit from celebrating the brilliance and achievements of Black people. Black excellence often paves the way for other minorities to follow. Think of the doors Barack Obama opened in politics, Jackie Robinson opened in sports, and Ida B. Wells opened in journalism. Progress for Black people in this country has always been a good measuring stick for how effectively America lives up to its value of equality for all.
Black achievement has been downplayed for too long, and yet, Black people continue to thrive and persevere in America. We need to be diligent about celebrating Black excellence and passing this celebration on to the next generation. We must make known the victories, brilliance, and accomplishments of Black people among young folks, so they don’t grow up with a negative association to Black people, especially for Black children themselves. We should strive towards a culture of Black celebration, not Black degradation.
This means not only looking backward, but also forward. Black excellence isn’t just about recognizing the history-makers and world-changers, but also the accomplishments of Black people in our everyday lives. Repositioning the American narrative to be more representative of Black people’s contribution to it is a process that is more nuanced than simply calling out systems of institutional racism for their wrongdoing. We also have to love Black history, Black achievements, and most importantly, Black people. It is far too easy to gloss over the resilience, determination, and incredible strength behind Black successes in America today. One cannot truly understand the American narrative without understanding the African American narrative first.
More people usually protest racial injustice than celebrate Black excellence because it’s often easier to call out a system which is wrong rather than celebrate people we take for granted.
While Black people have been in America for more than 400 years, there are still more “firsts” to come. This Black History Month, take it upon yourself to not only learn new history, but to also to take the time and energy to actively appreciate some Black excellence in your own life. Afterall, love and appreciation is radical resistance, too.