Updated: Sep 1, 2022
By Brianna Altman
Observed throughout the college admissions process, academic achievement, the job process, and more, it is clear as day that notions of excellence and merit dominate American society. While predominant thought suggests that America is a meritocracy, the prevalence of “white mediocrity” — or the idea that society accepts the demonstrated averageness of white people in certain feats or even in everyday life — defeats this. For those on the opposite end of the racial hierarchy, averageness is neither celebrated, nor tolerated. Black women, for instance, are not extended this luxury. Experiencing racism at the behest of institutions and interpersonal interactions, Black women, at all levels of achievement, face intense scrutiny.
To resist this, movements centered around Black excellence has cropped up, such as #BlackGirlMagic. #BlackGirlMagic is aimed at celebrating the achievements of Black women, as well empowering them. While this strive toward Black excellence is admirable, especially within a society antithetical to Blackness, it is this yearn for distinction which exacts harm unto Black women. Specifically for #BlackGirlMagic, the ascription of “otherworldly” or “supernatural” to the accomplishments of Black women, while serving to reframe negative perceptions, also places undue stress upon them to consistently prepare and perform excellence on a daily basis. The well-intentioned attribution of “mystic” words to describe Black women, creates an expectation one could not possibly meet within their human confines. #BlackGirlMagic, while celebrating the achievements of Black women, inadvertently pressures the community to conform to stressful standards perpetuated by society. In the pursuit for excellence, a message is sent. It is that the acceptance of black women, if/when it occurs, is conditional. If a Black woman is not consistently striving for better and accomplishing feats, then she is worthless.
That is why, in addition to honoring Black women’s achievements, it is also important to celebrate Black women for being “average”, or simply themselves. Black women do not need to be special in order to feel cared for or accepted, as Black women are already deserving of love and praise, just as they are.
-PHOTOGRAPH BY AKILAH TOWNSEND