Blacks need to set higher standards for themselves

September 25, 2012 § Leave a comment

This originally appeared on my News24 column

I get really frustrated when I hear black people applaud a black person for being the Best Black in a particular field. Now, I am not against black people excelling. They should. They must. And have to in every single sector of society. Yes, even surfing.

We didn’t applaud Michael Jackson for being the best black (and please easy on the white jokes), we applauded him because he was the best entertainer to have ever lived. He was not the best black, he was the best human being who happened to be black.

What do I mean by Best Black Syndrome? Best Black Syndrome is when a person of the melanin-advantaged persuasion achieves in a field that was previously the domain of the melanin-disadvantaged persuasion.

The black person somehow manages to be in the top five or top 10 and then we proceed to celebrate the person as if they are in fact number one. We start slaughtering sheep and cows and thanking our ancestors. Meanwhile, back at the ancestors’ cribs, they are shaking their heads and thinking, but you are not number one.

Let me differentiate between Best Black and First Black. I think First Black should be celebrated. It takes a lot to be the first anything. To be the first black person in a field which your kind didn’t have access to and wasn’t given opportunity to participate in is a big deal therefore that needs to be celebrated. The ones who come after should work to exceed the achievements of the First Black. They should strive to be number ones and not be happy with being number four. The First Black often goes through a baptism of fire in order to open the door for those who follow.

Achievement

Yes, we should sit back and acknowledge that it is an achievement, but not make a big deal out of it, there is still the number one spot that needs you to occupy. Best Black allows one to be complacent. It makes you think your only competition is other blacks. That is setting low standards of the highest order. Your competition is yourself, to be the best you possibly can be, and ultimately, the best there is.

When you start competing against other blacks your motive is not to help lift them up but to bring them down. Which is where the PHD comes from. It is what a lot of black folk talk about. Black on black jealousy which breeds the “Pull Him Down” syndrome. Jealousy doesn’t breed success.

We need to start taking responsibility for our own little areas. We will make mistakes as we learn, drop balls here and there, but all that is done in the quest to be the best. We must try to perfect at what we do every day and by doing that, we earn our own self-respect and consequently, the respect of others.

My personal motto wasn’t my motto when I first said it to a friend, it was only later that I realised I had said something pretty profound, if I say so myself. As the days went by I knew that it was a good one to live by precisely because it was such a difficult one to live by.

The motto? “It’s better to fail aiming high than to succeed aiming low.” If you aimed low and succeed, you just succeeded at failing – failing yourself. That is the worst kind of failure. One of the greatest tragedies in life is being so used to failing yourself and to low standards that you no longer recognise it when you have failed yourself.

High standards

It is in this respect that I say that being the Best Black is not a good standard. The gold standard, make that the platinum standard, is being the best. Simple.

Barack Obama, in a Father’s Day Speech in 2008 before he became president, spoke to a black church addressing black issues.“We need to set high expectations for ourselves,” he said.

He confronted the black community for saying that a black man couldn’t be president when he started running. “We didn’t set high enough expectations for ourselves. We believe that someone else can do it but we can’t.” Many were just satisfied with him trying; the possibility of him winning was beyond them.

We should not set low expectations for ourselves. When we set high personal standards we set high standards for the country. It’s something that becomes bigger than just an individual standard, it becomes a cause. When we set low expectations for ourselves, we do the same for the country. That’s how it is.

Therefore we need to have high standards for our political leaders too. If we have low standards for them, it is hard for the rest of us to set high standards for ourselves. Our leaders must lead by example.

We should not be surprised when a black person achieves the number one spot, the best portfolio manager in the country, best advocate, best marketer, whatever it is. Why? To be the best who happens to be black.

Discipline and dedication

The best anything means hard work, discipline and dedication. Apart from that, when we get to high positions and achieve in our chosen fields, it will be out of pure merit and no one will accuse us of getting positions because of the colour of our skins – even if that was a factor.  Let’s get great, but happen to be black.

It should be expected that black people excel in every sphere so that we can get to hold these positions of authority and control the top companies in the JSE. Right now, 89% of the top companies have white CEOs. It’s not going happen overnight. We have got to work hard to get to the top. Especially for those of us with no political connections. Hard work is the only way my dark friends.

In the words of one of my all time Nike favourite ads, “You don’t win silver, you lose gold.” It’s about winning. It’s about being first.

However, don’t compromise your principles just to be first. In the end, when you compromise to win, you lose yourself. There is no greater loss than losing yourself.

That is all. As you were.

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