Why celebrating black mediocrity matters - by Andrew Odong

With Black History Month over for the year, the past month has been filled with celebrations of the contributions of the African & Caribbean Diaspora in the UK, and rightly so! As I scroll through my Twitter timeline using the hashtag #blackexcellence, I am delighted to see countless examples of thriving black creatives, philanthropists, academics and business professionals, beating the odds.

Although there has always been excellent black people, the concept of “black excellence” is a rather recent phenomena; born out of social media’s democratisation of the media landscape. Viral hashtags such as #blackboyjoy and #blackgirlmagic have empowered black people to combat the sometimes-negative stereotypes seen in mainstream media and create authentic positive images, reclaiming our narratives in the process.


However, as I’m sure you are aware, 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 experience is simply not “black and white”!

What I have sometimes observed in the media is the prevalence of bad stereotypes or shining examples of black people achieving exceptional feats, with little to fill the chasm in-between. 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 a reformed inmate on death row possessing superhuman healing abilities, before our humanity was recognised.

Although these examples may seem well-meaning, at the extreme side of the spectrum, these perceptions can result in “super-humanisation bias”. These prejudices, can be just as damaging as their more glaring counterparts and 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! Now you may be wondering where I am going with this but give me a chance!

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 having to 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, hence why these shows have found great success at tapping into their respective millennial audiences, who have been hungry for this content. They have transformed the concept of “black mediocrity” into a revolutionary and radical act, all the while maintaining a sense of charisma and wit.

I do believe that we need more platforms like these, which celebrate us in our “mundane glory”. It is indeed inconceivable to aspire to perfection, it is also incredibly exhausting. In an ideal world, we should not submit to pressures of being perfect or expendable. This is of course easier said than done. This is also not to say that these pressures are external in nature. As I am sure many from my community can testify, black parents typically drill home the work ethic that you must be twice as good to even be seen as an equal.

This article must also not be misconstrued as the belief that we should all aspire to mediocrity. Positive examples of black excellence are necessary, but we should also strive towards a more well-rounded representation of not just black people but any group marginalised by the mainstream. When I refer to mediocrity it’s the fact that we should be allowed the liberty or privilege of simply existing. In summary, we shouldn’t have to be superhuman to recognise our humanity.

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Good articles & research to refer to!

Statistics on pain thresholds for black people - https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/04/04/do-blacks-feel-less-pain-than-whites-their-doctors-may-think-so/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7977a815f0f4

Superhumanisation of black people 1 - https://www.thecut.com/2014/11/white-people-think-black-people-are-magical.html

Superhumanisation of black people 2 - http://journals.sagepub.com/doi/abs/10.1177/1948550614553642

Superhumanisation of black people 3 - https://www.motherjones.com/politics/2014/11/black-people-magical-superhuman/ 

https://perception.org/featured/why-we-need-to-stop-talking-about-the-magical-negro/

https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/to-your-health/wp/2016/04/04/do-blacks-feel-less-pain-than-whites-their-doctors-may-think-so/?noredirect=on&utm_term=.7977a815f0f4

https://www.theatlantic.com/entertainment/archive/2014/11/black-superheros/383042/

https://www.refinery29.uk/lack-of-black-actresses-in-film

- Andrew Odong

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