Young, Black, Radical: Excellence At All Costs


A’s, outstanding recommendations, and rave reviews are not be used to dismiss “lesser” products, ideas, and people. 

(Warning: This is going to be a bit anti-capitalist)

I’ve had the terrible privilege of ingesting elitism in large doses. As a child I used my “higher” intelligence as a defense mechanism against my peers in church and other social institutions. Once I was accepted into the Ivy League PWI I currently attend, there was a bit of the same. I’ve been humbled a lot in the past four years. In America we maintain the notion that bigger is always better, that quality determines functionality, and that progress is always linear, whether vertically or horizontally. But I’d like to address these notions of competition where everyone is always after the same prize whether that is an A, 5 Stars, or money. Stop thinking them. Or if you continue to think them, at least be mindful of why you believe that grading and ranking things are important. And no, this isn’t going to be a “mediocrity is fine” or an “everyone is special” rant. At least not as we typically have them.

We only want the best. That’s human nature. If you can get a five star chef to run the kitchen in your restaurant why would you settle for a three star chef? If you can have the former president of student government why would you settle for the former vice president? It’d be more work to deal with the latter. They might need more grooming. It might take more time. Time is the most precious commodity, we want people to hit the ground running because it gives us the peace of mind to focus on other things. This is fine, but the desire to save time by only choosing the most “excellent” less difficult people and things is forcing us to miss out on many gems. And sometimes (really all of the time) you have to dig to find gold. It doesn’t just show up on your porch.

Time and effort are key. In a course I’m taking, I’ve had to engage with a large number of cryptic and hard to read text from Black intellectuals, scholars, and media-makers. I was ready to dismiss them because they were too difficult or I felt like I had better things to do. I honed in on the only “clear” points they made and prepared to discuss them in class. Any sentence that made me stop and mull over meaning was tossed. And you know what happened in class? All of those sentences were the ones with real value. Once deciphered and contextualized, they overpowered the distractions, noise, and mess that made their points easier to dismiss. They were sharing novel and powerful insights. Insights that were only made clear when I stopped trying to process the information as quickly as possible and really began to engage with the material as a young scholar and as a human being. If you’re hungry enough, you’ll cut off the bruised skin and make the most of the fruit.

Now don’t get me wrong, clarity is important, both in the real world and in the “real” world. If you’re giving instructions, clarity is crucial. If you’re trying to convince people of something, clarity is crucial. If you want people to just take in what you’re saying, clarity is crucial. But clarity is not always excellence. An A paper is not always the best standard, at least if an A paper is only one that addresses the topic and presents its points in a clear manner.

I think our society could benefit from using dialogue more often. Instead of mass dissemination of filtered down ideas and ideals, we need a stronger feedback loop where writers and speakers who aren’t the most eloquent can share and not be shut out. When style trumps substance in every instance, we’ve got an issue. It would behoove all of us to deal with a messy article, film, or speech every now and then. If we can find gold anywhere and everywhere it exists, we’ll only be the richer for it. If new ideas are articulated and if work gets done, they have value and worth. We shouldn’t ignore them.



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