Wednesday, July 31, 2013

Hidden in Plain Sight: The Extraordinary Negro

For the longest time, I’ve been pondering the plight of the extraordinary Negro.

What is his plight? I’m glad you asked.

The extraordinary Negro gets very little love. Put another way, he gets no recognition for his considerable talents. Indeed, he gets no recognition for who he is.

Instead, the extraordinary Negro is misclassified as “average,” and his accomplishments (extraordinary though they be) are presented as proof positive, Exhibit A if you will, that the broken is functional.

Take this, for example:

An extraordinary child, with extraordinary intellect, drive, passion, and focus, does exceedingly well in an underfunded, understaffed, chaotic, inner-city school. But does anyone recognize this child’s brilliance? Not really. Instead, his academic success is touted as attainable by all who would apply themselves to the task at hand.

As a result—and pay attention now, because this is the slick part—the underfunded, understaffed, chaotic, inner-city school is said to be doing its job, because this child has done well. If only all other children would apply the same diligence as this child, it is said, scores would improve, drop-out and truancy rates would decrease, discipline problems would dissipate, and so on.

Well, yes and no. (My absolute favorite answer to every yes/no question.)

Because remember, this child is extraordinary. He is not average. Not by a long shot. However, his talents are being obscured by the grown ups’ needs to justify the status quo.

Let’s run with this.

Once an extraordinary boy, this extraordinary man does very, very well at work. He is creative. He is innovative. He’s got energy and great communications skills. He is smart. Oh, so smart. He is thoughtful and analytic. Articulate and funny. He rises through the ranks—not too quickly, but at a good pace. And now he is the only black professional on the team.

But many don’t see his specialness. Instead, they see his rise as a shining example of what anyone could do if only he had the will and the desire.

What a shame.

Please don’t misunderstand. The extraordinary Negro has no cause to boast. Simply put, he's been gifted.

On the other hand, let’s be clear. The extraordinary Negro has no cause to cower. Simply put, he’s been gifted.

Well, today is my gift to the extraordinary Negro. 

I see you. I see your extraordinary talent. Your extraordinary brain. And I don’t dismiss it as average. I know that not everyone could do what you’ve done. Not everyone could achieve what you’ve achieved. And I know that your accomplishments are not proof of a level playing field. Uh huh. Proof of a level playing field would be when truly average brown boys and girls could do as well as their non-brown average peers.

And yet 

Carry on, extraordinary Negro. Carry on. 

I’m watching you.

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