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Quite often I find myself missing ABC’s Scandal. The political drama starring Kerry Washington revolutionized how we watched television and caused many of us to side-eye everything about the United States government. Yet, it was the moments when Eli Pope, played by actor Joe Morton, launched into one of his infamous soliloquies that I miss the most. That time he called Fitz a “boy,” he did it for all the ancestors. But, it was the time he read Liv like the Sunday paper for falling in love with the president of the United States and wanting to be his wife that has come to mind in recent days.
“You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.”
On some level, it’s likely every Black person has heard some variation of that from their parents or community elder. When we are young and ambitious, this warning isn’t necessarily to squelch our confidence so much as temper it within the context that, as African-Americans, we’re going to have to work harder than our white counterparts. And even when we outwork them, we still won’t see the full benefits or respect due that hard work.
In a world that judges the future possibilities of Blackness by its current achievements, here is no room for mediocrity. That’s what causes the senior colleague to pull the junior aside and offer a decoded “get your sh— together” conversation when they’re found to be slipping. It’s why the most prudent of us will reach out to a mentor and talk through a major move several times over so we can anticipate opposition from every angle. Though we are imperfect, we can never mess up. Too much—even pressures we didn’t place there—is riding on our success.
But even when we are exceedingly accomplished, they will work to diminish it—if for no other reason than they can’t stand to see us accomplished. That’s been at the heart of the recent treatment of Supreme Court nominee Ketanji Brown Jackson, and, concurrently, of Terrell Jermaine Starr, a freelance journalist living in Ukraine and covering the current war waged on that country by Russia. Starr has faced criticism from white journalists for articulating his experience of being exploited by major media outlets. That experience compelled Starr to flatly state he refuses to do future television appearances in which he is endangering himself for free or inadequate pay, an assertion of his self-value that raised the ire of many online. After watching a few take shots at him under the guise of safeguarding journalism, I’m glad Starr called it what it really is: jealousy.
Watching Starr name the jealousy made me think of Papa Pope’s words. Our parents and elders meant well—God bless them. They instructed us in this way partly because they believed pursuing the same successes white people did was the goal. The American Dream. And I get it. We should all be able to do the work we love and be compensated for it in a way that allows us to take care of our families and indulge in life’s pleasures. But while many younger folks would agree we want those things too, many of us can also admit we’re not interested in competing with white people to get them.
We actually don’t believe we have to work twice as hard anymore because their standard of success is no longer ours. We’re done measuring what we’re capable of doing against what the gatekeepers and those fiercely defending dying institutions are doing. We don’t even care. That’s why Starr could call a colleague—and I’m using that term loosely—out for suggesting the way he covers news doesn’t measure up to their journalistic standards. Who cares? It literally is a new day.
We’ve only had to work twice as hard to get half of what they have because they’ve worked so hard to rig the game. I’m glad so many of us are now refusing to play it. We must bring our experiences, innovation, personality and intellect into the spaces we enter in the way we see fit. Playing by our own rules really is the only way to thrive in a world committed to seeing us defeated. If we’ve got to be twice as good for anybody, it should be for ourselves—setting goals, achieving them and creating new ones just to see how far we can go. Whatever they have to say about it is inconsequential—and yesterday’s news.
Candice Marie Benbow is theGrio’s daily lifestyle, education and health writer. She’s also the author of Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who’ve Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn’t Enough. Find her on Twitter and Instagram @candicebenbow.
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