IS THIS A THING? Black Girl Mediocrity
Nia Hampton | Monday April 9th 2018
For as long as I can remember, I’ve been a strong willed girl. And when I say girl, I do mean girl. Or better yet, gurl. Much of my childhood involved choosing books over people, beating boys at their own games, always having the answer to the questions in class and never really being afraid of being called loud. In fact, I never really even knew that I was loud. I was just always myself, and some people liked it and others didn’t and only my diary knew that I cared either way.
School was a breeze for the most part. In hindsight, much of my angst stemmed from internal viewpoints of myself that were very much influenced by what I saw in mainstream media, but aggressively nurtured by my own perfectionism. Graduating college and moving to Brazil and drinking a healthy amount of Ayahuasca broke a lot of that programming down for me. And despite my looming debt and perpetual lack of disposable income, I can genuinely say I like who I am. I am relatively content with the person I am trying to become and for the most part, when I am not in the middle of an depressive episode, I am happy.
I can also say that I feel relatively mediocre. Mediocre meaning “average”. This is something that confuses most people. In the world of social media, my life appears to be popping. And sometimes it very much is. And other times, it just ain’t. But you wouldn’t be able to tell that from my Instagram feed. The choices I’ve made to be where I am right now put me in a space where I am living in my mother’s home as I organize and prepare for my first photography exhibit showing the best pictures I’ve taken while traveling and living in South America.
It was in my travels abroad that I realized just how mediocre I actually am. I met some of the most talented artists in Salvador, Bahia, Brazil who have overcome insurmountable odds just to get funding for their projects, let alone screen the works publicly. I met other black solo travelers who have been living the expat life for years, successfully self-regulating and carving out lives for themselves while living in new a country where they don’t speak the language. Hell, I know black migrants that are technically “illegal” and still “winning”. Black women do dope shit all the time – it’s only now that we are beginning to see how normal that is.
Let’s talk about Ava Duvernay’s latest work, A Wrinkle in Time. The film is historic in that it’s the first time a female director has been given the duty of directing a film with such a large budget. It’s also groundbreaking because the lead is a black girl with curly hair and a wide nose. The wonder in the film is that it even exists, honestly, not in the artistry of the work itself. It’s a good film, it’s visually stunning, the storyline is a bit convoluted but it has a lot of heart. Ava Duvernay is good at pulling out the emotion of a scene. Everytime Oprah held Meg’s face and assured her of her beauty and strength, I ugly cried. But I see myself in Meg Murray. She’s a girl who is outcast, and as Jenna Wortham pointed out in her podcast Still Processing, Meg Murray is actually angry. And rightfully so. There is no black woman alive who doesn’t have the right to be mad. It’s what we do with the anger that makes the difference.
“A Wrinkle in Time” isn’t even Ava’s best film. The barriers that women in film have to overcome in the industry to make films are so hard that just to be given the chance to make a big budget film is groundbreaking. And in that way, I feel like her film. The things that I do as a black woman are only “magical” because of the challenges I’ve bested to be here. But, compared to the other black women I know, what I’m doing is light work. I lived with people who did far better things with less resources, and it motivated me to get better. Whether that meant grasping my language better or writing better articles, nothing made me feel more mediocre than seeing the work and movements of my Afro-Latina homegirls. In fact, if you want to feel mediocre and enraged at the same time, research Marielle Franco, a black queer city councilwoman from Rio de Janeiro who was recently assassinated for speaking out against police violence in Brazil. Marielle Franco’s death will no doubt spark a revolution in Brazil, a country with some of the highest femicide and police brutality rates in the world.
Marielle Franco was magical in the sense that she won an election and that her work had impact on such a large scale. But the organizational work she had to produce to get there is work that we have come to expect as inherent and natural in black women… because that’s all we’ve ever been able to do. Imagine a world where we are finally paid what we’re actually worth. Imagine a world where Monique’s now infamous Breakfast Club interview goes viral because she was offered a record breaking amount to tape a special. Imagine what could happen on a level playing field. Imagine a world where a black woman doesn’t have to perform exponentially better than her non-black or male peers just to access basic human rights like being paid fairly for their work.
I’m proposing that Black Girl Mediocrity be the new litmus test of equity. I think it was Chris Rock who made the joke about how hard he had to work to live in the same neighborhood as a dentist. I think it was Dave Chapelle who originally stated that we’ll know we’re free (as black people) when we can be just as bad as white people and still win. When black women no longer have to be attractive, pleasant and desirable to survive (we’re are still figuring out what it takes to get ahead) I think the world will be that much more free. But what say you, Pretty Birds? What do you think? Would the world fall apart if the people that hold it up every day suddenly did their jobs a little less well?