I am not exceptional, I am an example

I recently read an article about a woman who finally recovered from what was referred to as “Black Snow Flake Syndrome

Here’s the post for your reference:
Your “not like other black people” phase makes the ancestors cry
(For the grammar nazis: yes, it’s supposed to be you’re not your.)

I must admit that I too was a mild sufferer of this divisive condition. I used to comfortably sit on top of the pedestal of “exceptional blackness” that I was placed on. I used to bask in the typical compliments of
“you’re so articulate,”
“you write so well,” and
“you have such a professional demeanor.”
I thought that by polishing my ability to mimic the white American standards of excellence, I could thereby classify myself as one of the “Talented Tenth” or “Black Elite.”

I was no stranger to this sense of superiority within the black community. I grew up in Southwest Atlanta, GA, frequenting Camp Creek, Cascade, Campbelton, and Old National. These areas are predominantly black, however, there’s great diversity in the income levels of the residents. Gated communities and newly-built subdivisions often sit right next to smaller older houses, apartments, and section 8 housing residences.

My high school was probably 98% black, but it was not monolithic.
The buppies sat next to the dope boys.
The politician’s kid sat next to the felon’s child.
The doctor’s kid sat next to the child of an unemployed parent.
The kid with the latest Js sat next to the kid in the Converse All-Stars,
who sat next to the kid in the beauty supply store flip flops,
who sat next to kid in boat shoes,
who sat next to the kid in the clean all-white Air Force Ones.
(I’m dating myself a bit here.)
Ultimately, this unique structure exposed us all to how varied black lifestyles can be despite proximity. We were together, but often our realities were separate. “Elite” blacks always seemed to be set apart.

I want y’all to recognize this divisionary concept is as old as slavery and colonialism. Blacks who possessed more characteristics resembling whiteness, including skin tone, hair texture, speech, and ability were purposely set apart from the common black folks. They were treated better and they internalized this notion of being better. I must mention that this is not exclusive to the black community, because ya know, colonization took place all over the world.

But back to my point.

Y’all, I accepted that invitation to sit at the table and drank that delicious kool-aid for the longest. I thought of it all as a performance. “All the world’s a stage,” right? I would easily code switch between a professional and more authentic demeanor. My performance was reinforced both inside and outside the black community. So when I was afforded the opportunity to sit at the graduate school table at Columbia University, I knew I had really mastered my code switching craft. I was considered an “exceptional black person.” I was placed in situations where I would feel so lucky to be one of the black people considered good enough to be present. Constantly I would find myself being the token of groups, where I’d be thrust into positions to serve as “the Lorax” and “speak for the trees,” or in my case, “explain blackness.”


Notably, after awhile I felt drained, frustrated, and as though I was losing myself.
The notion of me being an “exceptional black person” was problematic for me to conceptualize because as I said, growing up I was fortunate to live in a community where I was surrounded by brilliant black folks, regardless of education and socioeconomic status level. So it is extremely difficult for me to believe that I am some sort of exception, or that I am some superior version of blackness.

Now I have spit out the diabetic kool-aid that was provided to pacify me.
That kool-aid was addicting
That kool-aid left me with temporary satisfaction
That kool-aid left me feeling isolated
That kool-aid made me weak
That kool-aid  did not truly quench my thirst…

As backwards as this may sound,
attending Columbia University for graduate school humbled me.

That “exceptional” pedestal I sat on left me feeling so alone. It only provided two views. One was to look up and aspire to a world and lifestyle that I’d never fully assimilate into. The other view was to look down on people who I once dwelled among and resembled me. I decided to hop off of the pedestal that I was placed on. I realized that…

I am not the exception, I am simply an example

I am an example of those pigmented persons who came before me and left a legacy that afforded me my spot. I am an example of many more talented, melanted people who will come after me to surpass my success. I am an example of those within my community
who fed me,
helped me,
supported me,
prayed for me.
I believe it truly takes a village to raise a child, and I am simply a mere example of all of the excellence within that village. Since this epiphany, I now walk into these token positions, not to bask in the attention of being the only one considered good enough. No, instead, I simply focus on doing my best and serving as an example of everything that is often denied about and disassociated with blackness. Collectively, we emit a continuous legacy of greatness. Together, we all embody the notion of Black Excellence in all of its variability.

2 thoughts on “I am not exceptional, I am an example

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