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January 13, 2024

Why Black Excellence is not Enough.

Here at WOC Therapy, we were doing our best to slowly ease into 2024, but it seems the world had different plans. Our goal is to promote empowerment counseling for women of color, but that goal is already being met with steady resistance by the world. Only a few days into the new year, women of color, specifically Black women, were met with what felt like a direct attack and harrowing reminder that no one is safe from racism deeply embedded in the United States. The resignation of Harvard University’s first Black president Claudine Gay is a story that is too familiar for WOC. She was forced to resign due to accusations of plagiarism and criticism of her response to antisemitism on campus. “However, from the earliest days in her new role, Dr. Gay operated under heightened scrutiny, with critics eager to question her qualifications and embrace of diversity and equity programs”. If you’ve had to work or navigate corporate, the entertainment industry, or any political arenas, you know exactly what happened to Gay.

What is the mental health impact of tying our self-worth and safety to our achievements and external validation? Regardless of her academic accomplishments and professional accolades, Gay was still subjected to the racism embedded within America’s academic institutions, political system, and more.

“The idea of Black excellence paints itself in a beneficial light, allowing for self-actualization of community efforts to overcome the clear adversity Black people suffer daily, but in reality, often masks an undertone of perfectionism and obsession: two concepts which can possibly lead to anxiety and mental unwellness. For African American communities, it’s sustained by a sense of intergenerational fulfillment and “survivor’s guilt”—an idea that we have not suffered as much as others of our community’s long history and thus should be capable of excelling. It’s a standard that we as a culture hold double for Black women.” – Essence Magazine (Steven Underwood). Opinion: Is Black Excellence Killing Us? | Essence

women of color empowering each other

Conformity, excellence, and wealth do not provide immunity for people of color against shared experiences. Despite our efforts, we still face similar challenges of discrimination and violence. The mental health implications of this reality are profound. The constant struggle for conformity and the pursuit of excellence can lead to increased stress, anxiety, and feelings of inadequacy. Moreover, tying our self-worth, safety, and liberation solely to notions of “excellence” and “achievement” can exacerbate these challenges while blinding us to the actual work that needs to be done to exist safely in a racist society.

Here are a few ways we can take to slowly detach our self-worth from our achievements:

Cultivate Intrinsic MotivationFocus on activities and goals that genuinely align with your interests and values rather than pursuing achievements for external validation. Find joy in the process rather than just the outcome.

Challenge Negative Thoughts: Actively challenge and reframe negative thoughts about your self-worth tied to achievements. Replace them with positive affirmations that emphasize your inherent value regardless of accomplishments.

Diversify Sources of Validation: Seek validation and affirmation from a variety of sources, including personal relationships, hobbies, and internal self-reflection. 

Build a Support System: Surround yourself with people who appreciate you for who you are, not just for what you achieve. Engaging in empowerment counseling for women of color can also ensure that you’re gaining built in support as you work toward more friendships. Get a free consultation with us here. Contact Women of Color Therapy | WOC Therapy

To move beyond these limitations, it is crucial to redefine success and liberation beyond conventional standards. Embracing diverse narratives and recognizing the intrinsic value of individuals irrespective of societal benchmarks is essential. Fostering a more inclusive and equitable society involves dismantling systemic barriers and promoting holistic well-being that goes beyond #BlackExcellence.