I have always been pro affirmative action and unreservedly so. We need it and it is necessary.
Over the past weekend I was down in Cape Town for the Loerie advertising awards and I was very happy to see the diversity of the people who were walking up to collect gold and Grand Prix Loeries. For a while, it was a rarity to see black people walking up that stage to collect that metal, but this time I was pleased to see a number of worthy recipients. It further cemented my belief in affirmative action. The idea that transformation lowers standards was completely dispelled. If anything, transformation adds; it does not take away.
As the character of Don Draper in the series, Mad Men, said: “If you don’t like what’s being said, change the conversation.” I don’t like the conversations I have been hearing about affirmative action because I don’t believe they will lead us to the answers of the 21st century, particularly for black South Africans.
It is not enough to have the job, but we must absolutely dominate those roles with our know-how and insights. This must not be confused with brash arrogance because you can’t learn if you think you have all the answers; there is no growth there.
Being “good enough” is not good enough anymore. In fact, being good enough has never been good enough. No one has ever transformed the world by being good enough. They have had to summon a deep-seated sense of exceptionalism within themselves to transform their world. We ought to pursue an era of black exceptionalism. The important caveat is to make sure and understand that this does not mean an exclusion and undermining of other races because that leads to othering.
To be good enough means that you will forever be subjected to being the candidate that was chosen simply because you are black not because you are great at what you do.
We have to liberate ourselves from self-doubt and wondering if we are ever really good enough to not only compete in the world, but shape, dominate and share in the economic, philosophical, inventions, technological debates, including ownership of these in the world. All this will be in service to the world, to make it better than it has been to us. We are just as much a part of the world as any other group and we must start acting and behaving that way.
We have to free ourselves from the yolk of self-doubt. Not only are we doubted by those who hold the money, we doubt ourselves and each other too.
We need to enter a new era as black people. An era of black exceptionalism. This means that people are so dedicated to learning their craft that they become the masters who will have control over their own destinies and in so doing will have the destiny of this nation and continent in their hands.
This is not to say that there is something wrong with people who simply want to live their lives and go on their daily tasks. Those who have the capacity and ability must consider what pursuing excellence will do for the black community and confidence at large.
Since we know, admit and acknowledge that we as a people have been oppressed for many centuries, what do we have to do now? We have two choices; wallow in self pity and say “woe is me” and keep talking about how we are excluded and how slow transformation is, or we can start taking charge of our destiny. We will achieve this by doing what we have been doing for all these years. We need to do things differently and start being deliberate about why we are doing those things.
Black people should dominate the world in thought and in contributing to the betterment of the human race. We should not be ashamed of making that our goal. This should be the new black consciousness.
Black exceptionalism means that we have a fundamental belief that we don’t just a have a right to be the biggest contributors to society, but rather we have an obligation to be. It is of course not something that can be done overnight. It is a mindset that has to be hammered into generation upon generation.
The Jewish people have experienced calamity upon calamity. Their numbers are small, but they have contributed so much to science, art, business, law, philosophy, to the benefit of every single sector of society. Yes, we too have been oppressed, but we have to think about what we have to do to be useful to the human race.
I am very much aware of the fact that someone might ask me if I am saying that we are useless by implication. This is not a matter dividing people, but rather making a group of people realise that they have some obligation, not just to them.
I am also against the idea that we ought to applaud people for being “the best black” in a field. (I was humbled later when one student told me that she had aimed to be the best black accountant, now she wants to be the best accountant). The aim should be about being the best. Simple. And we can do it. I have seen it over and over again. This goes for the whole continent.
This idea must not be seen as an attempt to exclude others, but it is rooted in giving confidence to a society and group of people who have stripped off their confidence and abilities.