What is Success ?

Constantly we go through life finding easy ways to compare ourselves to others. This could mean seeing someone with “nicer” clothes or shoes than you or someone more on track with their goals than you. This false sense of inferiority stems from our desire to reach a plateau of greatness as quickly as possible. We struggle with the concept of the American Dream being the epitome of triumph. When in reality, everyone has a different pace of success. Success can’t be measured by materialistic wealth or even accomplishments, but our self-acceptance. Self-acceptance of who we are and what we bring to the table, often turning into our communities and building from there. Once that is attained, the capitalistic ideals of success won’t measure your personal definition of achievement.


Historically, the Black community has suffered under the guise of success. Enslaved Africans were never supposed to be a part of the American dream as they were tools for white Americans to succeed. Their labor boosted the agricultural economy and led way to the industrial revolution. However, the anticipation of slavery left these once enslaved Africans to find their legacy on turmoiled soil. So, what does this have to do with self-achievement? The following decades after the emancipation, freed slaves blame. For example, the civil war granted soldiers paychecks for service, and with a check comes a need for deposits. This eventually led to the Freedman banks openings, garnering nearly $57 million in savings from Black Americans. Unfortunately, with the collapse of the southern economy from the defeat of the civil war closed many banks and no federal protections were put in place to protect the savings accumulated by those Black soldiers. This became less a reflection of the government and a deeper reflection of Black Americans. Racial stereotypes spewed inefficiency and mental deficiency. 


What followed was a century of playing catch up to a game that Black Americans were never meant to win. Now this isn’t to say that there haven’t been great accomplishments in terms of wealth, because there has. The early 1900s were fueled by segregation laws and focused on building black businesses. Greats like Madame CJ Walker became a millionaire during that time.  There are modern legacy stories as well. We can look at examples of Oprah, Jay-z, Robert Smith and many more but their alignments have focused on the idea “pulling up by bootstraps” and “if I can do it, anyone can” rather than unveiling the systematic difficulties set in place to hinder the success of Black Americans.


Angela Davis said “I don't think we can rely on governments, regardless of who is in power, to do the work that only mass movements can do.”


True success comes from unhinging the idea of what we are supposed to be and how we are supposed to achieve. As we have seen, Black wealth thrives in the communities and was transformative when pulled together instead of finding individual differences. When we separate the microwavable success we’ve been fed, then we can garner our own acceptance of who we are. This acceptance will always manifest in personal success.

Nyla Stanford 

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