So this post was inspired partly by the recent holiday – Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Day – and as well by fellow #ThreadBlogger primemeridian11’s entry on purposeless venting.
It has often concerned me when people refer to someone as the “next so-and-so.” I’m sure you’ve done it before. We all have, myself included. There was a time when I definitely wanted to be the next Michael Jordan. I wanted to go to The University of North Carolina on a basketball scholarship and everything. And then my older cousin dunked on me when I was five, sending both that dream and the backboard and rim we’d nailed to the tree in our backyard crashing down (credit must also be given to the fact that my jumpshot became fantastically atrocious by the time I was 12).
In high school, I “had a dream” of wanting to write the Black man’s Waiting to Exhale. Having read the actual Terry McMillan work prior to seeing the film – and having heard quite a bit amongst my female friends already that “Niggas ain’t shit”) – I was CONVINCED that Black men needed a side of the story, too! And I was going to be the one to write it! Then I stumbled upon the “Black books” section of my local library. And I read Carl Weber’s Lookin’ for Luv. I read Michael Baisden’s Men Cry in the Dark. Apparently, I wasn’t the only one who had that idea for a “Black man’s Waiting to Exhale.” And both of those books, while well told in their own regard, didn’t quite live up to McMillan’s original in my eyes. So my goal has now adjusted: now, I just want to write a great novel, period.
I think everyone needs role models, people or things we set as an idea of what we want to attain or live up to once we reach a certain point in life. And it’s practically human nature to have a comparison standard, to establish something in relation to (or to measure against) something else. However, we should be wary not to confuse a standard with what I have come to refer to as irreproducible ideal (I.I., for short). So, what exactly is an irreproducible ideal? It’s an image that we build up to the point that it transcends common sense and logic – something we aspire to be or have, without fully taking into account that there can only be one like it. In embracing an irreproducible ideal, we unfairly minimize our own potential for greatness. We can’t live up to that, because it’s already BEEN lived up to, if that makes sense.
I’ve heard people say they want to be “the next Oprah.” Some women may have unconsciously (or willingly) adopted a Denzel principle, whereby they’re looking for “the next Denzel” in a future mate. For years, I felt like Black people were waiting on “the next Martin Luther King, Jr.” or “the new Malcolm X” to come along in order to feel energized to mobilize for a cause. Relating this to my earlier mention of primemeridian’s #ThreadBlog post, Black viewers keep waiting for “the next/new Cosby Show.” When television programming with a predominantly Black audience in mind thus falls short of resonating with us the way The Cosby Show did, we are disappointed and discouraged and hate it. The show’s not necessarily under fire because it’s a bad show; so much as it is scrutinized because it did not live up to our OWN expectations. That’s not just with TV, but with everything in life. What did Wale call them, “impossible standards?” If your expectations are so high, why don’t YOU create something… why don’t you BE something that lives up to your own expectations, instead of relying on others to?
We need to stop with this “I’m/she’s/he’s going to be the next” so-and-so mindset. It’s good to look up to moms, or grandpops, or LeBron James or Lil’ Wayne. However, let us keep in mind that God creates us ALL uniquely. There is something special about each and every one of us. We’re irreproducible. There will only be one MLK. There will only be one Oprah. There will only be one Beyonce’. As I had to learn, there will only be one Michael Jordan. But that doesn’t mean you can’t be just as distinctive as these people are.
A friend of mine, C.J. Robertson, once said, “In contemporary times, nothing is more radical than being yourself.” Don’t allow yourself to be blind or confined by an irreproducible ideal. Seek out good examples of people who are where you want to be, but don’t set a high expectation for yourself based solely upon where that person is. To quote Paul D in the novel Beloved, “you are your best thing.” Do your best to be an original with your own legacy. Sure, you could try to be the next “them”… but you know what sounds even better? Being the first you.