Dorothy Dandridge And The Deadly Pressure Of 'Black Excellence'

dorothy dandridge
Briona Lamback
November 2, 2023

Dorothy Dandridge was the dazzling doll of the 1940s. From TV to film, she was a star on the big screen, snatching up roles and collecting prestigious awards, but her “Black excellence” wasn’t enough.

Black Excellence “refers to a high level of achievement, success, or ability demonstrated by an individual Black person or by Black people in general.” Although many of us consider it a goal to strive toward, constantly chasing excellence creates a standard of perfection that’s impossible to live up to. And that can be mentally detrimental.

Dandridge felt she was under a world of pressure because many at the time looked to her as a representation of the success of our people, especially under the constant thumb of anti-Blackness in Hollywood. The pressure was never ending, leaving the starlet to feel like nothing was ever enough.

It’s not our desire to be excellent that’s harmful – it’s the anti-Black-built systems that put hurdles in our paths but keep us chasing perfection and exceptionalism that are. 

This chase led Dandridge to an early death by suicidal overdose. Too many of our people perish by suicide for similar reasons, but we don’t have to. We are all worthy just by our very existence.

We deserve to exist without the weight of the world on our shoulders. You are great just because you’re here, Black and beautiful. Everything else is just a bonus.

We have a quick favor to ask:

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