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black excellence


Shattering Stereotypes: Intersection of Autism and Black Excellence

Dictionary.com defines the term “Black excellence” as “a high level of achievement, success, or ability demonstrated by an individual Black person or Black people in general. The term is often used to highlight and celebrate specific examples of such achievements and abilities, especially as the hashtag #BlackExcellence.” Many African American family systems value Black excellence and thrive to honor an unwritten expectation to excel academically and professionally, with little room for deviations from this path. While emphasis on achievement may have motivated the African American community, it also created immense pressure and a sense of inadequacy for those facing complex challenges.

Autism often comes with unique challenges that can make it difficult to meet societal expectations of success. The rigid thinking patterns, sensory sensitivities, and social difficulties associated with autism can limit ability to thrive in traditional academic or professional environments. Unfortunately, the focus on Black excellence often overlooks these challenges and fails to recognize the diverse talents and abilities individuals with autism possess. Society’s narrow definition of excellence leaves little room for understanding or accommodating those who learn differently or struggle with certain tasks due to their neurodivergent nature. As a result, autistic individuals and their families are left feeling marginalized and overlooked.

Black excellence is undoubtedly a powerful force for the Black community, celebrating achievements and breaking down barriers. However, it is important to recognize that this narrative can inadvertently perpetuate shame and stigma for autism families within the Black community. In a society that often places high value on conformity and normalcy, families with autistic children are often made to feel inadequate or flawed. They may face judgment and criticism from their own community, feeling pressured to hide their child’s diagnosis to avoid the shame associated with being different and to minimize mistreatment from a culturally biased society.

The emphasis on achievement and success can also create unrealistic expectations for autism families. Black excellence celebrates exceptional talent and accomplishment, but this narrow focus can overshadow the everyday challenges faced by African American families. The constant comparison to extraordinary individuals within the Black community can leave parents feeling like they are failing if their child does not meet those standards. This pressure only serves to deepen the shame and stigma surrounding autism, as families struggle silently, fearful of being judged by others who do not understand their unique journey.

It is crucial that as a society we shift our perspective on what it means to be excellent within the Black community. Instead of solely focusing on traditional measures of success, we must celebrate diversity and embrace all individuals regardless of ability or neurodiversity. By creating an inclusive environment where every member is valued for who they are rather than what they accomplish, we can begin to dismantle the shame and stigma experienced by autism families in the Black community. It is time for us to redefine excellence so that it reflects compassion.

The term Black excellence emerged as a response and resistance to centuries of systemic racism and oppression faced by Black people. It originated from the need to celebrate the accomplishments, talents, and contributions of Black individuals who had been historically overlooked or undervalued in mainstream narratives. Black excellence has become an empowering phrase that encapsulates the resilience, strength, and brilliance within the Black community.

To redefine Black excellence in a society that has suppressed Black people, we must first challenge and dismantle oppressive systems that perpetuate inequality. This includes advocating for equitable access to services, education, healthcare, employment opportunities, and criminal justice reform. Redefining Black excellence also involves amplifying marginalized voices by creating platforms for underrepresented communities to share their stories, experiences, and perspectives. Additionally, it requires recognizing the diversity within the Black community itself – acknowledging intersectionality and uplifting those who are often sidelined.

By redefining Black excellence in this way, we can shift societal perceptions from one-dimensional stereotypes to a more nuanced understanding of the multifaceted achievements and potential within the Black community. It is essential that we actively work towards creating an inclusive society where all individuals have equal opportunities for success regardless of their race or ability.

If Black excellence emerged to celebrate the accomplishments and talents of Black people in a systemic suppressive society, it is imperative that this celebration also includes individuals with autism. Autism is often overlooked or misunderstood, and by including it in the narrative of Black excellence, we can challenge the narrow definitions of success and create a broader society. Just as racism marginalizes Black people, ableism marginalizes individuals with autism, leaving them invisible and underrepresented.

Autistic individuals possess unique talents and abilities that should be recognized and celebrated alongside other forms of brilliance within the Black community. By acknowledging their strengths, we can highlight not only their contributions but also foster a sense of empowerment within the autistic community. Just as it is important to dismantle systemic racism for Black people to flourish, dismantling ableism allows those with autism to thrive.

Black excellence should be a complete concept that recognizes all forms of exceptional achievements within the Black community. By ensuring that autism is included in this celebration, we pave the way for a more equitable society where all individual’s talents are acknowledged regardless of race or neurodiversity. It is time to broaden our understanding of what constitutes excellence and embrace all facets of diversity within the framework of Black achievement.

The following are some ways we can change the narrative:

Advocacy in the Black Community

The Black community has a unique opportunity to recreate the narrative of Black excellence by prioritizing and supporting families with children who have autism. By embracing and celebrating the diverse abilities within our community, we can debunk harmful stereotypes and promote a more inclusive society. One way to achieve this is through education and awareness campaigns that highlight the accomplishments of Black individuals with autism. Sharing success stories, showcasing achievements in various fields, and emphasizing the strengths and talents of these individuals not only challenges negative perceptions but also inspires hope for other families facing similar challenges.

In addition to elevating Black excellence within the autism community, it is crucial to provide support networks for families navigating this journey. Creating safe spaces where parents can connect, share experiences, and access resources can be immensely empowering. Community organizations such as the Autism Society of North Carolina and FACES can play a pivotal role by organizing support groups, workshops, and informational sessions specifically tailored to address the unique needs of Black families with autistic children. These initiatives not only bridge communication gaps but also foster a sense of solidarity among parents who often face isolation due to societal stigma or lack of understanding.

By rewriting the narrative surrounding Black excellence through a lens of inclusivity and compassion, our community has an opportunity to uplift those affected by autism while promoting greater acceptance for all individuals. Through education, awareness campaigns, and robust support networks, we can empower families with autistic children to thrive while reshaping perceptions about what it means to be excellent within our diverse community.

Advocacy in Academia

To dismantle ableism in the Black excellence narrative and world of academia, it is crucial to first recognize and challenge the harmful assumptions and stereotypes that perpetuate ableism. One way to do this is by amplifying the voices and experiences of neurodivergent Black individuals in discussions surrounding Black excellence. By creating spaces for these individuals to share their stories, we can acknowledge the unique challenges they face and highlight their achievements, thereby dismantling the notion that disability equates to lesser ability. Another way to advocate for this is by raising awareness about the needs and challenges faced by disabled students within academic institutions. By organizing events, seminars, or even panel discussions on campus, we can engage students, faculty members, and administrators in meaningful conversations on inclusivity; and by establishing support groups, school systems and institutions can provide a safe space where individuals can share their experiences and learn from one another. Support groups of this nature may also serve as platforms to voice concerns or suggest improvements to make educational experiences more accessible and inclusive.

Additionally, it is important for academic institutions to actively work towards creating inclusive environments that support neurodivergent students and faculty members. This could involve providing alternative formats for learning materials or offering accommodation tailored to individual needs. By prioritizing accessibility in academia, we can ensure that all individuals have equal opportunities to excel in their chosen fields without being hindered by ableist barriers.

Furthermore, challenging ableism in the Black excellence narrative requires a shift in mindset within society at large. This involves promoting a more holistic understanding of success that encompasses diverse identities and abilities. It means celebrating achievements not only based on traditional measures such as grades or accolades but also recognizing personal growth, resilience, and contributions made by disabled individuals in various spheres of life. By redefining what it means to be excellent beyond physical or neurotypical norms, we can create a more inclusive narrative that uplifts everyone regardless of their abilities.

My Story

black excellenceI am Felicia Williams Brown, and I am the mother of a son who is on the autism spectrum. He has been classified as level 3 and was diagnosed at the age of two. Our family is African American, and like all cultures, we have faced challenges in navigating the world of autism. As highlighted in this article, a unique component to Black families is the impact of Black excellence. The concept of Black excellence becomes relevant for me when I am in a situation that requires me to share the achievements of my son with others. It also comes into play when cultural pressures make me feel inadequate as a parent due to his disabilities. Furthermore, it painfully occurs when I am unable to openly embrace my family’s distinct dynamics. The impact is unrecognizable at first, but I certainly feel the pressure in these situations.

As a person of color, I didn’t fully understand the impact of ‘Black excellence’ on a personal level until I was confronted with situations where other children were being acknowledged for their successes and rewarded, such as during graduation season. While I observed parents and students rightfully celebrating accomplishments, graduations, and receiving extravagant gifts, my family was still focused on teaching our teenage son basic skills. There is a sense of pride and significance in how much progress we have made as a community. However, I feel disconnected and like an outsider who has had to come to terms with the fact that I may not be able to celebrate my child’s accomplishments in the same way. It wasn’t until I found myself in these situations that I truly realized my feelings about this. Even though my daughter does not face the same challenges as my son, the contrast is clear – she attends numerous award ceremonies with recognition while my son only attends a few. Although it brings me joy to see others succeed, I can’t help but think about my son’s emotions and how this inequality affects me personally.

Wouldn’t it be wonderful if the world of academia was a more inclusive and empathetic environment? There are numerous ways to acknowledge achievements, and I understand that other parents of children with special needs can relate to this frustration irrespective of their cultural background. However, for Black families, there is a unique intersection between being Black and having special needs. Our ancestors endured unimaginable hardships as slaves in this country, fighting for the progress we have made today. Our ideas were stolen, and our talents were belittled. It is disheartening that the Black community has been overlooked in narratives of success in the past, constraining Black excellence to the limitations of what society deems extraordinary. Our community is proud to celebrate our best and brightest, but we have forgotten that excellence is demonstrated in diverse ways. Unfortunately, this narrow viewpoint is an overcorrection in response to historical mistreatment. So, for Black families with special needs children, we yearn for our children’s accomplishments to be acknowledged beyond academia’s predefined exceptional standards. We also seek to celebrate our children’s achievements on equal footing with their peers in both school and our community. My aspiration is to redefine how we recognize and applaud one another, ensuring that everyone can shine regardless of their circumstances. Balancing exceptionalism with inclusivity is indeed challenging, but I have embraced its complexity and must navigate it daily. I firmly believe that each of us is extraordinary, and I am glad to see attitudes starting to adjust.

My son holds remarkable intelligence, humor, musical talent, love, and insight. He shares a profound connection with nature and demonstrates exceptional wit. While I find him truly extraordinary, I long for more inclusive ways to honor him without appearing patronizing or condescending. I recognize the challenges that large gatherings can pose for individuals like my son, but with thorough preparation and support, I am confident that we can create an inclusive environment where people of all abilities can be celebrated together. Within the Black community, there is an opportunity to showcase diverse representations of achievement and success. While we have had to amplify our own stories due to historical oppression, now is the perfect time to change our mindset and redefine how we celebrate all individuals in our community.

In the end, I cannot foresee whether my son will go to college, drive a car, or achieve independence. I am unsure if he will find love, marry, or have his own children. His future career and recognition for his achievements are also unknown to me. There is much that remains uncertain. However, what I do know is that he is exceptional, dedicated to personal growth, and aspires to take pride in his accomplishments just like anyone else. He is an amazing person who deserves recognition beyond our family circle and isolated environments. While it brings joy when our children receive acknowledgment, it is equally rewarding when others are open to embracing and celebrating my son alongside me for who he truly is.


  • How to Recognize the Impact of “Black Excellence” Pressure: https://www.autismsociety-nc.org/wp-content/uploads/Black-Excellence-Infographic.pdf
  • Autism in Black: https://www.autisminblack.org/ Autism in Black aims to provide support to Black parents who have an autistic child, through educational and advocacy services. Autism in Black is dedicated to bringing awareness to Autism and reducing the stigma in the Black community. (National)
  • Family Support Network- Black Parent Support Groupsupport@fsncc.org /Tabia McKinzie, Disability Community Support Referral Specialist at FSN tabia@fsncc.org(Virtual and Triad In-Person)
  • FACES: Fostering Advocacy, Communication, Empowerment, and Support: An Advocacy and Empowerment Program for Black Families Raising Autistic Children: The mission of the FACES program is to inform and empower historically underrepresented families and caregivers of autistic children and adolescents by addressing inequities in access to support services. FACES aims to: (1) improve the quality of life for Black autistic youth and their families, (2) advance the field of education with regard to culturally responsive special education practices and policies, and (3) contribute to autism research by teaching and learning from families, community partners, and related service providers. FACES Website Email: FACESprogram@ncsu.edu Phone: (919) 515-9093- (Statewide – North Carolina)
  • BFAST- Black Families and Providers Accessing Services Together- A project by TEACCH to take Black parents/caregivers step-by-step through how to access resources, create their child’s “support team” in their communities, and stay empowered along their journeys. (Statewide- North Carolina)
  • EPIC: Empowered Parents in Community: Empowered Parents in Community, EPIC, is a non-profit, 501c3, that aims to cultivate parent leadership and improve the conditions to better support family engagement and students’ educational needs. Our mission is to dismantle systemic racial inequities in education. We do this by intentionally engaging Black parents and empowering them through collective organization to advocate for accountability at all levels to close the educational opportunity gap. We came to life in one school and in one short year have grown to have parent leaders in one-third of Durham Public Schools. https://epic-nc.org/ Toyia Williams (she/her) Program Director (919) 200-0682 toyia@epic-nc.org (Durham, NC)

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