Chronicles Of The Overachieving Black Girl

November 24, 2014

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Six Fridays ago, I arrived at my apartment door and found what is now one of my most coveted possessions: the complete season of Daria on DVD. I used the Amazon gift card my sister gave me for my birthday to purchase the set and spent the next few nights binging on the first two seasons. The binge watching continued during the subsequent weeks. I discovered a newfound appreciation for the wit and sharp writing of a show that I couldn’t exactly understand during its run in the late 90s when I was wearing pigtails and hitting up Ms. Donahoe’s fifth grade class.

I love many of the characters on the show (my favorite is Daria’s best friend Jane Lane because she is a cynical asshole, but she’s also artistic and much more well-adjusted than Daria.)  But, another character who resonated with me was Jodie Landon, the only black recurring character aside from her boyfriend Mack Mackenzie. Jodie is smart, likable and over-extended when it comes to her extracurricular activities. Watching the episodes where Jodie appears reminds me on some level of my own high school experience, one that also took place at a predominantly white school. I understand Jodie because I was one of those black girls who knew people and they knew me, but I wasn’t in any popular inner circle. I wasn’t exactly overextended when it came to extracurriculars, but I worked pretty hard and did well enough to join the world of college and, later, student loan debt.

Jodie could be considered an overachiever. The same could be said for Olivia Pope. Or Annalise Keating. Or Michaela Pratt. (And if at least one of these names does not ring a bell, I’m going to question our friendship.) These are all fictional black characters whose ambition and zeal resonate in good and bad ways with the black female audiences who consume them. But, when it comes to being a black woman, I don’t know if overachiever is even an accurate term. Often times, it feels like what the rest of the world considers an overachievement is just a basic achievement in my book. Maybe we’re all kind of like Olivia and our parents are all kind of like Rowan:

Rowan: Did I not raise you for better? How many times have I told you? You have to be what?

Olivia: Twice as good.

Rowan: You have to be twice as good as them to get half of what they have.

I don’t know if I ever directly heard the phrase “twice as good” in my household, but I know that fucking up was not an option. Bad grades weren’t an option. Slacking off wasn’t an option, at least not if you wanted to live to see your eighteenth birthday. My mom wasn’t in the PTA. She didn’t chaperone field trips. But, she drilled me before spelling tests and asked to see every report card that made its way through that front door. My sister and I did not have permission to entertain mediocrity. Now, I appreciate both of my parents for that lack of permission. So, who knows if I’m insanely intrinsically motivated or if I’m just conditioned to do things well and right. I don’t know and I don’t quite care.

I’ve called myself an overachiever before. So have many others. But, now, I would like to settle in the comfort of knowing that I do things well and I am damn good at what I do. I am not over-anything. I am achieving. I’m accomplishing. I’m learning from mistakes and resetting my sails. I’m bouncing back. I’m showing up. I am doing the work. I am putting my head down and doing the motherfucking work. If those things are considered overachieving, I damn sure do not want to know what “achieving” is.


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