Thanks to social media, we’re seeing more and more young black students feel less pressure to present whitewashed versions of themselves. To put it bluntly, we’re in the era of "Fuck Yo’ Respectability Politics.” The proud black millennials you’ll see below have discovered how to celebrate their excellence by infusing pride and culture into their academic achievements.
Mark Phillips will be graduating from the University of Texas this spring.
To celebrate his academic excellence, he decided to pay homage to all the hip hop legends who got him through the semester. In late April, he posted photos of himself in his cap and gown with a backdrop of recreations of all of his favorite rappers’ album covers. Although the mainstream loves to appropriate hip-hop culture, it’s also often stigmatized. Phillips’ photoshoot was a means of celebrating his culture and his education.
The Houston-based artist Krystal Mayo went viral last year when she hand-painted a graduation cap design of one of the most icon rap covers of all time.
Graduation by Kanye West quickly became a must-have for black students who wanted to recognize that they had avoided being The College Dropout. Mayo, aka @kmmartwork, has an entire Instagram dedicated to designs that let students express themselves and appreciate their own success the way they want to.
Another Houston native came all the way through by recreating the pinnacle of Black Girl Magic for her graduation portrait.
Pictured from the side with her cap draped over a fresh set of braids, the word “Graduate” replaces the album title Lemonade as an homage to Béyonce.
Photographer Shaun-Andru Tylerr went against the grain to prove there is a place for unapologetic blackness in education.
The image of a beautifully dressed black man biting into a savory piece of fried chicken, while posed next to a 40 ounce was nothing short of iconic. I find that the image especially resonates given the historical racism surrounding black culture and its relationship to the celebratory cuisine of fried chicken and malt liquor. Tylerr's photographs highlighted the beauty of our culture and the accomplishments of the smiling graduate in the pictures.
And just when I thought we had reached peak Black Excellence, Tylerr dropped another photo shoot that portrayed one iconic pose.
For years, it has been traditional to floss your achievements and abundance by taking a photograph with a large stack of cash. But for those of us who have worked especially hard to earn that kind of capital, you really have to pretend that this enormous wad of cash is a telephone next to your ear. This symbol of wealth shows anyone looking at the image that if you're not talking about money, don't bother this busy individual. And after working hard on a degree, it’s clear that this model has a lucrative future ahead of her.
This gorgeous ballerina is giving us all the Misty Copeland realness in this nontraditional image showcasing both brains and a passion for ballet.
I imagine her GPA is as en pointe as her shoes.
Another display of #BlackExcellence: this girl who took her Harvard invitation to prom.
According to Buzzfeed, high school senior Priscilla Samey didn't find a date in time, so she took matters into her own hands. She tweeted out “Couldn’t find a man to accept me for prom, so I took a college that did #Harvard2021.” Not only is she brilliantly independent, but on her way to an Ivy League school.
Speaking of the Ivy League, the hashtag #BlackMenofYaleUniversity began trending when Yale junior Akintunde Ahmad tweeted a photo of himself and other black students from campus.
That Yale image was even celebrated across the pond, where a group of Black students at Cambridge recreated the photo.
Shared over 4,000 times, this photo illustrates exactly what an accomplishment it is to be a Black student in higher education.