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The H3O/Art of Life Blog

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On Humility

By Ayoka Boahene

Presented by Omni-U Virtual University

Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Matthew 5:16 KJV

In the era of the ascension of "Coach Prime"  and the Colorado Buffaloes , I've seen a lot of calls for Deion Sanders, aka "Coach Prime,"  to humble himself- to show humility. If you're not up to speed on what is going on with Coach Prime and the "Prime Effect," please scroll down to our "Recommended Reading" section and read the article linked there. You can also check out our "Recommended Viewing" section and watch the interviews with Coach Prime there as well.

Recently, as we do most every night, my husband, Michael, and I were in the kitchen talking and the topic of Coach Prime came up: how much life, hope, and energy he is bringing- not just to the College football world but, also to the conversation around Black mentorship and fatherhood- when The Ultimate  Coach, the Lord, brought the subject of humility into the conversation and gave us a lot to consider.

No one is as concerned with the humility of any other group of people, the way so many seem to be exceedingly concerned about the humility- or lack thereof- of Black people. Inevitably,  when Black people are thriving in any area, i.e,  when we excel in the things we do to the point where we catch the eye of an audience, large or small, the "humility checks" become relentless: 

"Is he or she humble?"

In other words, are we subdued in our demeanor, highlighting the achievements of our opponents while downplaying our own, and are we primarily reticent when we are dominant? "Is he or she arrogant?" In other words, do we indicate awareness of what we have achieved? Are we openly exuberant and celebratory of our accomplishments? 

Do we really think we're "all that!" when we carry ourselves with a level of pride commensurate with the level of our achievements; walk with our heads held high;  walk- unapologetically- in our glory? Are we "too flashy" when we openly display the evidence of our achievements ?

But, what is humility?

I can tell you that humility isn't about downplaying our excellence or stifling our exuberancy in moments of triumph. Nor is it withholding rewards from ourselves that remind us of what we have been able to accomplish. It isn't keeping our eyes cast down and fading into the background as much as possible.

Because of shyness and a measure of introversion, some of us may behave in these ways. These are usually people who have personalities that are less outwardly expressive. Although these characteristics are often mistaken as such, they are not synonymous with humility.

Apparently, the discomfort with Black achievement seems to arise from the ill- conceived notion that this isn't supposed to happen. When Black people achieve anything notable, there is a paradigm shift in the system because the system is designed to ensure our containment and to extract all of the value from our gifts to enrich others. Also, suppressing our work in order to elevate the status of other people -while heaping accolades on those same people, is common practice-  one example being award shows like the Oscars and Grammys where our greatest works are usually shut out. "#OscarsSoWhite" was created to bring attention to this phenomenon.

The system in which we must operate, is designed to extract the fruits of our labor while leaving us completely bereft of gain of any kind. There is  a "shock to the system" whenever we are able to benefit from our  endeavors- especially our own intellectual property.  We are a bottomless source of real value, human mines from which empires have been built and sustained. To quote Ancestor Dr. Margaret T.G.Burroughs:

"Further I will tell them of our Ancestors, an industrious [B]lack people 

Upon whose backs and labors have been built the wealth of The continents of Europe, America and Africa…"[2]

The very serious business of controlling the resources of our human mine is complex and requires our cooperation.

There have even been times when other Black people cautioned those of us who excelled to "bury our light under a bush" lest we awaken the wrath of our adversaries. And, recalling such historical examples  as  Paul Robeson and Jack Johnson, who stood proudly in their excellence and were severely punished for it, makes it evident that those fears are not unfounded. Look at the outright disrespect to which Barack and Michelle Obama were subjected during both his campaigns and two terms as President of the United States of America. And, remember the contempt that Serena experienced during her dominance of the tennis game and Tiger Woods during his reign as the most successful professional golfer to date. 

There seems to be an extreme degree of trepidation regarding Black achievement and excellence. Many prefer that it be kept "on the low," or, preferably, remain unheralded. Hence, this incessant policing of our humility which is synonymous with "staying in our place" as the inferior beings we are alleged to be. 

There is always this outcry for "humility," -  when we achieve an observable level of greatness. We are expected to behave in a manner that is not required of any other group, in order to avoid being perceived as "uppity," "full of ourselves," acting "above our station"- getting out of our place in the "underclass", etc. Case in point: Hattie McDaniel's acceptance  speech when she was awarded  the Oscar for Best Supporting Actress at the 1939 Oscar awards.[3]  

On the other hand, the appearance of introversion is usually regarded with great suspicion and we are often penalized for this "transgression." We are expected to be extroverted in mediocrity - even debauchery- and introverted in excellence and success. When our excellence is obfuscated, others can pretend it doesn't exist. Therefore, it can easily be dismissed. It  doesn't have to be taken into account in any way, decision-making or otherwise. If our accomplishments are inconspicuous, it can be assumed that the mechanisms built to contain us and extract and re-route the value of our efforts are working.

These calls for humility are calls for our submission to subjugation rather than to a greater authority that will lead us to the heights of excellence and achievement that we seek. On the other hand, what our adversaries are seeking is our subservience which is disguised by a pseudonym called "humility". 

So, again, the question is, "What is humility?" What are we asking a person to do- especially one who is Black-  when we are telling them to "humble" themselves?

Humility is submission to a greater authority.

Humility is the space that we willingly occupy when we decide that we want to learn a new skill -or improve our level of skill- and we submit ourselves to the instruction and guidance of an authority(ies) in the trade, practice, or discipline. 

The absence of humility causes us to be dishonest with ourselves about where we are in terms of our skillset(s) or goal(s). A lack of humility prevents us from ever being able to submit. 

We lack humility because the ego is in the driver's seat. It is not subdued, it is swollen, thus, it is sensitive, touchy, and unable to see itself as in need of correction, guidance, and wisdom from anything outside itself. Nothing can have authority over "me" because I must be perceived as perfect at all times. Otherwise, I am nothing.

However, great achievement is the result of  being grounded in humility. When you see greatness, you are seeing the results of a person exercising the discipline to subdue the ego, i.e., to submit to teachers and the process of growing from novice, with no expertise in an area, toward ultimate competence. The willingness to look weak; to  admit incompetence; to ask the seemingly foolish questions; to fail and to learn from failure; to take instruction and reprovement… These are the hallmarks of true humility

Humility takes place in the silent struggle, where there are no cheers, no ovations, no spotlights, no rewards- only  incremental growth. When one first enters the arena after a time of submission, there is the possibility of humiliation- the chance that one will lose "face" in front of the crowd. The ego is chained by the body, mind, and soul in this case, and only these three are allowed to enter the arena.

When we call for someone to be humble, we must ask ourselves:

"Have we, ourselves, resided in the space of humility?" 

"Have we allowed ourselves to be aware of how far from our goals we are?" 

"Are we strong enough to admit that we require help and guidance to build up to the level where we dream to be?"

"Are we afraid to show others that we are not yet where we hope to be?"

"Are we hiding out among the spectators instead of taking the long and difficult journey to the stage?"

"Is our criticism of the displays of excellence by others just noise that we create to silence the inner voices that tell us to look at ourselves and see what is really there-  what work is required to reach our best selves?"

It is when we answer these questions truthfully, that we will begin our personal journey with humility. That is because humility is not something we can impose upon anyone other than our own selves. It is what we, ourselves, must practice in order to achieve our own greatest hopes.


[1]Matthew 5:15 KJV

[2]Life with Margaret: THE OFFICIAL AUTOBIOGRAPHY. By Dr.  Margaret T.G.Burroughs 

Recommended Reading:

Forced into Glory. by Ancestor Dr. Lerone Bennett, Jr.

Recommended Viewing:

Recommended Listening 

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