What Is Black Excellence? Former “Jeopardy!” Contestants Reflect On Competing While Black
Amanda Edwards / Stringer / Getty Pictures

Watching “Jeopardy!” each night time has been a long-held tradition in my family, and I’m not alone. In line with The New York Times, “scores for ‘Jeopardy!’ and ‘Wheel of Fortune,’ tops within the [game show] class, are among the many most-watched packages in tv — a minimum of exterior of stay sports activities. Each entice round 9 million viewers on a typical night time, and generate tens of hundreds of thousands of {dollars} in revenue annually.”

However in 1995, “Jeopardy!” fan Maya Angelou mentioned how she was disheartened by the dearth of diversity amongst contestants throughout an interview with PBS. “We have now modified every part about this nation – our very being right here…And I activate a program like `Jeopardy!,’ the place very often I’m featured, or my title or some guide I’ve written or some music I’ve written is the reply. And I see no black folks on it,” mentioned Angelou.

“I imply, I haven’t seen a black particular person for 2 years on `Jeopardy!’ . . . So I’m boycotting it, though I like it,” Angelou added.

The beloved game show first debuted on March 30, 1964. It’s been virtually 30 years since Angelou’s remarks, and sadly since then, we’ve seen a resurgence of scientific racism, whereby proponents “argue that Black folks fare worse than white folks as a result of they are typically much less naturally clever,” regardless of this fantasy being repeatedly debunked.

Whereas official statistics on “Jeopardy!” contestant knowledge and variety aren’t accessible, as a Black girl, who’s all the time, within the phrases of Issa Rae, “rooting for everyone Black,” I do know there haven’t been *that* many individuals which have appeared like me.

And this Black Historical past Month, ESSENCE had an opportunity to sit down down with some former “Jeopardy!” contestants and listen to their ideas about what it meant to compete as a double menace, being each Black and good.

Colby Burnett

What Is Black Excellence? Former “Jeopardy!” Contestants Reflect On Competing While Black
<> on January 23, 2015 in Encino, California.

“The flip facet of selling Black excellence is that, ought to any of us do poorly, we don’t have the luxurious of slinking again into obscurity. I by no means performed ‘Jeopardy!’ only for myself. As an educator, I knew that I needed to present out for my college students and my college. As a Black man, I needed to present out for the tradition. As a son, I performed with the intent of shopping for my mom a modest dwelling to ease her into retirement. She had all the time instilled in me a robust perception of the significance of schooling. She sacrificed time, effort, and cash making certain I used to be profitable in essentially the most rigorous college environments.  After I attend a social outing with my mom, I’m not some ‘Jeopardy!’ champion; I’m ‘Wilma’s son.’ I’m a ‘Jeopardy!’ champion exactly as a result of I’m Wilma’s son.”

Folake Dosu

What Is Black Excellence? Former “Jeopardy!” Contestants Reflect On Competing While Black
Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

“Trivia was by no means trivial to me. I used to be so severe about ‘Jeopardy!’ from a younger age and glued to the TV each weekday afternoon to play alongside. To at the present time, every time I area the query ‘Have you ever ever thought of happening ‘Jeopardy!’, I get a kick out of the response after I reveal that I have already got. Competing within the School ‘Jeopardy!’ Event throughout my senior yr fulfilled a private dream, however I additionally did it to make Black lady nerds seen and to normalize our presence on this enviornment.

Years later, I based Trivia For The Culture, a Black popular culture staff trivia occasions enterprise, to fight the dearth of illustration at bar trivia in relation to who’s taking part in and what’s being requested. Making an area the place folks can revel within the data of Black tradition and historical past is a literal recreation changer that creates pleasure and expands the narrative.”

Chris Pennant

What Is Black Excellence? Former “Jeopardy!” Contestants Reflect On Competing While Black
Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

“I’d needed to be on ‘Jeopardy!’ since I watched it as a baby, and I can truthfully say it by no means registered for me whether or not a contestant was white, Black, Latino or some other race. ‘Jeopardy!’ was a proving floor for intelligence and response time, and I needed to show I used to be nearly as good or higher. That’s why I joined Scholastic Bowl in sixth grade, why I used to be the one non-alternate seventh grader on Keller Magnet’s Tutorial Bowl staff, and why I utilized for the present yearly in highschool and school.”

Nevertheless, I’m not blind. I don’t appear like many ‘Jeopardy!’ champions. It jogs my memory of after I was in school and folks noticed me carrying a Bradley t-shirt. A tall, younger Black man at Bradley would cause them to a confident question: ‘You play basketball there,’ I’d — at first shyly, then with a touch of defiance — shoot again, ‘No, I play within the band.’

My presence in these areas was unexpected and introduced loudly and with goal: I’m a sensible Black man and I’m HERE. I took the ‘Jeopardy!’ take a look at for my validation and my mom’s, and I’m eternally grateful she had the prospect to see me win. However the illustration is easy: while you see somebody who seems to be such as you doing one thing, you consider you are able to do it too.”

Randall Rayford

What Is Black Excellence? Former “Jeopardy!” Contestants Reflect On Competing While Black
Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

“I’ve been drawn to ‘Jeopardy!’ for so long as I can keep in mind. I’ve fond recollections of watching with my grandparents and them encouraging me as I’d reply accurately. I rapidly observed how few contestants appeared like me. Since then, I can’t assist however root for any Black particular person on ‘Jeopardy!’ as I’m certain that’s the case for many Black folks watching.

Rising up, I used to be consistently made conscious, by each Black and white folks, of my particular standing as a ‘good Black child,’ as if excelling at math and science, studying the encyclopedia for enjoyable, or being a trivia-minded know-it-all had been exceptions to the rule for girls and boys who appeared like me. Whereas I’m certain most adults had been merely encouraging me to pursue the pursuits that made me glad, it all the time felt considerably back-handed, and nonetheless bothers me to at the present time.

It solely occurred to me throughout my second look that I used to be the one Black particular person among the many contestants for that week. I by no means needed to be on ‘Jeopardy!’ to make a press release as a Black competitor, solely to show to myself that I might compete with, and beat, the very best of the very best. All through my life I’ve been taught that something that I do as a Black man in a historically non-Black house will replicate on myself and people who come after me. My hope is that my look, and others like me, will present younger girls and boys of shade that their intelligence, curiosity, and thirst for studying symbolize the rule, not the exception, and shouldn’t be handled as a novelty.”

Ashley Rayner

What Is Black Excellence? Former “Jeopardy!” Contestants Reflect On Competing While Black
Jeopardy Productions, Inc.

“I’ve been watching ‘Jeopardy!’ since I used to be a really small baby. I spent a number of time hanging out with my grandmother, Bettye Bonds. My Gran is from Memphis, Tennessee. She graduated from highschool, married my grandfather, and had my mom in fast succession. After which she moved to Chicago, the place she lives now. She helped me discover ways to learn at a younger age and fostered my love of studying and trivia. We’d watch ‘Jeopardy!’ and attempt to see who might get essentially the most solutions each single day. Due to her, I needed to be on ‘Jeopardy!’ since I used to be eight years outdated.

I all the time observed how the classes had been principally about white folks. We knew that if an African American class appeared on the board, it will be the final class chosen, and lots of the contestants wouldn’t know the solutions. The present has positively made efforts to make their questions extra various, however I nonetheless really feel that there’s extra work to be accomplished. I’m a agency believer that illustration issues.

My household all the time celebrated Black historical past and trivia, however I can think about different ‘Jeopardy!’ viewers observing the dearth of questions on Black folks and surmising, subconsciously or in any other case, that trivia about Black folks isn’t necessary, or that Black historical past doesn’t matter. After I watched with my Gran, we might all the time cheer for the Black folks, shout out the solutions for them in case they wanted assist, and rejoice their wins and losses. It’s wonderful to appreciate that maybe somebody was doing the identical for me after I was a contestant.”


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