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  • Writer's pictureAuthor T.D. McLaughlin Talks

The Theory of "There Can Only Be One" Part 1 (Op-Ed)

Throughout American history, there has been a recurring narrative that suggests there can only be one successful black individual occupying a certain sector at any given time. This perception has created an environment where black achievements are often pitted against one another, causing unnecessary competition and division. This theory, which has roots dating back to slavery, is a problematic narrative that continues to persist in today's corporate world and other aspects of society. It is high time that we recognize this harmful theory for what it is and work towards dismantling it in order to foster unity, collaboration, and true progress within the black community.


The idea that there can only be one successful black person is not a new strategy; it has deep historical roots. The perpetuation of this narrative can be traced back over many of years and decades. Some of the more well-known and main stream instances include: Martin Luther King Jr. vs. Malcolm X, Muhammad Ali vs. George Foreman and Joe Frazier, Richard Pryor vs. Bill Cosby. Tupac Shakur vs The Notorious B.I.G., or even today Brandon Marshall (I Am Athlete) vs Ryan Clark (The Pivot). In each instance the figures at the center of these fictitious power struggles have been set up as competitors rather than celebrated for their individual talents and contributions.


This strategy dates back to the days of slavery when black slaves were intentionally divided and pitted against one another (the house slave vs the field slave, light skin vs dark skin) to maintain control. This divisive tactic was and is used as a means to prevent unity and rebellion within the black community. Unfortunately, this tactic still exists in various forms today, affecting the black community on many levels.


Interestingly, this theory of "There Can Only Be One" is not universally applied. In predominantly white sectors, individuals such as Steve Jobs, Bill Gates, Elon Musk, Howard Schultz, Mark Zuckerberg, and Warren Buffett have been able to coexist harmoniously, even when their business interests intersect. They've collaborated, competed, and made history without having to undermine or insult one another. Their success isn't seen as a threat to others in their industry or sector, but rather a testament to their own abilities and capabilities.


For instance, in the realm of basketball, comparisons are frequently made between Michael Jordan and LeBron James where you have to disregard ones greatness to make the case for the other. However, when comparing European players such as Dirk Nowitzki and Luka Dončić, the discourse is more about appreciating their unique talents, not diminishing one to elevate the other. The unity and appreciation within these communities stand in stark contrast to the narrative surrounding black success.


In the world of black entrepreneurship and success, figures like Tyler Perry, Oprah Winfrey, and Robert Johnson are often framed as the "one" who holds the crown in their chosen sector. While each of them has made tremendous contributions to their respective fields, this perspective limits the potential for others to rise and succeed without having to compete in an unhealthy manner. This narrative is a barrier to the empowerment of future generations, as it discourages collaboration and unity.


The "There Can Only Be One" theory has been a divisive theory, strategy and tactic for far too long. To dismantle it, the black community must come together and celebrate the diverse talents and achievements within its ranks. The success of one should not be seen as a threat to another, and black individuals should not be pressured to compete against each other in order to prove their worth to a society that fears their unity.


The key to breaking free from this harmful narrative is unity and collaboration. When the black community begins to support and empower each other, regardless of the sector they work in, true progress can be achieved. It's time to rewrite the theory and promote a culture of appreciation and respect for the multifaceted talents and achievements of black individuals. Only then can we collectively overcome the "There Can Only Be One" theory and change the power divide and distribution that is so desperately need.


Part 2 will be available on Wednesday November 8th, 2023.

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