Moving Beyond The Generation of ‘Firsts’

violadavis-emmy

Viola Davis made history on Sunday.

At this weekend’s Emmy Awards, Viola became the first black woman in history to win an Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actress in a drama series. When I heard the news, like many others, I felt that rush of excitement, elation and gratitude that always kicks in when I can see that doors are beginning to open for women of colour. To be the first is not just an achievement for the person that accepts the award. It’s a reflection on everyone that has come before them and fought for change. It’s a milestone that should be recognised beyond the black community. But, then when reading an article about Viola’s resonating speech, I came across a comment that really forced me to reflect on the event from another perspective:

Wow… the first and it’s 2015???

Amazing, isn’t it? That at this time, when we have overcome so much, that one comment can convey that there is still so much work to do. Viola’s achievement should not be overlooked, it’s a breakthrough and speaks volumes about her perseverance in an industry that has not always supported her success.

But, it hit me: we are still living in a generation that is experiencing firsts.

We are still in a place where certain achievements are anomalies. And this made me realise that while we should always celebrate accomplishments of this magnitude, we cannot forget that the battle for equality is still very much a present-day issue. During her speech, Viola explained it quite beautifully:

The only thing that seperates women of colour from anyone else is opportunity. You cannot win an Emmy for roles that are simply not there.

The talent is there. The passion and drive is there. What we are lacking in an equal amount of opportunity.  The roles in Hollywood are not usually made for Viola or any other black female actors. But, there they are, pushing through and creating a wave of change in one of the largest mainstream industries in the world. These women, and men, knocking down the door first are burdened with having to be that much better, more outstanding and creative. Then, they have to be grateful for being acknowledged within industries that do not create anywhere near enough space for their ability, personal experiences and cultural diversity. This needs to change.

I don’t want to continue growing up in a generation of firsts. I don’t want women like Viola, Halle Berry and Kerry Washington to be anomalies. I want them to be a normality. And while firsts may help to inspire millions, these talents then need to be nurtured and provided with a chance to shine.

So let’s take a moment to celebrate Viola, Taraji Henson, Regina King and all of the other talented black women doing everything in their power to make history. Let’s remember the struggle that came before them. And, let us continue to push forward and be the change.

 

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