How is it that we're still celebrating first blacks in 2018?

Credit: Jana Heyns
Credit: Jana Heyns

Recently I came across an article on Nylon that shared that a biopic about the first black woman to receive an Oscar is on it’s way to our screens.

Hattie McDaniel received the honour in 1940 after her she played ‘Mammy’ in Gone with the Wind and was awarded best supporting actress.

Halle Berry became the first black woman to win best actress 62 years later and Oprah only received the Cecil B. DeMille award earlier this year at the Golden Globes for according to Wikipedia ‘outstanding contributions to the world of entertainment’.

The Day of #GoldenGlobes part1

A post shared by Oprah (@oprah) on

Outside the gilded walls of Hollywood, last year there was a stream of headlines highlighting the first black to.... open for Louis Vuitton, to edit British Vogue and closer to home, to head up BP, to become registrar at Rhodes University and to lead Standard Bank independently

It was recently announced on Mashable that Facebook had appointed its first black board member.

Now we’re reading all about how Jordan Peele could become the first black director to win an Oscar for best director. Because there have been nominations but no one black has ever won and no black female directors have even ever been nominated.

Have you watched his movie Get Out? I have and it's unnerving and brilliant and he deserves that golden statue. 

Well, let’s focus on the positive shall we? Celebrate the ones who’ve actually ‘made it’.

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I can hear the deafening applause but I find that it’s never enough to drown out the disillusionment I feel about the state of racial equality across industries around the world.

I know I must feel like a wet blanket while everyone’s popping bottles. Especially since I was so moved by Oprah’s acceptance speech of the prestigious award and quite vocal about it too.

But did you consequently watch author and speaker B F Nkrumah’s analysis of why it was problematic? 

He gave four reasons but I’ll just touch on one that applies to this piece. Here’s the full video if you’d like to run through all his points.


The one I’m going to highlight here is about validation.

He says, ‘She reinforces the fact that we need white validation,’ and adds, ‘We can never say we achieved until we get this award from white people, Oprah?’.

To apply it more broadly, it would mean that in a lot of cases, we seem to wait for recognition or a ‘welcome’ into white spaces and projects. 

READ MORE: Serena Williams named Sports Illustrated’s Sportsperson of the Year

I don’t entirely agree though. 

I’d argue that it’s about systemic exclusion from spaces that should not be seen as white, that they belong to everyone and are only still viewed as white because more work is needed to drive diversity and inclusivity. 

It does make sense though that even as we need to create other opportunities that rely less on existing restricted networks or honours (it’s a sentiment I hear daily), that it’s not the only solution to the problem. 

Celebrating ‘first blacks’ always feels bittersweet. While it means that changes are being made, it keeps reminding us that we’re still being excluded from too many roles and positions and being given the broadest platforms to be recognised for our excellence.

READ MORE: Are black people finally getting the recognition they deserve?
First black, first black, first black. When will it stop being news?

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