In 2020, we’ve witnessed a lot of firsts.
Dario Calmese became the first black photographer to shoot a Vanity Fair cover.
Misan Harriman was the first black male photographer to shoot for British Vogue in 104 years.
While Renni-Eddo-Lodge became the first black author to top the UK’s Best-Seller List since 1998.
For the most part, we’ve celebrated and provided our commemorations in abundance at the announcement of another black person making their way it seems through the ubiquitous glass ceiling. Another win, another breakthrough, another first. And at first glance, it’s another amazing moment for black excellence, making our presence known and leaving our needed mark in a white person’s world. But, with every announcement came another side of the coin. A darker side to the good news.
In the UK, white supremacy runs rampant in our institutions and establishments, while anti-blackness also runs just as deep. Diversity is often packaged as the good bits, the easy on the eye and easy to take in. It often leaves out completely the lack of inclusivity, while tokenism is a rife and developing buzzwords like BAME are everyone else but black people.
Although it’s incredible that we see black people making these momentous and history-making strides across these industries, it can’t help but somewhat leave pangs of disappointment. That still -in 2020 - black people are continuing to rack up firsts. And not only that, but they are firsts for organisations that are famously and historically white-owned and therefore whitewashed. The presence of black people making big moves wherever we go shouldn’t have to become widths and droves apart, and yet it is.
At the premise of it is always a feeling that it was a black person that got a chance. The author, Robin Di Angelo said it best in her 2018 book, White Fragility in which she described how many saw the esteemed baseball player Jackie Robinson, who become the first African American to play in Major League Baseball as some who finally broke through the colour barrier. The glass ceiling because he was so talented and exceptional at what he did. But, rather quite clearly despite his tremendous talent, Jackie Robinson only remains in American Baseball History as one of the greats because a white-dominated organisation allowed him to. He was the exception, a notoriety, a one-off.
Within the community, we continue to celebrate and commemorate the strides of our black brothers and sisters, with all their first-time and firsts in this white supremacist world. Because that is just it, it’s a white person’s world and anyone moving and striving in it needs to be acknowledged.
But what I think we also need to acknowledge is that with every first in mainstream media and in white-owned spaces, we also simultaneously need to strive to show that not only firsts but seconds, thirds and fourths are also important in our own spaces or even spaces that actively advocate for black people being there. And in time, celebrating firsts won’t seem so momentous, it won’t be something that calls for a celebration. And funnily enough, that’s actually quite a good thing.
This article was written by BYP blogger, Leah Mahon. She is a budding writer, Journalism graduate and blogger (@leah.mahon)