When I was younger I wanted to be an actress. For this reason, I would create a whole night of watching award shows from the red carpet to E! after party. I would set up the popcorn, sit in the living room with my mother (who would often take the two- three hour opportunity to do my hair) and rapidly text my theater friends about who was winning, who was arguing and who was wearing the best dress. I remember feeling a kinship with these idols, and this kinship very often led to tears and all other sorts of high strung high school emotions expected of a very dramatic teenager. One year, for instance, I vowed never to watch the Oscars again if Jean Dujardin didn’t win Best Actor for The Artist in 2011. Thankfully, he did and the world remained a beautiful place.
Through all the ties I felt I made through the TV screen with these actors and actresses, I never got more emotional than when a black actress or actor took the stage and accepted an award. I grasped for validation in the faces of people like Meryl Streep, Kate Winslet and Angelina Jolie… but I could only really receive it in the grinning faces onstage that looked like me.
Now, I am older and my acting career has been replaced by other pursuits. However, that longing for validation has never left me. I watched as Viola Davis accepted the 2015 Outstanding Lead Actress in a Drama Emmy for her role in “How to Get Away with Murder” and though I don’t watch the show, I cried in the same way that Kerry Washington and Taraji P. Henson cried. I actively tried to hold back tears as I realized how much of an impact this one night would hold.
Davis began her acceptance speech by quoting Harriet Tubman:
“In my mind, I see a line. And over that line, I see green fields and lovely
flowers and beautiful white women with their arms stretched out to me, over
that line. But I can’t seem to get there no how. I can’t get over that line.’ The only thing that separates women of color from anyone else is opportunity.”
What would it have meant for my heart and my dreams to hear this as a little black girl- to see that moments like this happen to women who look like me, to hear a message spoken directly to me about my beauty and my place in this world?
The day after the Viola Davis win, social media was alive with excitement. Colored women, excited to be heard and seen, posted and reposted every article and every video that had to do with the speech- people’s reactions, writer’s reflections, celebrity responses. I stood in the middle of the excitement, breathing, closing my eyes, trying to remember. What I wanted more than anything was to go back in time and tell that little black girl that I once was that her dreams were not as far away as she thought. I wanted to tell her that she was beautiful, that she was valued, that roles could be created for her brown, complex soul.
When I opened my eyes, I was in my room and nothing had changed. I was out of my teens, it was almost time for work and I still didn’t desire to be an actress anymore. I was discouraged until I realized that what Mrs. Davis spoke of wasn’t in the past. It resided here. It resided in a place where black women are strong and confident, without being considered aggressive. It resided in a place where black women inspire and uplift each other. It resided in a place where little, black girls have access to romodels who look like them and remind them of their value. It resided in a place where black women do and will thrive.
And that’s why I dedicate this article to the Oprah Winfreys, the Mellody Hobsons, the Michelle Obama’s, the Beyonce Knowles, the Serena Williams and the Viola Davis’s: Thank you for continually taking black women over that line and giving young, black girls the inspiration to cause change.
For Viola Davis’s full speech, click here.
Photo Credit: The Guardian Life