Black Opulence | Making Success The Norm In Black Culture
Updated: Sep 30, 2020
In Episode 37 of the Commerce and Chill podcast, Jessica and Waleed discuss the Academy’s decision to mandate diversity in their award shows, being the first person of color to achieve greatness in a new field or role, and the “right” time to celebrate accomplishments. Read on for more.
As recently reported, the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Scienceshas announced new diversity standards for qualification in the Best Picture category at the Academy Awards. The primary standard mandates that by 2024 films aiming for the Oscar for Best Picture will have to include BIPOC, LGBTQ, women, or disabled people in prominent roles in front of and/or behind the camera in order to be qualified. Most would acknowledge that this rule change comes in response to the #OscarsSoWhite controversy, pointing out the lack of diversity in Academy Awards nominations and winners, and in the films that the Academy selects to honor. While many see the Academy Awards as a great honor and though these new rules are an attempt at progress, many questions still arise in regards to how and why these standards will be implemented.
One question introduced on the Commerce and Chill podcast was about the long four-year period between now and the implementation of the rule change. Though studios with films currently or soon-to-be in production may need time to adjust to the rules, we must ask why, if the standard is being implemented to correct for the unequal recognition of talent, is the Academy waiting so long to implement this change? Why is justice being “phased in” over a four year period if it is acknowledged that the current system of acknowledgement is unjust and unequally distributes opportunity and recognition?
In our businesses, we are purposeful about taking immediate and persistent action to resolve issues that arise in the workplace. When it comes to diversity, equity and inclusion, these are matters that are integral to business success regardless of industry. Show business, being a business like any other, benefits from diverse talent, diverse perspectives, and inclusive environments. Delaying equity and inclusion is a losing strategy, especially considering the increasingly diverse audiences for film and television in the United States and globally. While we applaud the winners of these awards and highlight the people of color and from underrepresented backgrounds who break barriers in their fields — such as Hattie McDaniel, the first African-American to win an Oscar, or Bong Joon-ho’s Parasite, the first non-English film to win an Oscar for Best Picture — we also recognize that many of these barriers have taken too long to be broken and perhaps should have never been barriers to begin with.
As for the celebration of “first” accomplishments, it is often that marginalized communities celebrate the first achiever on that person’s behalf, because we are celebrating more than just the achiever and their achievement, but also the community from where they come that has collectively risen to be able to accomplish feats that had been denied to the people of those communities. Celebrating ourselves is a way to highlight these achievements that may be overlooked by mainstream or non-marginalized media.
At times, non-marginalized communities take for granted that there are examples of individuals that look like them or are from their communities in various positions of power and prestige, and that these opportunities have not been artificially or systematically denied to them based on race, gender, or identity. Since the mainstream media doesn’t always acknowledge or understand the significance of these achievements for those who attain them, celebrating each other makes people in underrepresented communities aware of the achievements of people within their community. All the while, we are reminded that being a successful person of color should be the expected norm. Opulence, not just excellence. Thus, while we should all be proud of ourselves when we achieve, we’re at a time where we must be concerned with doing the work and owning the systems that enable us to achieve on our own terms. As Dr. Claude Anderson so perfectly lays out in his teachings: we must own our own businesses, control our own industries, pass our own laws, educate ourselves, and amplify our own stories in order to build economic power in our own communities.
We must tell the stories of leaders like Reginald Lewis, Jeremiah Hamilton, and Annie Malone, who were among the first in their communities to achieve great financial independence in America. We must learn to spend money not just in our community, but with our community, and to amplify the stories and voices of entrepreneurs and business owners who are creating opportunities in those communities. We must model successful business ownership in BIPOC, LGBTQ, and all marginalized communities. We must generally own the systems and platforms that enable success in our communities so that being the “first” person to achieve a feat will be less relevant, because we’ll experience more success — and more opulence — across the board. In the process, we must encourage business owners and community leaders and support them through the growing pains that come with navigating uncharted territories. We can’t give our community part-time support and expect full-time success. We must be the foundation that our leaders can build on.
In closing, we were reminded by the great success of the entertainers and executives being celebrated at the Academy Awards that representation matters; how we shop matters; how we choose to spend our dollars matters; and how we treat our community matters. As these new regulations are rolled out in the entertainment industry and others, watch to see how businesses and the media place a premium on diversity and representation, and make sure you spend your dollar in places where your communities are properly represented. If you find something out of place in a business where your community is represented, help them with positive feedback. Stop waiting for someone to be the “first” of anything in order to believe greatness is possible for you, and stop searching to “break in” to an industry or a role for the sake of inclusion or a “seat at the table” when you can build your own table, find your own seat, buy your own house, and own your own building. Finally, and most importantly, make sure when you pull yourself up, that you pull somebody else up with you. As Kamala Harris has taught us, and attributes to her mother, “You may be the first to do many things, but make sure you’re not the last.”
Expect your success and make it the norm in our culture and every culture.
Oscar Firsts: Hattie McDaniel — an American actress, singer, songwriter, and comedian. She won the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her role as “Mammy” in Gone with the Wind (1939), becoming the first African-American to win an Oscar. Rita Moreno — On April 9, 1962, Puerto Rican actress Rita Moreno became the first Hispanic woman to win an Oscar, for her role as Anita in West Side Story (1961). Parasite — a film directed by Bong Joon-ho; the first non-English film to win an Oscar for Best Picture (2020), the first South Korean film to be nominated, and the first South Korean film to receive Academy Award recognition.
Black Firsts: Ruby Bridges — Ruby Bridges Hall is an American civil rights activist. She was the first African-American child to desegregate the all-white William Frantz Elementary School in Louisiana during the New Orleans school desegregation crisis on November 14, 1960. Jeremiah G. Hamilton — a Wall Street broker noted as “the only black millionaire in New York” by James McCune Smith about a decade before the American Civil War. Madam C.J. Walker — an entrepreneur, philanthropist, and activist from Louisiana. Walker is commonly credited as the first self-made female millionaire in America. Annie Malone — an American businesswoman, inventor, and philanthropist from Illinois. At one time Malone employed Madam CJ Walker as a sales representative and is thought to be the actual first African-American woman to become a millionaire, prior to Walker. Lou Brock — baseball’s most dangerous player for more than a decade. In 1978, the National League announced that its annual stolen base leader would receive the Lou Brock Award, making Brock the first active baseball player to have an award named after him. The Obama’s — Barack Hussein Obama II is an American politician who served as the 44th President of the United States from 2009 to 2017. Obama was the nation’s first African-American President. His wife, Michelle Obama, served as the first African-American First Lady of the United States, and his family as the first African-American First Family.
For more on this topic, check out the Commerce and Chill podcast and follow Jessica Johnson-Cope and Waleed Cope at the links below.
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