Image of 3 business women of different races, blurred with image of black woman protesting.

Are we still celebrating “firsts”? How long will America use Black success as a smoke screen to deflect from actually changing our racist systems?

I’d like to think that it’s because it’s Black History Month (though I know it’s not) that I frequently see headlines of “The First Black [insert title] ” being flown as a banner of accomplishment by organizations. And not just the first Black person, but first Gay, Trans, Female….etc. Yes, we should be proud of our firsts. It takes a lot of strength and perseverance to break down barriers and to stand alone among one’s peers, be it in education, sport, industry, what have you. If you are a 1st, you can hold your head high, own that accomplishment. Let me be clear that the following is not aimed at you and is not meant to diminish your success in any way. This is for the organizations that use your success as a prop for their image, for the people who see it as proof that racism has been defeated, for the bare minimum participants who become convenient allies while it’s popular then disappear when it starts to hurt or the next new thing comes around:

If you’re at the point where you’re still celebrating “firsts” as some sort of badge, then what the fuck is wrong with you? If your organization just hired your first Black manager or elected your first Trans board member, etc… where the hell you been? What century are you in? The fact that this is still a metric by which you judge your accomplishment[?] is embarrassing. We love the stories of Mr. Rogers or Betty White pushing the envelope with their inclusiveness on their shows; but these “firsts” brags now? This is like someone today wanting a fucking medal for putting their feet in a kiddie pool with a black man. It’s been done, thanks. The very notion that you feel you deserve recognition for this act at this point says a hell of a lot about how you still see us.

The disproportionate arrest/brutality/conviction of Black and Brown people; the ignoring of treaties with Indigenous Nations; the inhumane caging & deportation of Migrants is still occurring; all while y’all wear kente cloth and kneel and then turn around & massively increase police budgets in response to our cry to #DefundThePolice. We still don’t have a conviction of Breonna Taylor’s murderers and another “no-knock” murder- for the headlines to downplay, victim blame, make excuses for- is on the media’s lips for a half a second before they return to their regular programming spotlighting businesses who give themselves gold stars for something that nowadays should be tantamount to “sharing a pool with a black”. I suppose justice for Amir Locke probably isn’t in the cards then?

We see clear cases of racial bias in policing, as video goes viral of cops breaking up a fight with the knee on the back of a black 8th grader, while the white boy who started the fight is set aside and left unscathed. Our country won’t even acknowledge our actual history in our schools, yet you want to celebrate your “1st Black Mayor”, “1st male cheerleader”, blah blah blah….so long as the lens always makes you look like a hero. Even when your “business as usual” silence is complicit to our murders & the slave prison system or when you are perpetrators of the unequal pay that furthers the perpetual wealth gap. But you knelt, you marched; your work is done, right? And then you went back to changing profile pics and hashtags, while the war rages on without you. Should’ve known you’d turn #BlackLivesMatter into the next #ThoughtsAndPrayers.

If you’re still seeking recognition for participation, you’re not here for us, you’re here for you. This fight is not meant to be a performative stage for you to garner an audience; #BLM is not your “corporate Pride bandwagon”. Forgive me for not being impressed by your “1sts”. If you’re barely at that step, then you shame yourself with your exhibition. If all the roles within your organization have not been well integrated for a while, then that “1st” is not the flex you think it is. And as I said, this is not a downplay of the success of the individual who climbed that ladder; THEY deserve respect and recognition. You should be asking yourself why, in 2022, there were still so many hurdles for them to jump over in order for them to get there?

Video clip highlighting bias in policing

When are you going to actually change the systems? If your actions aren’t actively working to change our oppressive systems, then what are you doing? Who are you helping; us or your public image? Or are you one of those “small steps forward” fauxgressives that is content to let progress be slow enough to conveniently never impact your position of privilege? Our people are dying, and after 400 years y’all are still saying “be patient”? Brett Hankison (a killer) is being tried for “wanton endangerment” for a bullet that strayed into a neighboring house, NOT for the actual murder of the innocent black woman who was killed in the place that should have been her safety; her home. Yet potential jurors for the case get dismissed for making the very true statement that Breonna Taylor was not a criminal.

Someone said “in a long enough timeline, we win”. Forgive me for saying so, but that’s bullshit. Look how far we’ve come; it’s been 400 years and our people are still begging for justice and y’all are still expecting us to be satisfied with scraps and performative gestures. If you call this a win, you’re just showing how out of touch you are with those who are actually suffering. The progresses we’ve made shouldn’t be used as a smoke screen to soften all the shameful and continually damaging aspects of our country’s racist systems, which our “allies” (#NotAllWhitePeople) are content to let fester. Don’t you dare use our progress to quiet our calls to action, nor to deflect from the oppression that is STILL occurring.

If you’re diversifying your hiring practices, great! How very 1980’s of you. Why the hell you bragging about that? I don’t want to hear of your company’s “firsts”, I want to hear how your long-diversified organization uses its bargaining power to change the systems that oppress us, to hold oppressors accountable, or how you’re dismantling those hurdles within your own organization that kept those “firsts” from happening a few decades ago rather than barely happening now. I want to hear how you’re willing to make changes that affect your bottom dollar because you know it’s the right thing to do, not because it’ll increase your sales among a particular demographic. Quit using Black success for ad revenue. Come back when you actually give a damn but until then, shut the fuck up.

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Greta Stockton

Greta Stockton

A proud Black, Trans, Neurodivergent & disabled PNW based artist, passionate about social justice and allowing conscience to be the loudest voice.