When it comes to writing about black women achieving there are so many to choose from and every list will be an inadequate attempt to showcase black female excellence in so many arenas. You can never confine it to a list, and it can’t be defined in such a small way, but here’s our attempt to show love to the women who made this year liveable and, quite frankly, saved us from the mediocrity, violence, and always thinking about the killing fields of this world.
Just by being, these black women made us, or at least, me, love a little more, think so much more and in better, different ways, be more proud, more happy and more grateful about being born a black woman. There’s an inherent beauty we possess, an innate talent for producing excellence in an undeniable, unique way and soaring to great heights despite clear and seemingly insurmountable odds. We are dreamers, builders, thinkers, leaders and achievers. We are everything. From sport to media and entertainment, academia, literature, activism and politics—we are serving realness and Black Girl Magic at every turn. Here’s a list of some of those achievements, in no particular order:
To the black and queer women of #RhodesMustFall, #FeesMustFall and #EndOutsourcing: You started a movement that has moved and crossed mountains, broken down barriers in education and will continue to be the yardstick against which all anti-imperialist pro-black equality and reform student movements are measured. I bow to you all, and I am grateful.
Kenya’s sweetheart, Mexico’s hermosa mujer. How’s Lupita Nyong’o been doing this year? Well, she scored her second Vogue cover, an Essence Magazine cover, as well as another January cover for Elle UK. She did a gorgeous shoot for Madame Figaro and then there’s the matter of a little movie called Star Wars: The Force Awakens, in which she plays Maz Kanata, in theaters this month.
Of course, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, who was not only named the best winner from the last decade of the Bailey’s women’s prize for fiction (known as the Orange prize when she won) but the Swedes recently decided that her book We Should All Be Feminists be given to every 16-year-old in that country. Can every 16-year-old Nigerian, South Africa, Malawian etc… please one day receive the same gift. It’s necessary.
Afro-Brazilian women are just fire. They are elemental, and in so many fitting ways. Take weather journalist Maria Julia Coutinho—the first black weather journo in Brazil—finally creating a media storm in a country where black folk have been rendered invisible. Afro-Brazilian women there also took to the streets to march for their rights.
Oby Ezekwesili, I don’t know anyone else who has done as much to continue to bring to the world’s attention the plight of the over 200 Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram, now over 600 days ago, and who are still not back home. For her, #BringBackOurGirls is not just another famous hashtag.
Honestly if you don’t know Cecile Emeke by now, stop missing out and get into the Strolling Series. This flâneur has interviewed young black people in parts of Europe about their experiences there. She’s currently strolling in the US.
A feminist and academic at Wits University, Pumla Dineo Gqola recently wrote a book about rape in South Africa and unpacked the myths and truths about it. Read a review about Rape: A South African Nightmare.
South Africa-based Zimbabwean writer Panashe Chigumadzi. Her debut novel (at the ripe old age of 24) Sweet Medicine is strong and self-assured. You will be hearing a lot about and from her in years to come.
To the black women everywhere who tweeted about their depression, wrote about it, and supported others who have it. There is a lot of stigma attached to mental illness and for black communities, it is one of the things many don’t talk about, and if they do it falls woefully short of anything like true support for sufferers. Thankfully, there’s more awareness lately. To those women who have shared their stories publicly, and to Bassey Ikpi and Sitawa Wafula who have made it their life’s work to create awareness and break down stigma through their mental health advocacy – thank you. The conversations are happening, finally, and for that we can be grateful.
A list featuring examples of great women this year would also be incomplete if we didn’t talk about beauty. Earlier in the year the folks at un-ruly.com talked to a few Parisiennes and their thoughts on black women’s beauty in France. What is pretty in Paris? According to them it is a natural, at peace look. French cool.
So what is beautiful, overall? Because you can look outwardly calm and beautiful but harbour so much rage and confusion. Sometimes we see examples of women who could not hide inner torments. We know what this looks like. Self-love and appreciation, self-care—is beautiful. When we aren’t loving ourselves enough, it shows, and it shows up in terrible ways and at great cost to ourselves and even others. Practicing self-love and self-care is an achievement, and for that I salute Gabrielle Perry for the words of wisdom she has shared with all of us. Let’s all get to that place of healing, and we can start by seeing ourselves as human. When we put ourselves first and declare that we will also just be, whether weak, somewhere in the middle, or strong, it is powerful. Love yourself and be proud, of each kind of emotion and completely human action.
Michaela Coel’s character Tracey in Chewing Gum (written and adapted for the screen by Coel from her play Chewing Gum Dreams) is absolutely my favorite comedy this year. She’s just completely outrageous, just not your stereotypical clean-cut must be loved at all costs and from all angles character (because that’s who we need to be as black women, natch). I love this broken mould. Thanks Michaela!
Big ups to Lola Shoneyin who runs and tirelessly organizes one of the most enviable arts festivals on the continent, the Ake Arts and Book Festival in Abeokuta, Nigeria. Yes, an African woman started a literary festival where you can also get into theatre, art, music and film, and it is attracting the cream of the crop artists and writers each year. Since the inaugural 2013 event, it seems to have grown by leaps and bounds
And we’d be remiss not to mention our sisters across the seas, like Viola Davis. Oh my. This woman. When she first came into my view as the mother in Doubt I thought now why can’t we see more of her? Why, why, why. I know why, but still, why? So we had to wait and wade through roles in The Help and others. Which was fine, she was working damn hard and still delivering beautiful performances, and she was already a two-time Tony award winner, and also a SAG winner. But we wanted more. So we waited and prayed. And this year the angels sang and there were trumpets and lo and behold we got to see her in a lead role in How To Get Away With Murder. And she won an Emmy for it, best actress in a drama series. Hallelujah praise Black Jesus amen. Can I get an amen?
Serena Williams, the greatest tennis player ever. Currently ranked Number One and celebrated this year for five titles, she ended the year with a third year-end Number one finish in a row, which hasn’t been done by any player in 25 years. As one famous Serena balladeer once said, “put that in your Internet, put that in your Twitter right there.”
Taraji P. Henson couldn’t have had a better year. Honestly, if you didn’t fall in love with her as Cookie on Empire, and if as a dedicated follower of fashion you didn’t love pretty much everything Cookie wore post-incarceration it would be very difficult for me to take you seriously.
Claudia Rankine. The poet on everybody’s lips, even at a Trump rally (and one of the best Serena Williams essay writers ever). For her most recent book Citizen: An American Lyric, she was awarded the National Book Critics Circle Award for poetry in the US, and also the Forward Prize for Poetry in the UK.
These are just some, just a very few of the most incredible women on the planet. There are so many, so create your own lists, get the conversation going. Get cracking and add your own faves, and show them the love they deserve. Right now. Remember to add yourself as well. Be the achiever you want to be in your own eyes.