Lisa Miller: Great-Great Grandmothers

“Yes, how did we get here?  It behooves us to remember that others had to come before us slowly, slowly, slowly, each one living her life within the parameters of her era, painfully inching forward. “

I love the contribution of women in the arts!  I watched an interview of Kerry Washington and Shanda Rhimes with Oprah yesterday, and I was inspired.  What phenomenal women.

Kerry Washington is the first black woman to star in her own television drama in 40 years; only one other woman held this T.V-first before her.  It was the 70’s in a show called, Get Christie Love!, starring Teresa Graves.  This is surprising but as I think about all the shows I have loved, not one has featured an African American woman in a leading role.

In her ABC drama, Scandal, Kerry is a kick-ass “fixer”: part lawyer, part P.R expert, part White House crisis manager, and part clean-up-the-dead-bodies-mess go-to-person.

LisaIt turns out that art imitates life here fantastically!  Finally, a black woman playing the dynamic role typically represented by men in our culture; but it’s Judy Smith, the real life former White House staffer on whom this character is based that makes this depiction special. Now in private practice, Smith is a crisis manager handling high profile cases that never seem to end. (see JudySmith.com and the recent Petraus case among many.  She rocks.)

Struggling toward freedom in the movie Djengo Unchained, in theatres just this week, Kerry Washington takes women back a 150 years as she plays a supporting role as an American slave.  While we might be used to the fact that actors have depicted the era of slavery for decades on the screen, what we tend to forget I think, is that African Americans were considered by constitutional standards at that time, to be just 3/5’s human.

Kerry Washington

Kerry Washington

This is a hard pill to swallow. And so, this historical truth juxtasposed with the accomplishments of North American women today, like Judy Smith, is astounding.

I was moved during Washington’s interview when she said that the character she plays in Scandal: respected, empowered, intuitive, brilliant, stands on the shoulders of the profoundly oppressed women who came before.

Yes, how did we get here?  It behooves us to remember that others had to come before us slowly, slowly, slowly, each one living her life within the parameters of her era, painfully inching forward.

I think about this a lot, but I also forget this truth when I get wrapped up in all my first-world problems that seem so profound in the moment.

Strong empowered womenAnd of course I gain perspective as I think about what it means for my daughters to grow up with first-world problems. Compared to what our foremothers endured, and in the general context of how far women have come, I thank God for these first-world problems!

Finally, an additional snippet of conversation from this interview that resonates in my heart is about abundance.  Oprah asked Kerry what it means to her to be one of the first to represent black women on network television in this way especially when so many others vied for the coveted role.  Her answer: “If I succeed, I create the opportunity for more people to succeed.  I am honored to rise to this challenge.”  Her competitors’ responded, “Do us proud.”

I am white, educated, middle-aged, and this forward motion, shoulder-standing celebration represents me too—represents all of us.

Thank you grandmothers, great-grandmothers, great-great-great grandmothers, we are all honored and blessed that you have cleared a path for us.

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