ADVICE: Denzel Washington
IF YOU’RE a dark-skinned black woman, you're going to have to work twice as hard if you want to be successful.
That's the lesson Hollywood star Denzel Washington had for his 17-year old daughter Olivia Washington this week.
The Oscar winning actor warned: “'You're black, you're a woman, and you're dark-skinned at that, so you have to be a triple/quadruple threat.” But a charity boss said that black women in Britain should also listen to the star’s advice as they are facing the same discrimination.
Vivienne Hayes, CEO of London-based Women's Resource Centre, said black women regularly face barriers and are having a tougher time getting jobs.
She told The Voice: “We wholeheartedly agree with what Denzel Washington told his daughter, because the reality for black women consistently demonstrates that he is correct. Black women face a ‘double jeopardy' of oppression for both their race and their gender.”
Hayes continued: “We ran a women's leadership program a few years ago, and an overwhelming proportion of the applicants were black women. When we interviewed those women, they said that they were regularly passed over for job opportunities in favour of men and white women.”
Figures published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) show black women are twice as likely to be unemployed compared to their white counterparts. Hayes said the difference in figures demonstrates the disparity between opportunities for black and white women.
In his interview with The Hollywood Reporter, Washington was referring specifically to the acting industry, where debate rages over Hollywood's apparent preference for lighter skinned black actresses.
Most recently, the industry came under fire for selecting Hispanic actress Zoe Saldana to portray the much darker skinned singer Nina Simone in a biopic about her life. Critics said producers should have selected a darker skinned actress rather than Saldana darkening her skin and adding a prosthetic nose.
In an article in US lifestyle website Madame Noire, writer Charing Bell said it “screams of whitewashing.”
Bell also questioned whether Washington's words could do more damage than good, but concluded the Flight actor was right to prepare his daughter for the harsh criticisms she may face.
“It's the same advice that black parents have been giving their children for hundreds of years,” Bell wrote. “You want to make a name for yourself in the business world, be prepared to compromise on a lot of your cultural identity.”
Washington said he told his daughter: “You gotta learn how to act. You gotta learn how to dance, sing, move onstage…I said, ‘Look at actress Viola Davis. That's who you want to be. Forget about the little pretty girls; if you're relying on that, when you hit 40, you're out the door. You better have some chops.'"
Research from workplace equality campaign Race for Opportunity said many black women are already preparing themselves for a discriminatory marketplace.
The group, in its contribution to research collectively called The Business Case For Diversity, said statistics showed 80 percent of 16-year-old black Caribbean teens think they have to work harder to succeed. In addition, Equal Opportunities Commission research showed black and Asian girls are more ambitious than white girls.
Race for Opportunity research also suggested that when ethnic minority women enter the workplace, businesses tend to under-utilise them. The data revealed some young women admit they don't apply for certain roles because they believe their ethnicity limits their chances. Figures showed 20 percent of young BME women compared to 5 percent of white women were forced to accept jobs below their qualifications.
ROLE MODEL: Viola Davis
However, some young black Brits have not allowed an unfair system to stop them from achieving their career goals.
Award-winning British playwright Bola Agbaje said she was not hindered by racism because she grew up with strong, black role models.
She said: “I grew up wanting to be Rudy in The Cosby Show or Claire Huxtable, both black women who I identified with. My role models are Michelle Obama and Oprah. So for me I don't ever feel like the colour of my skin is an issue.”
She also said one solution could be to have more black women in decision making roles. “So [with] more black people behind the scene, it will have a trickle down effect and then Denzel won't have to tell his daughter that.”