Can our achievements exist outside of gender and race?

Can our achievements exist outside of gender and race?

As we wrap up this Women’s Month of August 2021, I felt compelled to say something on societal labels when we speak of women’s achievements.  Over the month I have followed with interest celebratory themes and attributes, towards sports women, artists, creators, business personas etc. I have also noticed that although we are doing better at acknowledging women and their contribution in society, we still label their achievements, particularly in business. I am not saying I have not been guilty of this in the past, and more recently on just how I may have viewed myself, but somehow, perhaps as part of my evolutionary process, my gender, race and culture are most certainly a part of my identity, but something I find I am consciously less defined by.

In doing my research I came across an article in the Washington Post dated 24 July 2021, where Alexis Sablone, a professional skateboarder, shares her anxieties of being labeled at her debut skateboarding competition at the Tokyo Olympics games. She tells the writer upfront that she prefers to be called a professional skateboarder and not a “pioneer”, “legend” and “trail blazer”. I also looked at gender classifications, and how as society is deconstructing those, and honestly, I get it.

Allow me to bring it closer to home, in the context of careers and the work I do.  In South African our favorite, yet regressive label is – the first black female. We are black female partners in deals, we are black female board members, black female leaders. And yes, I understand the historical context of why this paradigm currently exists administratively, but when we interact with one another, why are not just board members or partners. We don’t speak of my white male partner, or black male partner, or the first male achiever in a discipline? Does this mean my achievements can only exist within the periphery of my race and gender or perhaps culture?

While understanding why it is important to count, what of my yearning for a society which normalizes that woman by nature can achieve anything they want? Therefore, surely the sooner we transition out of labels the sooner this can be normalized.

More and more I find myself cringing every time I am introduced as black female partner or a women-owned businessperson.  In my mind, what often comes with such adjectives is an implied limitations on the scope of my expected interaction, involvement, or contribution.

I exist as a disruptor, in my own life. I have pushed myself to participate in sectors and disciplines that some may feel I don’t belong in, because of how society has constructed identity. In my world though, what I bring to the table must not be defined by societal labels because my efforts still contribute to whatever I am partaking in. My energy contributes to the outcomes, and while I don’t deny I have deeper melanin, and I am classified as of the female sex, the labelling of my contributions to society, should  also not devalue me.

I am Zanele, a disruptor.


Reference to the Washington Post article.

Author: Zanele Luvuno