About a week ago, a picture posted of my friends and I went viral. Literally. (You sang the shmoney song in your head, didn't you? Shame on you.)
The picture taken of us at an event in London was posted on Instagram under the caption: 'Two bankers, two lawyers, a scientist and a doctor - and those are just the day jobs...' followed by a series of hashtags. Although we are all current students or recent graduates who have been offered full-time employment within these professions or are concretely pursuing them, this seemed to be beside the point. The response to the unassumingly uploaded picture was substantial across a number of social media platforms.
It even inspired adaptations from across the pond...
The sociologist in me couldn't help but wonder, what on earth was all the fuss about?
As I scrolled through my twitter feed and followed the traction the picture was gaining, it was evident that what it depicted was not 'normal'. A group of young, black and fun-loving women with professional accolades evoked two distinct responses from the online black community. The first was a collective applaud, as the picture was seen as providing a source of inspiration and motivation. The second was a fragmented but noticeable sense of distaste to what was percieved as unclassy, boastful or 'not-that-big-a-deal'.
I never anticipated any meaningful response to the picture and thus the fact that there was caused me to evaluate my perspective on the matter. From left to right, the ladies in the picture are myself (21), Stephanie Ofili (20), Nsikan Sokan (21), Melanie Okuneye (21), Shade Oyewole (22), Amelia Bhoorasingh (21) and Olivia Odubanjo (20). We represent just a handful of the aspiring professional and current professional black population. The response the picture received could be taken as an indication that many people do not know that this actually exists; possibly as a result of the typical portrayals of minority groups within mainstream media or the rarity for those from particular socioeconomic backgrounds of personally knowing somebody who belongs to a highly regarded profession.
Another explanation for the popularity the picture received is not that people do not know that there are black lawyers and doctors, but that it was inspiring to see it personified in a way they could identify with. While the likes of Diane Abbott and Sir Trevor McDonald serve as shining examples of black excellence, the laid-back and dare I say 'cool' display of achievement hit home more meaningfully for aspiring young people. There are undoubtedly a whole range of personal motivations for the numerous likes, favourites, reposts, reblogs and retweets that the picture garnered however it points to the fact that it is a rare occasion when the wider black community can attach themselves to something as objectively positive as aspiring young women.
It is important that we get to see as many black journalists, artists, engineers and businesspeople as we do entertainers and sportspeople. My contemporaries and I are only just embarking on what will hopefully be successful and society-shaping careers, however there are many young black Britons who are doing inspiring things everyday. While it was touching to see the impact this picture was able to have, in a small way it was also quite dismaying. Having been raised in inner-city London, it sometimes seemed as if people perceived becoming a successful professional as an unrealistic or impractical ambition. My hope is that this picture contributes to the mounting evidence that confirms circumstance does not necessarily dictate capability and that soon enough the depiction of young, black, professional, female excellence will not need to be as impressive.
Inez is a final year Politics and Sociology student at the University of Bristol