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EDITORIAL: Lena Waithe celebrates the ‘superpowers’ of being different

Lena Waithe, who grew up in Chicago, won an Emmy for outstanding writing for a comedy series. | Frazer Harrison/Getty Images

“The things that make us different, those are our superpowers.”

She could have been talking about our country, and in a way she was, but she was talking first and foremost about “a little queer black girl from the South Side of Chicago.”

EDITORIAL

Every year we watch these awards shows — the Emmys, the Oscars, the Tonys, the Grammys — waiting for that moment, which often never comes, when somebody rises above the preening and the snark and says something lasting and uplifting.

On Sunday evening at the Emmy Awards, that moment came when Chicago’s own Lena Waithe took the stage, honored with Aziz Ansari for outstanding writing for a comedy series for their work on “Master of None.”

“And last but certainly not least, my LGBTQIA family. I see each and every one of you,” Waithe said. “Every day when you walk out the door and put on your imaginary cape, go out there and conquer the world, because the world would not be as beautiful as it is if we weren’t in it.”

The letters LGBTQIA refer to lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or questioning, intersex, and asexual or allied.

Politics follows culture in the way that form follows function. Laws change when hearts change. It is no small matter, then, when an admirable young woman in a stylish tuxedo stands up at a TV awards program and says something so wise. It reverberates. We can sense a small but welcomed shift in cultural attitudes. We can hear walls of intolerance crumble just a little bit more.

Waithe and Ansari won the writing award for an episode of “Master of None” titled “Thanksgiving,” in which the character of Denise discovers her sexuality and comes out to her friends and family. It was a heavily autobiographical episode for Waithe, who wrote it with Ansari in a London hotel room in two days.

Waithe grew up on Chicago’s South Side. She graduated from Evanston Township High School and Columbia College. She is the first black woman to win an Emmy for comedy writing. She is the creator of an upcoming Showtime series, “The Chi,” about five black men who live on Chicago’s South Side.

And, remarkably, she is just 33 years old.

The Emmy Awards ran to three hours this year, as always, yet we hardly remembered a word of it the next morning. Except this:

“The things that make us different, those are our superpowers.”

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