Commentary: The Best Things About Our Worst Year, 2016

2016 wasn’t all bad, right? Despite the challenges, we got to laugh, learn, celebrate.

2016 was a year for the books, whether it belongs in a book of “Wow, I loved this year, wish I could do it again!” or “Can I get Will Smith to use that neuralyzer thing on me?” is up for debate.

According to a Slate survey, people have voted 2016 the worst year in history, surpassing the Holocaust in 1943 and 1968’s assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

In 2016, I learned that the U.S. isn’t looking out for us as much as we are for ourselves. I will tell my grandchildren of the night I stayed up in front of the television as Donald Trump a rich, racist, sexist, television executive earned the highest position in America.

I will tell my grandchildren of the night I stayed up in front of the television as Donald Trump – a rich, racist, sexist, television executive – earned the highest position in America.

But I will also tell them of other moments. Moments when three Black women created a national movement that projected activism into the 21st century. I will tell them about the Injustice Boycott, a boycott with more than 200,000 members that educates the public about ways to avoid institutions that ignore or benefit from the continuous suppression of African Americans.

I’ll tell them about the online database Backing Black Business, which aims to list every Black-owned business in America. I will tell them about the way Austin, TX empowered itself with organizations like the Austin Justice Coalition that gives back to the community through a Saturday school program and a justice league that works toward local political reform. I will remind them that while 2016 may have been the worst to some, it also created a climate in which people realized there isn’t any more room for complacency.

And within 2016’s extremely dark moments, there were brilliant flashes of light. I’ve curated a list of my favorite moments from this rollercoaster of a year to remind you that it wasn’t completely worthless.

  • Black TV and film changed the game Television series like Atlanta, Insecure, and Black-ish reasserted that blackness is diverse in perspective, experience, attitude, and color. Movies like Moonlight challenged America’s concept of Black masculinity, and Hidden Figures called on the U.S. to acknowledge the role Black women played in one of the largest feats in human history. Fences explores what happens when we shoot for the stars and miss. Did I mention that each of these were nominated for Golden Globes?
  • Black is beautiful Being Black right now is pretty amazing: We’ve got #BlackoutDay, where thousands of people share images of beautiful melanated folks. Events like Curl Fest are huge celebrations of Black hair. AfroPunk celebrates Black music, Black art, Black love, and Black fashion. Social media created an international community of Black people that many refer to as Black Twitter; it brought us iconic challenges like You Name It, Running Man, the So Gone and let’s not forget, the genius behind this specific Mannequin Challenge. It’s been pretty dope.
  • Black musicians didn’t apologize Can there please be a playback of Kendrick Lamar’s performance at the Grammy’s?! What about Beyoncé’s performance at the Superbowl, the epitome of Black girls killing it?! Young Thug smashed Black gender constructs with his album cover. Solange created an anthem for every Black person to sing as they slap away the hands of potential ‘fro-grabbers. I am here. For. It.
  • Black athletes dominated  Steph Curry won the first ever unanimous vote for NBA’s MVP. Black women killed it at this year’s Olympics, and Colin Kaepernick reminded us that athletes of color are not merely national treasures, but individuals who experience the repercussions of racism and are able to use their platform to speak out against it.
  • We celebrated BlackATX On a local scale, there were so many successful pro-Black events in Austin. Pre-teen lemonade mogul Mikailla Ulmer introduced President Obama, appeared on Good Morning America and won all of the awards. Robert Smith, an African American Austinite, became the second richest Black person in America. Wife-Husband duo Riders Against the Storm continued to make us break a sweat with their monthly dance party, BodyRockATX. They also came through with their third annual RAS Day of healing, fun, and community interaction. We came together several times over the summer at Blaqu Cinéma Night to watch classic movies featuring predominantly Black casts. After the death of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile, Austin united within 24 hours to host a candlelight vigil, yielding more than 500 people. The University of Texas hosted its first International Black Studies Conference featuring speakers like Dr. Angela Davis, who discussed the role academia plays in activism. The speakers at the conference offered more than distant facts and statistics, they brought hope by showing them the dynamic ways African Americans fight oppression worldwide.

Ready for 2017
The good parts shouldn’t be the only thing to remember in an era where a xenophobic billionaire was granted access to the U.S. nuclear codes.

After major news platforms CNN, FOX, and MSNBC covered the death of Keith Lamont Scott in September, there hasn’t been much national coverage about police shooting African Americans. It isn’t because it has stopped.

According to Washington Post’s Fatal Force Database, since Scott’s death, 45 African Americans have died at the hands of police. 10 days after Scott, 18 year old Najier Salaam was killed. Of the 45, at least seven allegedly had some sort of mental health illness, like 66-year-old Deborah Danner. To top it off, at least two were unarmed, like Alfred Olango.

The most popular news in 2016 is owned by a handful of businesses: In 2011, Free Press issued an ownership chart that revealed three corporations alone have accumulated approximately $119 billion in media revenue.

There’s no telling what we can accomplish locally, nationally or internationally when we remain conscious of our surroundings.

Our attention shows the media what matters to us, and awareness works. There’s no telling what we can accomplish locally, nationally or internationally when we remain conscious of our surroundings. DAPL protesters proved that if a group collectively commits to combatting injustice they can almost certainly demolish it. Aleppo is the 21st century’s most grotesque attack on humanity. If we stand by and let it happen, years from now, as the mayor of Aleppo says, we would have done nothing over this generation’s holocaust.

As consumers and citizens, it is our responsibility to remain aware of topics like police brutality, prison reformation, minority disenfranchisement, Flint’s (and St. Joseph’s) water crisis, and so many other things, in order for us to proudly call this country our own.

But, 2016 wasn’t all bad, right? Despite the challenges, we got to laugh, learn, celebrate. We lost Muhammad Ali. I don’t know how we did it, but we kept going. And when Prince didn’t survive 2016, I was pretty sure I wouldn’t either. Even Miss Cleo didn’t see that 2016 was coming for her, man! Our loving president/homeboy, Barack Obama is even exiting stage left. But here we are. Just living. L-I-V-I-N’.

If 2016 has taught us anything, it’s that Black excellence will prevail regardless of whatever the world throws our way. I can toast to that.

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