Conversations, statements, comments, recommendations, and other rants I wanted to have in 2020, but didn’t.
ATLANTA — As 2020 came to a close, I couldn’t help but notice how many wrap-ups and reviews there were. In a year that felt endless, it seemed pointless to include anything major in a wrap-up. The year wasn’t all bad or all good, but it wasn’t conclusive. There were a lot of conversations I wanted to have last year, but time and people are funny things. Though some of us were trapped at home with more time on our hands than ever before, there was never a right time to talk about these issues.
Although I was more than ready for the year to end, I was not ready to move on from what 2020 showed us all about who we are and what we’ve become in humanity. I’m not willing to pretend nothing irreparable happened last year or the years leading up to 2020. Silence is a burden no one should have to carry, and it is one I will not carry into 2021.
Here’s all the things I wanted to say in 2020, that will bear repeating as we move into the future.
I. Nothing was actually solved, finished, eradicated, or abolished — even if your state flipped blue.
The dueling pandemics of racism and coronavirus are competing to see which can do the most damage. If we don’t start seriously addressing them and actively seek a cure, they just might win.
The novel coronavirus (or COVID-19, Ms. Rona, the Rona, the Vid, whatever you want to call it), was never going to be cured in 2020. For one, many citizens and leadership continued to spread the virus as quickly as they spread mis- and disinformation. This is as true today as it was last spring: wearing a mask doesn’t cause anyone to “lose their rights,” make them look “weak,” or “suffocate” them. It does, however, prevent a large percentage of the spread. Yes, they are uncomfortable, but getting sick or making others sick for comfort can’t be the alternative.
I don’t know how we didn’t wear masks all the time before, considering the already dangerous levels of pollution, germ-spreading, and allergies in our atmosphere. The coronavirus has shown us how nasty some people truly are. We literally spent the first month of the pandemic teaching people how to wash their hands. That is as mind-blowing as the amount of time it took President Donald Trump to finally wear a mask in public. Or how those who label themselves as patriots spent time yelling, maskless, at their city’s elected officials about mask mandates, shelter-in-place orders, and curfews. Some were even privileged enough to hold armed rallies at their state capitol buildings. The coronavirus demonstrations (or protests, riots, whichever term you prefer) juxtaposed with the George Floyd demonstrations/protests/riots showed a peak level of hypocrisy that is definitely on brand for America.
We did a lot of things because of the virus, but we didn’t do anything about the virus. Racism, by and large, is far from being cured. I say “cured,” because it is the original pandemic. Racism is a pre-existing condition too many have been suffering from for far too long. The problem is that the cure is too complex for some who can’t imagine a world where equality is a good thing. It’s too difficult for some to simply be a good person. The events that took place after George Floyd’s death were yet another series of missed opportunities for America and the world to finally reconcile with their racist pasts.
But instead, murals were painted. Book clubs were formed. Products and music groups changed names. Performative gestures were acted out on YouTube, Facebook live, and other platforms. A few celebrities let Black women take over their Instagram feeds for a day. And city governments told us they’d think about reimagining public safety and adjusting police funding. We also saw the rise of white supremacy to counter the small amount of unity being built. The rise of QAnons, Karens, Proud Boys, Incels, and Parler participants were all backed by President Trump with his rhetoric like “stand back and stand by” during the presidential debate.
It has taken the entire history of this country to get to this point, so I am not expecting a quick fix. But the lack of true attempts to recognize the systemic problems built into the U.S. Constitution, every level of government, and everything else from housing, education, healthcare, the environment, and the economy is why a cure hasn’t been attained.
It’s not that we’re not aware of racism in America. Countless articles, studies, and recommendations have been published long before 2020 to provide a groundwork for the country’s reckoning. It’s time to move from the “knowing better” stage to the “doing better” stage.
Police brutality, violence, and murders didn’t stop.
Police continued to kill people up until Dec. 30, in Minneapolis, where the reckoning began this summer. When George Floyd was murdered, it was like everyone saw what so many people of color have said, written, acted out, sang, and rapped about for decades. And then came the movements, the book recommendations, the “teach me” pleas, the hashtags, and, worst of them all, Blackout Tuesday.
If there was an epic fail last year, it was Blackout Tuesday. Like most trending topics, it was kind of cool while it was happening. But then, some people got the wrong information. Some didn’t follow the instructions. Some made up their own version. And some pretended to not see what was happening at all.
It’s those that went into radio silence that did the most damage for me. Those who posted their black box and promptly went back to brunch, selfies, and a trip to Disneyworld — during a pandemic that’s been disproportionately killing Black and Brown people — hurt the most. Those who said “I want to be a part of the change,” but slowly faded back into the brush 10 days later when Rayshard Brooks was killed.
Dinner parties, play dates at the park, and more brunch, all while people are still being brutalized, terrorized, and murdered by the police on camera. Their names have still been hashtagged, the videos are still going viral, and the officers are still walking free. This is the same country where the police murders of Breonna Taylor or Tamir Rice are handled differently, but have the same shameful outcome: a complete lack of justice. So what if officers are fired? This country doesn’t have the best national database or background checks to prevent those officers from getting a new job the next day.
The election of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris meant nothing.
After the election was finally called, the perfect tweet graced my timeline:
I also saw enough “back to normal” posts on my timeline to let me know that nothing was actually solved. How can we go back to normal if normal was hurting so many of us? Normal was not washing our hands regularly. Normal was knowing having flu-like symptoms and going out in public to school, work, restaurants, andstores anyway. Normal was not taking the time to contact friends and family. Normal was not knowing our neighbors. Normal was working extra hours for a manager, CEO, or company who didn’t appreciate you, but couldn’t do anything without you. Normal was willfully ignoring police brutality. Normal was not knowing what public safety budgets really consisted of. Normal was not knowing the names of any cabinet members, congresspeople, senators, or local election administrators. Normal was not knowing what we should have learned in 7th grade civics classes. Normal was not knowing your worth. All of this “not knowing” and willful ignorance can’t be normal anymore. We live in the age of information, and we can’t afford to be so ignorant.
And telling those of us who have endured years (read: not just 2020) of vile, inhumane, sexist or racist DMs, doxxing, or physical abuses to forgive and forget is the other reason we can’t “go back to normal.” I am not accepting DMs from old “friends” who went completely silent at the height of the reckoning this summer but are “just checking in now.” You all are as bad, if not worse, than the aforementioned characters. None of that was okay and none of it will ever be normal.
Biden’s election did nothing for the history books, because the old white man still won. We had the opportunity to choose from the most diverse candidate pool ever assembled and we went back to “Uncle Joe.” Cue the eye roll emoji. There was someone for everyone, but we couldn’t stomach the possibility of real change with a smart, driven, and highly qualified woman. Or choose another likable but qualified Black man. Or a math genius who could have helped us all with his Universal Basic Income plan. Or a policy guy who could have helped so many find a pathway to citizenship. Or the young one who might not have been ready this go round, but would have made a way. Despite his checkered past, we fell back in line with what so many called the safe choice: old Biden.
Yes, it will be historical when Vice President-Elect Kamala Harris is sworn in. But what difference will it make if more women are not elected after her? What difference will it make if no other Black women are elected to the U.S. Senate when she leaves? What difference will it make if wage equality for women and job security for working mothers are not actively codified in the Constitution? What difference will it make if the voices of victims of sexual assault and abuse are still silenced? Nothing changes with one vote. It’s how we will constantly hold elected officials, their cabinets, counselors, and supporters accountable. And by “accountable,” I mean what they are currently and actively doing to help communities, not nitpicking what they did 15 years ago, changed their behavior, and apologized for.
We are still in a dysfunctional, oppressive holding pattern while Trump continues to tantrum his way up and down the Eastern Seaboard. His minions are still running amok, causing chaos with their conspiracy theories about the election and COVID-19. These conspiracy theories, in turn, are being used as accelerating distractions from what’s really happening in terms of threats to our democracy and most vulnerable communities. We’ve allowed elected officials to be broadcasted on national television saying that coronavirus was a hoax while running to the front of the line for the vaccine. There is so much distrust that people are arguing over blatant lies and not believing proven, visible facts. We waited months for relief only to have our hopes dashed again by the Kentucky Grinch, Sen. Mitch McConnell.
The whole system has to go. For real this time. The whole system has to go.
Real equity and equality among the people on this stolen land wasn’t reached, either. We let Chile beat us to the progress punch by throwing out and rewriting their constitution. There is no way real progress can be made if we are still following the directions of known slave-owning, misogynistic capitalists. We need to follow Chile’s example (not just once, but many times) until everyone has an equal share and protection under the law. This would mean a long and arduous battle to fix America from the top-down. The constitution, Bill of Rights, every agency and department, all branches of the federal, state, and local governments need an overhaul based on current times, technology, and society. Again, the studies, documentaries, podcasts, articles, conferences, and data have all been done, published, and argued about. So, why do we continue to fall back onto this broken safety net?
II. Pick a side.
There’s no such thing as an ally. There are only good humans and those who think they are.
If 2020 taught me anything, it’s that labels like “friend” or “ally” mean nothing. Labeling yourself an ally doesn’t help the oppressed; it helps you feel less like an oppressor. The ally label reminds me of that scene in Hidden Figures when Kirsten Dunst basically says she’s a good person and Octavia Spencer says, “I know you probably believe that.”
This isn’t just about race, because we’ve seen this play out in many forms. You are not an ally to anyone, including yourself, if you don’t speak up when you see wrongdoing. Or don’t vote for your actual interests. Or wear a mask, social distance, and practice good hygiene during a public health crisis. Or believe that equality for all means your rights will be lost. You are not an ally to the LGBTQIA+ community if you don’t agree that trans and gender non-conforming people’s lives are as valuable as anyone else’s. You are not an ally to the military if you are against kneeling during the national anthem, but not equally outraged by the veterans’ suicide rate, homeless rate, or treatment in VA hospitals. You are not an ally of women if you still don’t understand and fight for the necessity for reproductive rights, wage equality, and the end of rape culture. You are not an ally to women of color if you are just now placing them in positions of power or putting them on a cover of a magazine for the first time in the history of the publication. You are not an ally to Black men because you voted for Obama twice, have a Black “friend” who has never set foot in your home, or if George Floyd is the only name you know of a Black man killed by police.
You are not an ally to children of color if you just want your kids to go to “good schools.” You are not the ally of Indigenous people if you still acknowledge the lies told about October 11, 1492, but not the truths that happened on December 29, 1890.
Good humans don’t need a platform, hashtag, movement, instructions, or a label to prove they’re good humans. Good humans move about Earth not harming anyone by making sure people don’t feel “othered.” They use their voice, tools, and privileges when needed instead of relying on the oppressed to do the work for them. But for the most part, they mind their own business and listen instead of centering themselves. They do this all while consciously making an effort to know better and do better every day. They seek out information, process it themselves, and use best practices instead of running from the truth in denial, victim shaming, or conspiracy.
People of color have been tired. So we don’t care about your COVID fatigue and/or racism burnout.
We are tired from just trying to exist. We are tired from enduring overt racism and microaggressions. We are tired from having to go harder than our mediocre coworkers and bosses in order to receive less. By “less,” I mean less pay, housing, education, healthcare, and opportunity in general.
We are tired from trying to convince everyone that the previous sentence is occurring. Or that police brutality is real. Or that racism is literally woven into the fabric of all things America. We are tired from being used for your movements, but not our progress.
We are tired from being expected to save, validate, or prove your allyship for free. We are tired from being the token on your company website’s Diversity tab. We are tired from having to still find joy in a country where two pandemics that disproportionately affect us are politicized, theorized, and ignored until it started affecting white people. This is similar to how we were villainized during the crack epidemic, but then opioids were called a public health crisis when they found their way to the heartland.
We are tired from not being able to speak without having to code-switch or translate to protect your feelings, ego, or mediocrity. We are tired from our opinions and input being labeled as angry.
Thanks to infant mortality and pregnancy-related mortality rates, we have been tired of this and more since before birth. We don’t have the option to take off this skin, rest, complain, do less, or just take a breath. But we will keep enduring, surviving, and thriving in spite of all these things in 2021 and beyond.
So please don’t tell us how tired, exhausted, or burned out you are from anything in 2020. Nah, not doing that today, tomorrow, or any other day.
IV. Now what?
These aren’t courageous conversations for me. And yes, you might get cancelled or blocked.
I really wanted to have these conversations last year, especially with those who didn’t want to have them because “it’s just so hard.” Hell, I’d like to have them this year, because history will inevitably repeat itself. Conversations about your harsh reality aren’t hard to have. They are hard to receive when the other person knows they are probably part of causing that harsh reality. It’s hard to be confronted with our privileges when we know they can cause suffering. But we shouldn’t choose comfort over confronting reality. #FYourComfort!
I didn’t realize how much I was editing, muting, pandering, and placating others just to be friends before June 2, 2020. Like so many others in the days and weeks following the murder of George Floyd, I spoke out about his death and so many others only to be met with weird or rude comments below my posts. Longtime “friends” left my texts on read that would have previously been answered at any time of day. I was blocked by Facebook “friends” and did some blocking myself after some disgusting DMs I wish I kept as a reminder. Watching other people of color like Jemele Hill and Amanda Seales suffer the same fate but on a grander scale and still manage to find joy helped me move forward.
I see now that I should have expected it, but it didn’t hurt any less at the time. So here I am, a few “friends” short because my choice to use my voice silenced theirs. Unfortunately, I can’t take that burden with me into the new year or beyond. In 2020, I made new connections that are rooted in humanity, honesty, and communication first — and that’s the way I will aim from now on. Let’s choose to consciously have these conversations this year instead of hiding in plain sight.