Justice B. Hill
Pop the cork on a chilled bottle of Dom Perignon and then say good riddance to 2016, the year of our discontent. For if a year could start and end as badly as this one did, well …
Perhaps ’16 wasn’t the worst year of America’s past 75. The summer of 1964 and the handful of years that bookended ’64 might earn that distinction from anybody black; 2007 might lay claim to the title of the worst, too, because that year saw Wall Street’s greed unstitch the economy and unloose millions of Americans onto the jobless roles.
Still, few things in 2016 made black folk want to party like it’s 1999.
Look, who supposed a reality TV host would wind up as the person who follows Barack Obama as president? Either Honey Boo Boo or Boo Boo the Fool might have been a more viable candidate for the office if we were looking for someone as ill-prepared as Donald J. Trump to put on the November ballot.
But in this Technicolor absurdity that is lean-hard-to-the-right America, we sit back now and shut our eyes, hoping against hope that what we witnessed in 2016 was something torn from the pages of a Stephen King novel.
“Shawshank Redemption” it was not, though. Rather, 2016 was a slap blacks-back-into-their-place sort of year, a melancholy reflection – or was it a rebuke? – of the eight years a black family occupied the White House.
The reflection was the joke: Yes, the host of the NBC show “The Apprentice” is president-elect, and blacks have to weigh how he got there. To blame the uninspiring candidate (Hillary Clinton) the Democratic Party had at the top of its ticket would be to dismiss the insidious racism that went from a brushfire to hell’s inferno.
A bad year?
No, a horrendous year.
Were the circus that was the presidential candidacy of twitter-happy Trump the lone moment of wackiness and introspection, 2016 might well have been a forgettable year. It wasn’t, which is the damnable part about having to revisit 2016 in words.
The year had its victories – a handful of them. Yet how do we dwell on those when the losses were so painful?
Start with how conservative whites hijacked “Black Lives Matter” and turned the slogan into a referendum on patriotism. Move on to the killings of black males: Keith Lamont Scott, Terence Crutcher, Philando Castile and Alton Sterling, men with much to give to a world that seemed not to want any of it.
When we think about those killings, how they shocked America, we’re reminded of a quote from a while ago: “If peace can only come through killing someone, then I don’t want it.”
Who uttered those words matters little – who cares about the person’s name anyhow? – but the man’s message still resonates in our minds. Killing for peace’s sake? Isn’t that a contradiction? Isn’t it a statement about what really matters in a God-fearing country like ours?
It ain’t black lives.
The senseless killings make us forget the deaths of men and women who died because it was God’s will. The star-studded lineup of the dead personalities whose lives intersected ours brought us to tears: Natalie Cole, Gwen Ifill, Gloria Naylor, Carrie Fisher, Kimbo Slice, Muhammad Ali, Papa Wemba, Phife Dawg, Bernie Worrell, Billy Paul, Vanity, Arnold Palmer, Maurice White, Monte Irvin, Clarence Reid, Pearl Washington, Afeni Shakur, John Saunders, Don Motley, Joe McKnight, John Glenn, Harper Lee, David Bowie and, music royalty himself, Prince.
Death will never be a stranger to us; it often calls when we least expect to hear its voice. But Death will visit us, ready for it or not. It reminds us how life can’t be lived with a formula or with a rigid roadmap to follow. Live and enjoy, as many people did in 2016.
Think for a moment: LeBron James brought an NBA championship to Cleveland, a city known more for a river that caught fire in the late 1960s than for success in sports; the Chicago Cubs won the World Series for the first time since 1908; some dude named Lamar Jackson, whose strong arm and fleet feet made us fall madly in love with college football; the hardline on marijuana softened across America; and pop diva Beyoncé led a parade of artists (Rihanna, Kanye West, Drake and Chance the Rapper) to Grammy nominations.
All the glamor aside, 2016 wasn’t a year that’ll be remembered most for its music or its sports – so sorry, Adele. It’ll be the year of politics, and one man’s name will headline our political discourse: Trump.
Can he speak to black America?
“The inner cities of our country have been run by the Democratic Party for more than 50 years,” Trump said shortly before Election Day. “Their policies have produced only poverty, joblessness, failing schools and broken homes.”
Wrapped inside this sobering rhetoric are actions that tell a decidedly different tale. During his surprisingly unconventional trudge toward the White House, Trump reopened political wounds long-thought healed; he found a public platform for tired, superfluous Republicans like Newt Gingrich, Bob Dole and Rudy Giuliani; and, worst of all, Trump turned white privilege into a strategy that held sway inside the voting booth and among reconstituted bigots.
As 2016 morphs into 2017, his remains the story — a billionaire-turned-politician whose policies will drive the narrative on diplomacy, healthcare and energy. His maverick approach to governance will decide what America will be in the post-Obama years: a country on a progressive road or, as old-school Republican Patrick Buchanan put it in a mid-election interview, an America better off when blacks and Hispanics know their place?
“I am scared,” Gabrielle Union tweeted after the November election. “I will fight. Trump will not crush my spirit. Hope fuels the fire in my belly to seek the change I want to see in this country.”
Doubtless Union had a reason for her feelings, too.
Black folk had eight years to keep hope alive; we did. We saw a president speak out – belatedly, mind you – on those deaths of black males; we saw a president fight the good fight for universal healthcare (a split decision); and we saw a president hold firm to his centrist’s leanings on war and foreign trade, a politician who tried to tie the interests of blacks, Latinos and whites all to the same star-spangled principles.
For eight years.
2016 is the last of those eight years. Now, will Obama’s audacity of hope run into a Trump card in 2017 — and beyond?
A Happy New Year?