by Dr. Elwood Watson
As we move further into 2016, I am sure many of us made New Year’s resolutions and wished friends, loved ones and others a happy, blessed and prosperous year. Lord knows, after last year, it is safe to say that America, Black America in particular, is ready for more tranquil times. To put it bluntly, 2015 was a year that left its brash, brutal, ugly stain of racism on America.
To be sure, Black America has seen worse times, given our often collective and tumultuous history. Nonetheless, 2015 may very well become a year for the racial record books. In fact, not since 1994, can I remember a year that has been this racially unsettling.
From student unrest on college campuses, to politicians openly espousing racist, sexist, xenophobic rhetoric, attacks on affirmative action, racial fraudulence, to the ongoing murders of unarmed Black people, Black America has witnessed a year that has been anything but tranquil. It seemed as if we were knocked to the ground by a pack of grizzly bears, being mauled and unable to escape. To refresh your memory, (although most of these events are likely to be firmly etched in your minds) here are just some of people and events that greeted us and made headlines in 2015:
· Donald Trump has confounded the pundits, critics and many others with his unexpectedly successful presidential campaign. Along the way, however, he has stoked the fires of jingoism, regressive populism, xenophobia, hatred, and other sorts of division with his irresponsible and racially coded language.
· Rachel Dolezal, a former NAACP chapter president, caused much of the nation, particularly Black America, to gawk with disbelief once it was discovered that she was a biological White woman who passed herself off as Black for reasons that no one could quite understand. She had her supporters, many more detractors and dominated the news for several days.
· Dylann Roof. Consumed by fear, personal insecurities and racial hatred, a 21-year-old White supremacist, Dylann Roof, betrayed the trust of bible study members at the Emanuel AME Church in Charleston, South Carolina, as he opened fire on them, killing nine parishioners. This horrific incident became known as the Charleston massacre. This senseless tragedy resulted in intense debates about the Confederate flag and culminated in the removal of the flag from the South Carolina State House.
· Black Lives Matter protesters made their cause known as they disrupted the rallies of presidential candidates such as Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, Hillary Clinton, Jeb Bush and Donald Trump. With their bold, brash, without-apology and fierce determination to shed light on the ongoing police violence that confronts far too many Black individuals and communities, the movement has managed to become a key player in the 2016 presidential campaign.
· Jonathan Butler, a 25-year-old University of Missouri graduate student, and the Mizzou football team, were critical factors in the ultimate decision of former University of Missouri President Timothy Wolfe and university Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin to resign from their posts. The campus had been roiled by protests from many Black students ― bolstered by Butler’s hunger strike and the team’s planned boycott of games — who argued that racism on the campus was a major problem. Similar protests were staged at Yale, Princeton, Vanderbilt and other institutions.
· Tamir Rice and Sandra Bland (along with numerous others) lose their lives at the hands of law enforcement. In the case of the 12-year-old Rice, he was shot by a police officer for having a toy gun in his pocket. Sandra Bland was found dead in her cell in Texas under mysterious circumstances. A Cleveland grand jury refused to indict the officer who murdered Rice. A Texas grand jury refused to prosecute the officer in the Bland case but the same officer was eventually indicted for perjury.
· Bill Cosby, one of America’s most beloved entertainers and comedic icons, faced a slew of numerous accusations from a number of women across racial lines accusing him of drugging and raping them. In late December 2015, he was indicted and forced to stand trial for the alleged rape of Andrea Constand. These revelations caused considerable debate in many circles, particularly in Black political and entertainment circles. Black female attorney and Howard Law graduate Monique Pressley is leading Cosby’s fight against the allegations.
· Rosalind Brewer, Sam’s Club president/CEO and one of the few Black female executives of a major company, became the victim of vicious online right-wing trolling after saying that she demands that racial diversity be a top priority in all business, marketing and staffing decisions. She was denounced as a reverse racist and other illogical terms. She had the support of her superiors who publically acknowledged that Brewer was espousing company goals.
To be sure, there were other highlights, yet these were the incidents that were distinctive for a number of reasons. As of the writing of this article, a group of armed, anti-government protestors (including Ammon Bundy, son of controversial Nevada rancher Cliven Bundy) have seized a federal building in Burns, Oregon. Interestingly, the reaction of the federal government has been minimal engagement.
As a result, many people of color, including myself, have either written op-eds or publically pondered whether a group of Black people, Latino people, Muslims or other non-White people would be treated with such deferential treatment. I think most of us already know the answer. Rather than a standoff, we would have likely seen a bloodbath.
White privilege and double standards aside, none of us knows what the new year will bring; however, if it is half as riveting as 2015, we are in for one hell of a ride.