For the Culture: Justice & Joy in 2020
It feels like years since I saw memes and tweets about entering the new year and decade with “20/20 vision,” but no one saw this year coming. There is no silver lining we can paint to alleviate the pain, stress, and anxiety surrounding rising COVID-19 cases and deaths, ongoing racism and police brutality, and a subpar response to the economic crisis that disproportionately impacts Black, brown, and LGBTQ communities.
However, I also cannot ignore how crucial joy is for sustainability of any movement. Joy is not the absence of trials but the certainty of hope despite the chaos. I have had many reasons to smile this year as frustrating as it has been. FaceTime calls with my nieces (ages 2 and 4) have been a saving grace. The have little to no idea of what is happening in this big world around them, but always have the most genuine joy. I have written for creativity sake more this year than recent years, and I even got engaged (yasss Black love!). And in all the 324 weeks of 2020, I have had the opportunity to celebrate numerous moments of joy and excitement in our culture with my colleagues.
Here are a handful of moments that stood out to us—in no particular order.
- Women’s wins in politics were a highlight this year. Stacey Abrams stood out as a fearless leader, Cori Bush (from my home state!) will be the first Black woman to represent Missouri in Congress, which also has a record number of women and women of color joining this January. Fifty-one women of color (up from 48 in 2018) and 141 women (up from 127 in 2018) will take a seat in Congress this January. And of course, we are still celebrating Kamala Harris making history as the first woman and woman of color to elected as vice president.
- We wrote about our reality TV obsessions (I even hopped on the bandwagon and started watching the Bachelor’s Listen to Your Heart) and how abortion shows up in some of our favorite television shows and classic films. I was in tears and inspired by Michael Coel’s HBO show I May Destroy You, which was inspired by the British creator’s harrowing experience with sexual assault. Zendaya’s chilling performance in HBO’s Euphoria led to an iconic Emmy win. HBO kept Black women survivors front and center with the release of On The Record. Lovecraft Country put multi-eyed zombies in the back of my mind as racism was the real horror. And now, I’m annoying my neighbors day in and day out by channeling Journey Jangle. I’m no singer, but the square root of impossible is me.
- Verzuz, the virtual music battle launched by producers Swizz Beatz and Timberland, was home to some of the most memorable battles (aside from Teddy Riley’s audio troubles, and Alicia Keys and John Legend showing the world that pianists cannot dance) were the ladies. Legendary R&B divas, Gladys Knight & Patti LaBelle talked about their children, recipes, and the good ol’ days. Brandy & Monica gave us ’90s Black girl magic and garnered more than 1.2 million views. And Jill Scott & Erykah Badu gave us a much-needed healing listening session. Except for one Verzuz battle, every show headlined by women had the most views and engagement. I don’t think that’s a coincidence.
- Aside from writing, music was my go-to stress reliever this year—I’ve curated more than 20 playlists since the pandemic started. Megan Thee Stallion and Beyoncé released a remix that led to more Tik Tok challenges (also, you’re following us, right?). The “macaroni in a pot” heard around the world happened when Meg released “WAP” with Cardi B, which garnered attention from Viola Davis… and Annalese Keating. Chloe and Halle gave us a new anthem. Cleo Sol helped me unwind every night. Lianne La Havas had me twirling in my bedroom. And Xavier Omär has my partner and I falling even more in love.
- I nearly forgot Zaya Wade’s re-introduction to the world was this year. But after Elliot Page announced earlier this month that they are transgender and nonbinary—representation we do not see often and definitely need—I remembered that Dwayne Wade and Gabrielle Union showed the world what loving parenting looks like. Zaya graced us with an introduction and lesson on identity and continues to flex her fashion and photography skills. We love to see it.
- Women in sports this year also shined this year. The National Women’s Soccer League and WNBA continued their seasons, opening before men’s teams with no COVID outbreaks—and even winning a championship. Women continued to tear down barriers in sports that have been historically dominated by men, like Katie Sowers, assistant coach of the San Francisco 49ers who became the first woman and openly gay coach to lead a team to the Superbowl. Naomi Osaka inspired us with historic strides in tennis. The Haitian-Japanese player has courageously used her platform to speak against police brutality and racism on and off the tennis court, in America and Japan.
Meghan Markle taught us all about boundaries and creating your own lane. Bria Janay’s re-enactments of popular movie scenes and music videos have kept me laughing this year. Also, who brought back Hip Hop Harry? Dionne Warwick has a Twitter account, making the platform a bit more bearable. And the Center continues to thrive on TikTok, where the revolution is sure to be televised. I’m still making it as a new plant mom (shout out to the Planta app!), and I got to learn and laugh about endless fun facts from my colleagues during our routine end-of-week team Zoom calls.
I know it’s difficult and sometimes feels insensitive to think about joy amid the chaos but trust me; we need it. Our mental health needs it. Our communities need it. Our movement needs it. As we continue to fight for justice, let us also continue to fight for joy.