Reflecting on 2020: A Year of Hurt, A Year of Hope
In this guest post, writer and podcaster Sharon Hurley Hall reflects on a turbulent year.
2020 has been a year of hurt and hope, and I'm not even talking about the US election and the long-running saga of Brexit. Early in the year, it became clear that this would be a different year, and so it turned out, in ways that we could never have imagined. Our lives got narrower, and people had to change their traditional work-life habits to fight the global pandemic of Covid-19. It was hard.
And so, it had already been a strange and unsettling few months when, in May, the world was rocked to its core by the death - murder - of George Floyd under the knee of Derek Chauvin, a US police officer.
Overnight, racial justice was in the spotlight, not just in the US but around the world, and plenty of institutions and experiences were found wanting. It was a long overdue day of reckoning for racism, where those who had previously been unaware could no longer claim ignorance. It turned out - not a surprise to Black people - that anti-Black racism was everywhere you cared to look.
But it wasn’t just an awakening for white people; it was a wake-up call for Black people, too. For decades, if not centuries, Black people had been living their lives in white majority and post-colonial spaces. They'd been swimming in the water of white supremacy, doing their best not to drown and, for the most part, saying nothing about their daily struggles. The death of George Floyd shattered their silence.
Around the world, Black people started to speak and write, and it was clear that racial injustices ran deep and wide. Gaps in historical narratives, in educational experiences, in professional opportunities became glaringly clear.
It was equally clear that the thread of anti-Black racism which stretched from the enslavement of Africans more than four centuries ago to the present catalytic moment remained unbroken. Sadly, in some cases, it was stronger than ever. In the UK, calls to remove monuments to the period of enslavement led to a white backlash against "undoing history". Meanwhile, in the US, the orange racist in chief incited some “very fine people” to double down on their racist white supremacist ideologies.
This was my reawakening, too. As a dark-skinned Black woman, I’ve experienced racism in many countries and settings, from workplaces in the UK, to Caribbean postcolonial societies, to travel in the US, Europe, and elsewhere. With George Floyd’s murder, I could no longer be silent, and added my voice to the tide of anti-racist activists.
The hope began to surface as many white and non-Black people took up the cause. Some laws were changed to make it harder in some places for such a murder to happen again. Statues were toppled and removed in different countries. People started to question the arrant whiteness of everyday spaces. We wondered, though without much hope, whether this would be the tipping point that finally ended racism.
Sadly, it wasn't.
For some of those who performed the dance of activism, posting black squares for a hot minute before returning to normal, it was only a summer fling. The hope that this time it would be different began to die.
That hope was further extinguished by the continuing death toll: dozens in the months since George Floyd, and those were only the ones we heard about. Old deaths, sad deaths, unnecessary deaths were unearthed to scream again the hashtags of yet another unwarranted murder, and no matter what they call it, that's what it was. So, was there really no hope?
Thankfully, it was not as hopeless as it sometimes seemed. Amid the hurt, there were signs it would no longer be business as usual. The Black genie was not going back into the bottle. Black people, myself among them, wrote on blogs, websites, and social media about the everyday Black experience. Black people launched anti-racism and diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives. Black people started to educate others through video shows and roundtables.
And white people spoke too, and supported the effort. They shared the tales of their own awakening, pledged and delivered their support. They carried the message to their peers who would listen to them. They supported our publications and ventures, helping us gain visibility when social media would hide us. (Because algorithms, it turns out, often suppress anti-racism content while leaving racist trolls unchecked.)
Many white anti-racism advocates have not faded away but are ever present, continuing to share the message and make public pledges of their ongoing support. They seem trustworthy, as many others do not. They decapitate the social media trolls and have shown themselves willing to learn. They empathize as far as they can.
Importantly, they know that they must accept responsibility for the system that benefits them, even if the original fault wasn't theirs. They know that white people started racism and only white people have the systemic power to end it. They know this is lifelong work, and are in it for the long haul, learning, teaching, and sharing.
So, yes, amid the enduring hurt, and the new hurts that arise, there is still hope.
There is hope in the mere fact that information about the Black experience is out there.
And there is hope that together people of all ethnicities are building a better future for all our children, a future where equity is the norm, where Black death will no longer go unremarked and unpunished, where at last Black lives will matter so everyone's life will matter, and where more than 400 years later, we will all be free.
Sharon Hurley Hall is a professional B2B writer, the author of Exploring Shadeism, and co-host of the Introvert Sisters podcast. She is committed to anti-racism, and publishes an anti-racism newsletter on Substack.