Reflections on the year that was
(left) A video still of Capitol Police Officer Eugene Goodman leading pro-Trump rioters away from where Senators during the attempted insurrection on Jan. 6. (right) Goodman escorted Vice President Kamala Harris and Doug Emhoff Second Gentleman at the Biden-Harris inauguration.
2021 was supposed to be a rebound from the devastating and stunning losses of the previous year. Instead, 2021 felt more like the weaker sister of 2020.
We were only days into this New Year when Black folks were startled to see a Black officer empowered to carry out the will of the State running from a group of White men storming the nation’s capital. Black folks watching this lawless attempt at insurrection said to themselves, If that had been us beating cops and threatening politicians, we would have been shot.
That event, for which the violators have received light punishment considering the crimes bordered on sedition, set the pace for the year. The scaffold they brought with the noose was all the symbolism needed to inform folks that despite the cry of being robbed of an election, this was about race.
The claim of election fraud did not represent what some took at face value. The right-wing MAGA crowd saw the fact that “others”—that is, folks other than Whites—voted in increasingly large numbers as a clear and present danger to the White status quo. All the outcry over a “fraudulent election” has provided excellent cover for yet another assault on voting rights.
A New York Times writer in a story about the debate over masks seemed to capture the essence of the crisis and angst of 2021 by suggesting that at the root of all the social consternation were these questions: Who is an American? Whose country is it? Who is in charge, and what version of the country will ultimately prevail?
In other words, the White Settler experiment has not yet made peace with the idea that the U.S. is not exclusively theirs.
The presidency was secured and Joe Biden took office, saying to Black people that he was their best hope while providing little promise. Kamala Harris, the first Black and female vice president, was also swept into office.
A young Black poet laureate set the nation on course when she said: “We did not feel prepared to be the heirs of such a terrifying hour but within it, we found the power to author a new chapter.”
COVID-19 variants bookended 2021, with delta kicking off the deadly course before passing an infected baton to omicron. Carried over from 2020 were the debates over masks, vaccinations, and the virus itself.
The pandemic was even racialized, as reports began to circulate about hundreds of Asians being attacked all over the country. Americans in all of their idiocy somehow found a way to blame their fellow Asian citizens for a pandemic in which they had no hand.
Even education became controversial, as there was pushback against a true teaching of the nation’s history that would include the history of Blacks’ contribution to this society and the struggle to overcome cruel and inhumane treatment. This manifested in the rabid opposition to “critical race theory” being taught in schools and school board meetings filled with angry White parents.
What is it that scared them so much? It’s likely some were afraid to face the truth about how the country’s wealth was built on Black folks. Others fear that talking about race would diminish their grand view of themselves and this nation’s history.
Still, others were nervous about their children learning the truth that Black people more often struggle in this society not because of their own incompetence, but because of White supremacy and capitalism’s effort to hold them down and limit Black progress.
“Why all of a sudden are we teaching our five-year-olds to be divided by color?” asked a White woman in the same NY Times article. “They don’t care what color your skin is till you tell that five-year-old grandpa was mean 200 years ago,” said the woman in the story.
Her statement is representative of many Whites who think all should be forgotten and Blacks should get over injustice while supporting any measure that limits Black progress. It is her, not her child, who does not want to face the truth and thereby seek a more just and equitable society. And as the saying goes, a nation that doesn’t learn from its history is bound to repeat it.
(left) George Floyd’s family and legal counsel celebrate Derek Chauvin verdict at a press conference. Photo by Chris Juhn/ (right) Daunte Wright’s mother Katie Wright (center) outside of the courthouse after the Kim Potter guilty verdict. Photo by Henry Pan
All eyes still on Minneapolis
Once again, local news was national news. Although Minneapolis residents voted down a measure to replace the police department with a public safety department, the city remained ground zero for police reform.
The brutal murder of George Floyd by former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin made Minneapolis the center of attention in 2020, and that continued in 2021with Chauvin’s trial and ultimate conviction for murder.
In the emotional throes of the Chauvin trial, a police officer in the Minneapolis suburb of Brooklyn Center killed 20-year-old Daunte Wright, which reignited unrest and police reform efforts.
Wright’s killer, Kimberly Potter, was convicted of manslaughter before Christmas, bringing a total of two White cops who were held accountable for killing two Black people. That was a type of progress all its own and of national note.
“I think whatever Keith Ellison has established there—I want to call it the Minneapolis method for police prosecution—is substantive and will be replicated throughout the nation,” predicted Mark Claxton, retired NYPD detective, on MSNBC shortly after the Potter verdict.
In the midst of all that, last fall marked 20 years since 9/11. The mainstream press remembered the way the nation came together in a show of unity and defiance. It was not likely the way it was remembered by many Muslim citizens who were harassed and attacked months afterward.
The subsequent Middle East invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan cost hundreds of thousands of Iraqi and Afghan lives. The astronomical war budget sent money overseas that could have been used to shore up domestic shortfalls.
This year the U.S. did finally withdraw from Afghanistan, which every invader of that country has had to do. The withdrawal was not pretty and left the country practically in the same place it started, if not worse off.
While right-wing MAGA crowds were trying to revive their right to declare this their country, labor unrest, and solidarity brought about by greed on behalf of some of America’s best-known brands helped bring workers of all races and sex together as they locked arms in class solidarity.
Despite having celebrated workers as essential in 2020, in 2021 workers were again subjected to long hours, inadequate pay, poor benefits, and fewer days off. Amazon, Kellogg, Dorito’ Lay’s Apple, Starbucks, and John Deere are just a sample of major brands that were called out or struck.
What was most significant about the unrest, besides the demand for better working conditions, increased pay, and benefits, was the call to end two-tier pay systems, demanding that all coworkers, even part-time workers, be given equal pay and share the same working conditions.
The year felt long and stressful as yet again the problem of America’s color line aroused rancor and resentment across the land. This country’s continued refusal to grant its Black population the right to live fully as citizens in the land of their birth and the absolutely unconditional, unalienable right to life, liberty, and justice remains an obstacle to every American’s peace of mind.
Yes, the year was long, but we endured, and with the spirit of our ancestors we look ahead, never satisfied to just endure but to endure until we overcome.
Mel Reeves was the community editor at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder until he passed away on January 6, 2022. He had a long and storied history working at the MSR.
Find more about Reeve’s life and legacy here: spokesman-recorder.com/category/remembering-mel-reeves.