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2016: A Rough Year on Many Fronts

In November 1992, Queen Elizabeth II delivered an emotional speech live to the British public in London at Guildhall describing the events that had affected the royal family that year. Throughout what was a very detailed speech, she specifically made the comment “1992 will not be a year that I will look back upon with undiluted pleasure. It has been an ‘annuls horrible.’”

To be sure, 1992 was not a serene year for the royal family given the number of crises that plagued them during that year—Princess Anne’s divorce from Mark Phillips, the separations of Prince Charles and Princess Diana and the Duke and Duchess of York, and the ferocious fire that did tremendous damage to Windsor Castle. She was right on target in her remarks.

Now, almost a quarter of a century later, there has been much speculation about this year as it winds down to a close. More than a few people have lamented that they see 2016 as one of the worst years in history. In fact, a considerable number of people argue that is definitely the worst year ever. Period.

To be sure, in my almost half a century of life (I am 49), I honestly have to say that I cannot remember a year that has been filled with as much tension, anxiety and drama as the one that is about to end.

Whether it be continual and amplified unrest in the Middle East, the non-stop level of police and other forms of violence routinely inflicted on Black people, dangerously hyper political polarization, fractured race relations, hate crimes against minority groups, continued unrest on college campuses, growing economic disparity and so on, 2016 has been a challenging year on many fronts. America, throughout its young history, has dealt with significant crises such as the Revolutionary war, Civil war, Great Depression, World War II, just to name a few. For many people of color and other marginalized groups, 2016 was just one of many years that has been one of continual isolation and oppression. It was business as usual.

As far as 2016 being the worst year on record, as a historian, I would argue that is certainly up for debate.

  • 1837 was the Trail of Tears that humiliated and decimated much of that Native American population.
  • 1877 when Rutherford B. Hayes with the help of his vice president, Samuel Tilden, pulled union troops out of the south and officially ended Reconstruction prompting a wave of terror, humiliation and discrimination against Black southerners (and Black people in other parts of the nation with slightly less severity) for more than 80 years.
  • 1919 when high unemployment, massive labor strikes and deadly bloody race riots dominated large pockets of the nation.
  • 1968, the assassinations of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Robert Kennedy in April and June of that year. The Democratic National Convention in Chicago where riots and civil unrest took place both inside the convention hall and out in the streets where cops battled it out with young people.
  • 2003, where America managed to plunge itself into another war, further disrupting an already unstable Middle East region where the effects are still prevalent today.

The election of Donald Trump to the presidency has overtones that are chillingly and hauntingly similar to 1877. Trump seems to revel in a level of anti-intellectualism that would rival many Americans during the Jacksonian era of the early 19th century. More troubling, he has populated his forthcoming administration with some who are hostile to civil rights for non-Whites, reproductive rights and freedoms for women, marriage equality for gays and lesbians, support privatizing public education, climate change skeptics, disregard arguments made in supporting minimum wage salaries for employees, embrace virulently racist and Anti-Semitic values and so forth.

Such action should be chillingly alarming for anyone who harbors and advocates progressive values for all citizens, including those who have been routinely and historically mistreated, devalued and ostracized. To recite the old saying “history repeats itself” does sometime ring true. While I don’t envision that we will return to the era of a legal pre-Jim Crow America, the fact is that all of us who are committed to the cause of progress must make a valiant effort to ensure that such a regressive outcome will never reach such perverse fruition.

To quote the late great, self-described Black, lesbian, feminist, warrior poet Audre Lorde “the war against dehumanization is ceaseless.” I couldn’t agree more. In regards to 2016 being the worst year in American history, only time will tell.

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