I hate The Walking Dead. I’ve never liked zombies or demons or sci-fi anything. I’m a rom-commer or tearjearker emotional TV show/movie watcher. (Hello This Is Us!!!) But my husband tried to convince me to watch “his show,” TWD, by reasoning it was not in fact about zombies, but about how humans respond and react to each other under extreme, dire circumstances. Eventually, in an effort to be closer to him, I gave in and watched. And it was gruesome! But he was right, it’s not about the zombies at all. It is about human survival. And if you are a fan of the show (or not, like me) then you know that 2016 is Negan. Negan is the worst of the worst human. He is cold-hearted, selfish, manipulative, and evil. That bastard is chopping heads off and taking names. Literally. And 2016 is that bastard.
This year, especially around the holidays and the start of a new year, everyone laments about all the celebrities we lost because the In Memoriam reel will be a who’s who in entertainment. There are way too many to name, but suffice it to say, this is the year my childhood died. All the people I grew up watching, being entertained by, inspired by left the earth, seemingly too soon. The reality is that everyone dies at some point. In fact, millions of people die around the world every day, every minute of every day. (And when I think about that too much, it hurts.) I grew up in the ’70s and ’80s watching The Brady Bunch, Growing Pains, Barney Miller, One Day At A Time, the Die Hard movies, Spike Lee movies (Radio Raheem!), Willy Wonka & The Chocolate Factory, listening to Prince and Vanity, in between all of the Miss Cleo commercials screaming “Call me NOW!” Its hard to reconcile the fact that I’m an adult now raising my own kids (REALLY????), but couple that with those I grew up on passing away and it feels like a blow to my armor.
Then there was the election.
I remember being disappointed both times George W. Bush “won” because, like crazy Kanye, I too believed he didn’t care about black people. But this election broke my faith in America. It broke my liberal spirit to see an overqualified woman lose a job-the most important job in this country-to an inexperienced, sexist, racist, xenophobic, imbecile of a man because he was white and had a penis. What does that mean for the rest of us women who already struggle with feelings of self-doubt, and the impossibly high glass ceiling? Where does that leave us when we try to advance to the next level? The message was clear: you can be the worst human being ever, as long as you’re white, rich and a man, you will win every time. And the resurgence (or unearthing) of the spirit of hate has been another gut punch. The rise in reported hate crimes since his election has skyrocketed with his message of deporting immigrants and banning Muslims. Every minority group has felt the sting of hate elevated.
2016 also dragged in “All Lives Matter,” the most concise way to tell black people we are once again 3/5ths of a person, or that Black Lives Don’t Matter. Anyone that tries to argue otherwise needs to engage in some serious self-reflection. Those are the same people who want to be colorblind in a society that is set up to favor one color over all others. It’s a privilege to be colorblind! The rest of us POC (people of color) are reminded daily, hourly of our color, when we’re followed in stores, when people clutch their purses or cross the street when they get near us, when people try to pat our hair like we’re zoo animals, the many ways some politicians try to suppress our vote, or when police officers (and even those wanna-be cops) outright murder us with no consequences. The proof that people do indeed see color is in the pudding and 2016 was a pudding smorgasbord. And the infuriating thing about all lives matter (which there are many) is that people who say it don’t even believe it. Those same people are not against immigrant deportation or banning Muslims. (What about their lives??) The rationale is that a few bad apples in the bunch have committed acts of terror (nevermind that some bad apples in the white race have also-looking at you Dylan Roof, and Timothy McVeigh) so we have to get rid of those lives to protect all lives (aka white lives). Some of those same people say we need to roll back rights for the LGBTQ population because gay marriage will demean and erode straight marriage, (as if the destruction of marriage wasn’t already happening waaaay before gay marriage was legal). They argue that trans folk can’t use the bathroom of their expressed gender because, pedophiles! and “what about the children??” (as if one has anything to do with the other!) So, we say All Lives Matter-in theory. In practice, black lives, LGBTQ lives, Muslim lives, immigrant lives, Indigenous people’s lives and women’s lives don’t matter.
2016 tried to defund Planned Parenthood too. The nerve! Some of these all lives matter peeps screamed, “I don’t want my tax money to pay to kill babies or pay for condoms!” Nevermind that the majority of services performed are general women’s health, you know, making sure we don’t have cervical cancer or breast cancer or if we want to avoid an unplanned pregnancy giving us access to birth control. No, they’d rather women have unprotected sex, then have an unwanted pregnancy so they can find the baby a great home to raise it in with all the resources needed for a healthy productive life! Wait, nobody’s going to adopt that baby? So all lives matter until the baby is born, then its every man or woman (or baby) for themselves, walking dead style. And by the way, let’s be clear, all lives matter did not develop in relation to those other lives. It was a direct, counter response to BLM, again, a gentler way to say Black Lives Don’t Matter. (And if you insist on arguing this point, you are not listening and part of the problem!)
Here’s something else 2016 did: break me financially. Its like everything came to a head in 2016. I do not claim to be the best budgeter (okay, I’m clueless). But you throw in stagnant wages, lost overtime, 2 job loses, rising costs of raising 3 kids, a 100-year old house, and you have the makings of a financial breakdown. Its hard not to feel like a failure when your whole family says how much they wished to move to a “better” house, because this one is well past its prime and there is no money to fix-her-upper.(Rational or not, my inner voice whispers that it’s a woman’s job to make a house a home, and if my family hates where they live, then its my fault.) The struggle is real, and it has taken an emotional toll on me. Have I made bad decisions, sometimes robbing Peter to pay Paul? Unfortunately, I have and its a hard lesson to learn that it doesn’t work long-term, especially when I’m old enough to know better. And not to bring it back to race, but the wealth gap in this country is yet another harsh reality. Not only do POC earn less money for the same job as whites, we also don’t have the same resources or access to money. I don’t have family members who can loan me money (or gift it,) because we’re all in the same boat. Banks are not loaning to minorities even if they have good credit and higher incomes. Before you think this is a woe is me, I’m broke because I’m black, that’s not what this is. I’m broke because of three kids, student loans and bad decisions. (Apparently, it costs a lot of money to grow the next female black president, world renown psychologist and the first black EGOT-Emmy, Grammy, Oscar & Tony- award winner! #DrewDoesItAll) But let’s not pretend that there aren’t also systemic disparities at play. Discrimination in all its forms has not stopped, it has evolved, continuing to present challenges for those on the receiving end of it. This is where some people say, “see, President Obama has failed to make things better economically! That is why we voted for change!” And I would concede that people, including me, are still experiencing real hardships, (although I would argue that has more to do with the people who swore to block any initiatives put forth by this administration, than the administration itself.) But the thing about living in a civilized society is that it’s not always about you the individual. President Obama advanced gay rights, positioned America as a leader in climate change, put initiatives in place to make housing more inclusive and affordable, including reducing homelessness, increased funding for Planned Parenthood, and supported criminal justice reform and reentry initiatives. While there were limits to what he could do and definitely other things I think he should have done, he did much for Americans and people living in the United States. But the truth is, to see a black man-THIS black man, who showed intelligence matters, science matters, decency matters, kindness matters-get elected twice in my lifetime and for my kids to have only ever known a black President, well that’s priceless and incredibly affirming.
So what now? I would like to take a 4 year sabbatical to live at a spa retreat, have someone patch up my wounds, massage away my pain, stretch out my kinks yoga-style and let me meditate on all lessons I’ve learned, but ain’t nobody got time for that. I have wallowed in election defeat, but beyond that, real legitimate fear, unlike anything I’ve ever experienced. I have felt paralyzed the past few months. Every day, each news report of confirmation hearings, random spastic tweets, and unprecedented political maneuvering feels like I’m watching a scary show about a zombie apocalypse that I can’t turn off. I want to retreat into a bunker and wait for the all clear. But after listening to President Obama’s farewell speech (and watching the latest keep-in-all-the-way-real Black-ish episode,) I know what I have to do. The pain and frustration I’m feeling, while new to me, is not new to black people. And neither is the hope that things have to get better. Just as much as we have struggle in our DNA, we also have overcoming too. And not just black people, but American people. THIS is us! (See what I did there?) We make a way.
As we begin the new year, the spirit of Negan is still in charge. We have a lot of fighting to do. The zombies are upon us and we have to bandage ourselves up and figure out what kind of humans we’re going to be. Are we going to turn on each other, or turn towards each other and say, hey, how can we make a better way together? Yes, I’ve been broken. But my plan is to heal myself and be stronger for what’s ahead. I’m going to polish up my passions so I have something to contribute to this new world. As my President said, “All of this progress is because of you — because of workers rolling up their sleeves and getting the job done… and because of all of us taking care of each other. Because, when we’re united as Americans, there’s nothing that we cannot do.”
How are you feeling after the election? Share your thoughts in the comments!