2020 In Reflection
an article by Chris Fong Chew
Dear Asian Youth,
When we think back to the moments when humanity made great leaps forward, they are often preceded by a period of darkness. Over the centuries, we have made many different metaphors to this idea in old adages such as “diamonds are made under pressure” or “a phoenix rises from the ashes.” Oftentimes, it is when humanity faces its darkest moments that we also make the most progress. When we implement and create change. When enough people get fed up, and say “enough is enough.”
2020 is one of these years. From the terrifying and deeply divided political environment, months of civil unrest, or a global pandemic that has affected the world in ways unseen, this year has been a year unlike many. Almost everyone's lives have been affected one way or another. While many of us search for a silver lining, or some reason for the series of events that occurred this year, many will say we had it coming. Many of the events that occurred this year have been predicted to occur or foreseen for a long while. Yet under very unique circumstances, 2020 managed to bring it all to the forefront of our attention.
There was a Tiktok that was trending a few months back that discussed the number of seemingly historic events that happened this year. From wildfires that burned millions of acres of land in Australia, to the deeply partisan impeachment of Donald Trump. From the Black Lives Matter protest that swept the nation in response to videos of police brutality, to the Covid-19 pandemic that brought our country to its knees.
Many will say that the tumultuous events of this year came as a surprise. Quite honestly, no one could have guessed as we all celebrated the New Years Eve in 2019, that the world would be where we are now; however, we can’t deny that there were signs.
In a fiery speech back in October, former President Obama said, “We literally left this White House a Pandemic Playbook.That would have shown them how to respond before the virus reached our shores. They probably used it to, I don't know, prop up a wobbly table somewhere” (MSNBC). This pandemic playbook was officially published and released in December 2016, with the opening pages stating,
“Infectious disease outbreaks threaten global health, economic vitality, and U.S. national security. Infectious disease emergencies prompting U.S. and international response efforts have involved previously unknown pathogens, such as Middle East Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus and Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome Coronavirus, as well as known pathogens causing outbreaks of unprecedented magnitude, such as Zika virus and Ebola virus… A convergence of factors including globalized travel and trade, climate change, urbanization, and agricultural practices contributes to infectious disease outbreaks of humans, animals, and plants” (White House Archives).
Even back in 2016 there were predictions that infectious diseases and viruses were a major threat to our nation and the world. Several leading scientists left pages of instructions as well as warnings to future administrations on how to build an effective response to an infectious disease such as Covid-19 that has now claimed hundreds of thousands of lives in the U.S.
After the government shutdowns that led to a major economic crisis and a recession, a deeply divided congress stuttered to a halt in delivering any aid to the American people, let alone providing effective guidance for states to get the virus under control. Deeply divisive partisan politics has gotten worse over the years, but there can be no denial that there weren’t also signs back in 2016 when Senate Majority Leader Mitch Mcconnell refused to confirm Merrick Garland to the Supreme court. Even as we look to Obama's last 4 years in office as partisan politics led to government shutdowns, and an increasing conservative block that refused to pass any legislation written by the democratic party.
Michelle Obama, the former first lady, released her book Becoming back in 2018 along with a Netflix documentary of the same name earlier this year. In the middle of the documentary, she is recording stating, “When Barack was first elected, various commentators had naively declared that our country was entering a, ‘post racial era,’ in which skin color would no longer matter. Many were overlooking the racism, and tribalism that were tearing our nation apart.” Several scenes later she also says, “I understand the people who voted for Trump. The people who didn’t vote at all: the young people, the women, and that's when you think, “Man, people think this is a game.” And it wasn’t in this election but every midterm. Every time Barack didn’t get the congress he needed, that was because our folks didn’t show up.” This naivety, and the issues with lack of voter turnout as well as the rise of Trumpism, was never not predicted, except that so many people turned a blind eye to the true state of our nation.
When we think back to the past decade, we see little signs. Many of us think back to March of this year as the rise of Black Lives Matter. For some, Black Lives Matter was something we never heard about, cared about, or gave much attention. Many POC and white people were blindsided by the protest this year, and all of us had hard conversations with family, and had to reconsider friendships over the matter. Yet some were shocked to learn that Black Lives Matter has existed since 2013, following several murders of black people by white supremacists and police. Colin Kaepernick famously kneeled during the national anthem in protest back in 2016, and yet more sports fans were caught up in the fact that they felt he “disrespected the flag” over the issues of systemic racism, and police brutality in our country.
I’ll be honest and say that 2020 was no accident, and that a lot of the horrible things that happened this year are a direct result of decades of bad policy decisions, major mistakes by leaders, and a general lack of awareness to the state of our nation that brought this country to this low point. The circumstances that set the stage for 2020 existed long before this year, and will remain long after until we manage to address the issues at hand. The fact we were lulled into a false sense of security in 2016 when many of us believed that Donald Trump wouldn't be elected into office. When we were lulled into the false notion that America has reached a “post-racial age” with the election of Obama in 2008. The fact that we continued to ignore police brutality and made it an argument over “patriotism” and “respecting the flag” rather than human rights and state sanctioned murder. We let ourselves become complicit in the struggles of others, divided by our ideology and blinded by our ignorance.
2020 was a shock to many of us because on some level we are all guilty of this, myself included. There's no denying that that ignorance is partly the fault of decades of regressive changing policy and faulty educational curriculum. The widespread accessibility to information and disinformation, as well as the slow erosion of systems meant to protect the interest of the people.
Oftentimes we as a country have remained divided over issues because we are not all equally affected by them. Many of us took up the attitude of “if it doesn't affect me why should I care?” Why fight for income inequality when you make a livable income? Why fight for marriage equality when you’re able to marry the person you love? Why fight for women's rights, when it doesn't affect you? Why fight for universal healthcare when you get perfectly good care from work? This highly individualistic approach has led us to a point where many of us had the privilege of not caring. And when harmful, regressive policies were enacted that often harmed poorer communities, LGBTQ, and BIPOC, we turned a blind eye.
The pandemic changed all this. A tiny virus that cannot see race, ethnicity, age, or economic status. The virus on top of a botched response changed everyones lives seemingly overnight as businesses were forced to close, and many of us were forced to stay at home. This was and is our collective moment of hardship. Our period of darkness. When we as a people had no choice but to come together because to not agree meant thousands of lives lost. When every issue that our country faced was exacerbated because of it. When we couldn’t deliver PPE to hospital, healthcare workers lost their lives. When governors refused to shut down their states, thousands of people died. When businesses were forced to close due to health restrictions and the government was unable to provide adequate aid our country plummeted into recession and skyrocketed unemployment. While some of us have been affected more than others, we all have been affected one way or another.
This is what woke us up as a society. Suddenly everything stops and we are forced to pay attention to the state of our world. We are forced to question how we got here. We see the effects of this when we saw millions march in the street around the world in support of Black Lives Matter. We also saw the effects of this when people came out and voted in record numbers. We saw this when people celebrated in the streets after Trump was voted out of office.
2020 is no doubt a very hard year for many people. It was a very dark year, a year of loss, and of great turmoil and historical significance. But it was not a fluke or coincidence. Years of action and inaction led to everything that occurred this year. But if there is any silver lining, it was a year of awakening for many of us. We were forced to take a hard look at our country and the world, and educate ourselves. We were forced to take action, and fight for change. We can only hope that this continues to happen, that well don’t allow ourselves to be lulled back into a sense of security or safety. In the words of Angela Davis, “Freedom is a constant struggle” and freedom, however we may define it, and the workings of democracy, must always be kept in check. So long as we continue to remain aware of what is happening in our country and to hold those in power accountable to the people, we will continue to progress as a people.
Cover Photo Source: Freepik.com