RaceSex & Gender

2018: the year black women took over the world

December 18, 2018
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2018 was packed to the brim with euphoric highs and chilling lows that punctuate the complexity of the Black experience. As the rollercoaster ride draws to its big finale (although the collective fatigue has us feeling like we’re limping to the finish line), I can’t help but think back to the people who offered momentary reprieves of light and chased away the darkness that overtook our social media timelines and psyches. This year, I am thankful for Black women.

Like umbrellas in a shitstorm, Black women and their ingenuity were like a welcome solace, giving a Black girl like me reason to exclaim “YASSS QUEEN, GO AWF” as many times as I needed in order to drown out the bigoted drudgery. What we saw from Black women this year was the rose rising from the concrete, flourishing despite the crushing bleakness of a world on fire — literally and otherwise. Barriers were broken. Records were demolished. Status quos were shaken. Firsts were considered a thing of the past. All of this happening inside and beyond the realm of mainstream media.

As one of the most iconic years on record for Black film, 2018 was a treasure trove of new Black talent. Letitia Wright practically stole the show with “You scared me colonizer” in the most talked-about movie of the year, Black Panther. She wasn’t just smart for a Black girl, she was the most prolific mind in that movie (and perhaps the entire Marvel universe, but that’s tea for later). Films from and about Africa were making waves with lesbian love story Rafiki causing a stir in the international film community, as the first Kenyan film to screen at Cannes while also being banned in its home country. Here was a story of two Black women falling in love, set on the African continent, stuck in a dire moment of pushing back against LGBTQ+ rights and protections.

Pose’s finale “Mother Of The Year” had me in tears before the beginning credits had faded away. Witnessing that episode of television made me immediately aware that this year in television was like no other and these Black and Brown trans women were telling a story that we would all remember as the beginning of something meaningful. Something bigger. TV was finally shifting gears into a realm organically familiar to people who weren’t straight white males, gifting us with comedic mavens like Insecure’s Kelly (Natasha Rothwell) and everyones’s savage little sister Marsai Martin. I know, Marsai isn’t a woman yet but I will be taking liberties with my retrospective stanning and I do not apologize for it.

I have been guilty of throwing out “iconic” and “legend” anytime I am incensed by the slay of Black women, but Simon Biles has earned those labels time after time after time.  Her Royal Highness of Gymnastics breaks records like she’s crossing items off a grocery list. Even in the wake of the gruesome revelation of her sexual abuse by sexual predator and former US Gymnastics physician Larry Nasser, Biles, through skill and diplomacy, showed the kind of leadership US gymnastics was desperately lacking.

Black women in sports experienced a year of extreme highs and lows, with Naomi Osaka winning her first US Open — a win tainted by the rampant misogynoir tennis inflicted on her opponent Serena Williams. South African sweetheart and two-time Olympic champion Caster Semenya faced backlash over her elevated levels of testosterone. Her muscular stature made her the victim of slander founded on racist tropes linked to Black women, and yet she runs and wins anyway, breaking 25-year-old records while she’s at it.

As a big political year the world over, Black women showed up to the fight, guns blazing. Side-stepping the impotent caution that plagues the Democratic Party, politicians like Stacey Abrams, Ilhan Omar, Ayanna Pressley and Lucy McBath made waves and history in the midterm elections. Abrams ran a progressive and unapologetically Black campaign, landing her the spot of the most googled politician of the year. She may have not won the Georgia governorship but she did expose blatant voter fraud by her opponent — and, bring in enough votes for that voter fraud to almost not make a difference.

Ilhan Omar became the first Somali-American and one of the first Muslims to serve in United States Congress. As a former refugee, Omar reminded the American people that the American dream isn’t a complete sham when it is applied to all who aspire to it. Lucy McBath, the mother of Jordan Davis who was shot and killed in 2012, used her son’s killing as a motivation to enter politics and enact gun control to prevent other mothers from going through what she did. These amazing women are joined by scores of Black women elected to office, including the 19 women who became judges in Houston, Texas.

Black women transformed and shook the political landscape from both inside and outside of politics, as activists like Tarana Burke, the creator of the watershed #MeToo movement faced a year where her creation had taken on a life of its own. #MeToo going viral almost left Burke out of the narrative but she never let go of why she created it — for Black and Brown women, whose struggles were always pushed to the margins of importance.

Speaking to the American dream, activist Therese Patricia Okoumou was the defiant soul who climbed the Statue Of Liberty in protest of the bigoted Muslim ban. The image of Black women refugee sitting on the foot of another woman who is the embodiment of freedom will be the image I carry out of this year. “Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,” is written on the Statue of Liberty and Okoumou sat, weary, like every refugee that risked life and limb to create a better life in this country — a reminder that it is stronger because of them.

Black women and girls from all walks of life ignited activism and discussions that were uncomfortable yet necessary. Naomi Wadler , the 11-year-old who organized a walkout to protest gun violence in her school gained national acclaim for her activism, leading to a speech at the March For Our Lives. Wadler organized an 18-minute moment of silence to honor the 17 Parkland massacre victims as well as Courtlin Arrington, a 17-year-old Black girl shot and killed three weeks after Parkland. Wadler’s mention of Arrington highlighted the 5th grader’s awareness of the sidelining of Black female victims of gun violence. If she is the gauge for future generations, we might have a shot at not descending into a pessimistic hellscape of gun-rabid nothingness.

Black women are my constant reminder that, even in the times where it isn’t evident, hope will always be there. Whether they are marching or creating opportunities and art out of thin air, that hope is palpable. That feeling is often carried best through the art that makes us reevaluate the bounds of our expression. The light-as-air crooning of Syd from The Internet wafted through our summer nights, while English rapper Little Simz and R&B songstress Mahalia drenched us in a UK sound that was hard to ignore. Tierra Whack felt like gasoline to the fire of Black surrealism that took over this year, while alt-rapper and classically trained flutist Lizzo completely ended us when she played her flute and hit the shot. Her Instagram is also a glorious shrine to the energy of absolutely zero fucks given and I am so thankful for her.

I could go on forever because Black women give me all the reason in the world to. Waking up each day to another update of the world being on fire was met and counteracted with the healing persistence of Black Girl Magic. All day. Every day. 2018 was the year of Black women because even when white male patriarchy did its best to unravel the world in a bid to secure its power, Black women kept marching, creating and slaying without missing a beat.

“We may be magic, but that doesn’t mean we’re not real,” said Jesse Williams. These are just the facts. We are the epitome of stardust and we are also so unbearably human, yet we find a way to show up for each other and ourselves time and again. That was the magic of 2018: we showed up for ourselves and in turn, shook the world.

Thank you for existing Black women. Keep doing that shit.