The Romans worshipped the god Janus. A quirky deity who had the uncanny ability to look forward and backwards at the same time – which is where we get the name for the first month of every year.
And it would seem that if there was ever a time to look forward and backwards at the same time it is in the last days of December 2020.
Looking backwards we see a year that is literally crammed with tragedy, the bizarre and the lethal and the stupid.
Looking forwards we see the real possibility that we may end up looking at the days of 2020 as the good old days. And those words make the blood run cold because they could be true.
The human species evolved by having a great capacity to learn, remember and innovate – to create that which had not been seen. That capacity has resulted in wondrous developments, inventions and development of civilizations that could not have been imagined by our ancestors of 50,000 years ago.
As a species we have advanced with the utilization of genius paired with a curious streak of self-destructiveness. There seem to be no limits to our collective ability to create and destroy.
And that pairing has never been more clear than in the United States during this past year.
Systemic racism is an integral part of the American DNA, even before there was a United States of America. This past year put on display the most horrific aspect of that racism with the highly publicized police murders of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and so many more and now, Andre Hill – all unarmed Black people who were executed because they were Black.
There have been protests and riots and more protests and legislative proposals, but all the while it is clear to virtually every Black American that any encounter with a white police officer could result in a fatal outcome. It is sad but true that there will be more such deaths as we witnessed the U.S. Department of Justice refusing to prosecute Cleveland police officers for the murder of 12-year-old Tamir Rice six years ago. His destiny with death was due to his playing with a toy gun in a playground…..and being Black.
And if it is really necessary to once more examine the seamy underside of American race justice and white privilege we need look no further than the Nashville Christmas bombing. The girlfriend of the (white) suspect called the local police over one year ago to report that he was making bombs in his RV in the backyard. The police called the (white) suspect several times but he did not return the calls. And that was the end of the story until Christmas day 2020.
It is clear to anyone with a pulse that if a fact-challenged call to the police regarding a large drug sale involving Black suspects that warrant or no warrant (or in the case of Breonna Taylor a falsified warrant) that the police would not have been deterred by the fact that their calls had not been returned.
There are too many examples in the past, and sadly in the future, to contemplate. What is known is that people have been known to change. Societies have been known to change. And during 2020 there appeared to be a glimmer of flickering hope that the reality of systemic racism might change.
After all Confederate statues were removed and acknowledgement of racist behavior with a commitment to change emanated from major sports leagues, corporate America and binders full of celebrities. It would seem that that for a brief shining moment that America was taking a page from South Africa which used the vehicle of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission to expose and expunge key aspects of the racist past of that country.
And then 73 million overwhelmingly white Americans voted for Donald Trump. He of the “very good people on both sides”.
And now it remains to be seen if this country can actually move forward or remain mired in the past until a demographic tsunami imposes change. We already see the resistance to that impending demographic reality materializing in the form of more and greater voter suppression tactics and we are sure to be witness to this struggle continuing for decades to come.
Nevertheless, one other evolutionary inheritance that we humans possess is hope. It is the articulation of hope, the belief in hope and the actualization of hope that has fueled the advance of the species.
It may be that now, perhaps more than ever, hope will be the saving grace of the species, not only in America but around the world.