2016 is shaping up to be the Blackest year of all my living days. In 16 weeks, we have already experienced several peak Black moments that have permanently embedded themselves into our collective memory. I have to admit that only one Black moment can compare to the first four months of the new year, and that is President Obama’s election to the President of the United States. I remember taking bets with my friends in the third grade about when we would see a Black president and I was confident that it would never happen. Imagine my shock, awe, and joy when I cried ugly tears because the impossible happened in 2008. Yet, I still resolved that I would never again experience Black excellence of that magnitude.
And then 2016 came with a vengeance and got me together, real quick. The nation and world experienced unapologetic Blackness in all its splendor, magnificence, and sheer power. The internet broke a few times, thought pieces by writers of all races ensued, and things got lit. 2016 has me on the edge of my seat, anxiously awaiting what’s coming next every single day and I am here for it. So, in no particular order, here are my top five Blackest pop culture moments of 2016.
January 27, 2016
Super Bowl-bound Cam Newton affirms his Blackness to the press.
First things first, Cam Newton is fine. Like maybe top 5 finest Black male athletes of all time fine. Like Paul Robeson classically delectable. And he celebrates his accomplishments while playing the game he loves and is paid handsomely (see what I did there?) for. And he’s a stellar quarterback, which hurts to admit, because I’m still salty that he knocked my Seahawks out of the playoffs. But I digress. Point is, for most Americans, the combination of a Black quarterback killing the game and flexin’ while doing it is egregiously uncomfortable. Add to it that he plays a position that was previously deemed intellectually impossible for Black men and you can see he’s been one of football’s most hated players. Americans were so racially uncomfortable that Cam had to remind them who he was after experiencing a racist backlash colder than February. When Cam declared that his existence as a Black quarterback scares people because they’ve never seen anyone like him, he was bold and devoid of shame. And in that moment, Black folks gave him an inner dab.
February 6-7, 2016
Beyoncé gets us in Formation.
First, Bey dropped the video on us without notice or concern for our heart conditions. A video wherein she declared she likes all things Black like our noses, our hair, our favorite condiment for Southern-fried catfish, and our Southern heritages, both Creole and Negro (although I’m pretty sure you’re still Negro if you’re Creole). Oh yeah, she also managed to show a line of SWAT officers raise their hands in surrender to a hooded Black boy, and submerge herself on top of a police car in a post-Katrina pool of water. Then, one day later, she went on to own the Super Bowl halftime show (why was Coldplay even there?) by singing the same song she just dropped the day before, all while she and her dancers sported their own hair (okay, maybe Bey didn’t, but that’s okay) and Black Panther themed gear on the 50th anniversary of the Black Panther Party for Self-Defense. And just to ratchet it up, Bey’s outfit also paid tribute to the King of Pop (who coincidentally didn’t like his Jackson 5 nostrils), because hey, MJ is as much a part of Black history as the southern marching band she rolled in with. Lastly, if we weren’t already baffled and drunk enough off her Blackness, she shut down the internet by announcing a Formation tour. February was the best Black History Month of my entire life.
April 20, 2016
Harriet Tubman is chosen as the face of the new $20.
In the irony of all ironies, leader of the Underground Railroad and women’s suffragist Harriet Tubman is selected by the U.S. Treasury Department as Andrew Jackson’s replacement on the $20. I have to admit, I was in the camp of people who didn’t understand why a women who devoted her entire life to rescuing Black people from the capitalist system of their oppression—slavery—would be on our currency. It kind of felt like the misrepresentation that was the debacle of Zoe Zaldana portraying Nina Simone. But then Black Twitter came along and showed me that this was an opportunity for all Americans to use Harriet as a commercial vessel to reckon with ideas of freedom; even White supremacists will have to submit themselves to a Black woman on a daily basis. And that is priceless.
April 21, 2016
Prince gives us life after death.
Though the life and music of Prince never touched me through my bones like it did those in my mother’s generation, I still grew up listening to his songs. I remember playing “1999” at midnight in 1999 and it blowing my fourteen year-old mind. I remember dancing in my room to “Kiss,” and wishing that one day I would be “The Most Beautiful Girl in the World” to someone. I was never in love with Prince the way older Black women (and probably some men) were, but I respected the petite super-musician/songwriter’s ability to capture such androgynous sex appeal. He had swag before we could name it. I put Prince in my personal category of superstar icons that could never die, but yet somehow left this world (R.I.P. Michael and Whitney). Part of me is still in denial that he is really dead. But in his death, I am reminded of the micro and macro details that made him an icon—his silky smooth tresses, his custom-made heels, his ridiculously long list of songs, albums, features, and Grammys, his humanitarian commitment to Black lives. And yes, his epic shade that knew no limits. Prince will forever rest in our hearts and Tidal accounts.
April 23, 2016
King Bey lets us drink her Lemonade.
In her own tradition, ‘Yonce releases another visual album without notice. Unlike her previous visual album, Beyonce (2013), this time she gives us poetry interlaced with the bold and artistic music videos that conjure generational Diasporan experiences of womanhood, love, betrayal, justice, spiritual rebirth, and personal, intimate, and communal reconciliation. She gives us an hour-long journey into the never before seen rawness of Beyonce Giselle Knowles Carter, the self-proclaimed “baddest chick up in the game” who rarely comments on her personal life, let alone that elevator incident. She gives us the American South, West African fashions, rock and roll rage, womanist rituals underwater and on land, the true meaning of “Hot Sauce,” and many glimpses into her holy union of strife that has now given Jay-Z 100 problems to reckon with. Lemonade is hands down Beyonce’s most artistic venture yet, one that solidifies her status among the best entertainers, singers, and now artists of all time. It may still take us some time to process what’s she’s called us into formation for, but in two and a half months, Bey has given us plenty to think about in terms of Black liberation, personal or otherwise.