In Praise of Shonda Rhimes Presents 2020
Show of hands, who’s getting rip roaring drunk tonight? I know I can’t be the only one. Seriously, after all 2020 has put us through, the end of this god forsaken year is most definitely worth celebrating. I mean, we started the year with Australia on fire and World War III a very real possibility, and the hits just kept coming. In fact, 2020 has been so chock full of shocking twists and turns that it must be a Shondaland production. Whether it was murder hornets, social unrest, or a global pandemic, Shonda Rhimes Presents 2020 made sure there was never a dull moment.
But, in spite of all that, I daresay that it wasn’t all bad. In the midst of all the edge-of-your-seat drama, heart-pounding suspense, and existential dread, there were glimmers of light. In every setback, there was resiliency to be found, in every new challenge, a lesson to be learned. Shonda Rhimes Presents 2020 was a teachable moment on a global scale, and like all of the most valuable learning experiences, it was both uncomfortable and painful.
When COVID-19 hit the scene back in January, we were all too wrapped up in our business-as-usual lives to really take notice. After all, we had all lived through bird flu, swine flu, Ebola, Mad Cow, SARS, and so many other contagions with no real consequence, so why would this one be any different? Well, that’s when Miss Rona decided to make her presence known. She rolled up her sleeves, squared her shoulders, and in her best Glenn Close Fatal Attraction voice declared, “I will not be ignored!” Ol’ girl even took off her earrings, so you know she meant business.
That was all it took for the whole world to stop. In March, we were all unceremoniously yanked from our personal versions of life and thrust into a “new normal” that to this day, still hasn’t fully taken shape. That first lockdown was the global version of an involuntary Ice Bucket Challenge. Suddenly, we were wide awake, alert, and seeing things clearly.
When the first lockdown happened, the people stocking supermarket shelves went from being idiots who don’t deserve a living wage and should get an education if they want to live with dignity to being essential. Suddenly, they were on the front lines. Suddenly, they were important. Granted, in times like The Great Toilet Paper Drought of 2020, the hand that holds the TP is the hand that rules the world.
Suddenly, communication changed. I can attest to that. Before this year, I detested talking on the phone. If someone called me, if it wasn’t work related, I would let it go to voicemail and then text them back. Then overnight, talking on the phone became the only means of conversation. Zoom was my main source of human interaction. I had my German classes there, taught my English classes there, and even my choir rehearsals happened there. This shift was a blessing in disguise for me. Since moving to Germany, I hadn’t spoken to most of my friends in the US, but when online communication became the norm, we were able to reconnect. I’m grateful for that.
This moment also transformed teachers from lazy do-nothings into superheroes, putting together online curricula overnight and not only learning to navigate online platforms, but also helping parents to figure them out . Personally, as a teacher, I found this particular revelation extra special delicious. After all the times I had parents try to blame me for their child’s poor performance, question my teaching methodology, or tell me how their child is an angel when I know otherwise, I really enjoyed watching them experience their little angels in this particular context. Inside, I smiled a little as I watched fathers try to get Little Precious to sit still and focus. I smirked internally when they sent kids to Zoom lessons in their underwear. I downright guffawed when a kid brought mom’s vibrator for show & tell. As a teacher, it’s my job to know these children. After this year’s adventures in distance learning, I think their parents know them too.
One of the year’s biggest surprises was the moment that white people (some of y’all) learned that racism actually exists. It only took four hundred years of black people screaming it from the mountaintops, but hey- better late than never. After Emmet and Trayvon and Sandra and Philando and so many others, Breonna and George finally made you see what has been staring you in the face for centuries. Good. Y’all also saw that white people become enemies of the state when they speak up for black lives. You needed to see that as well. We saw militarized police forces going after unarmed moms, unmarked vans snatching people off the streets, and white supremacists with semi-automatic weapons who were absolutely not afraid to use them. Y’all saw toxic whiteness for the first time. THANK YOU!!!!
2020 also saw the word “terrorist” used on white people. Finally. FINALLY!!!!! It’s been a long fucking road with y’all. Honestly. White terrorism is as AmeriKKKan (see what I did there?) as apple pie. From the KKK to Tulsa to Elaine Arkansas to Ocoee to Rosewood to Dylan Roof to the thousands of lynchings that have occurred in the US to the current spate of police executions, these murders all have a common goal: The subjugation and silence of black people. The fact that this has finally been acknowledged brings me so much joy. The truth is being told, and I am here for it.
This year was also the moment that the United States of America was (finally) unmasked. For more than a century, the world has hailed the US for setting the standard in terms of human rights, while its dirty little Apartheid remained hidden. As a black American living abroad, this unmasking brought me a particular joy. Before this year, when I heard people talk about America, they had a certain reverential tone. They spoke of it as a place where the streets were paved with gold. I know from experience the worst of what my fellow Americans have to offer, and I actually found it refreshing when my German friends recoiled in horror over the way things are and have been in the US for black folks. (They didn’t believe me when I said stuff, but that’s for another piece for another day.) It has only in this moment occurred to me, but living with the myth of the inherent goodness of the United States has weighed on me my entire life. Every time I nodded and echoed the sentiment that we were living in the greatest country in the world, it took something from my soul. Every time I smiled and agreed there was nowhere better, a little part of me died. Seeing the American myth de-mystified and the American reality laid bare makes me feel grateful to 2020.
This year also revealed the harsh realities of income inequality. Up to this point, the puppet masters who control the PR machine have been able to paint poverty as merely the result of personal failings, but Miss Rona and the economic stand-still that followed in her wake had other things to say about that. Suddenly, a lot of people were slapped with the very real fact that they were closer to homelessness than to being a billionaire. Suddenly the prosperity gospel of the American dream was exposed for the fraud that it is. Not only that, but the precarious nature of our entire financial system was exposed. This is one of those painful lessons that I referred to earlier. And this one has indeed been painful for a lot of people. Tens of millions of people found themselves on the verge of eviction. Millions more found themselves lining up for food banks. Meanwhile, the stock market is at an all time high and billionaires have seen their fortunes skyrocket. The lesson is there if you want to take it. The economy is built on your back, but not for your benefit. You are nothing but a cog in the machine. You know this now. The question is, what will you do with that knowledge?
These stark fiscal realities also brought priorities into focus. What do you value? What’s most important to you? In March, April, and May, a lot of people were very vocal about reopening the economy. Vocal is really an understatement. They were willing to take to the streets with their AR-15s to assert their right to a haircut. According to them, only the old and immuno-compromised would die, so what’s the big deal? In the end, they got their way. Every state opened up. Fast forward to now, and America is the #1 COVID hotspot (I know how important it is for Americans to be #1) with over 300,000 dead and more than 3,000 dying every day. Well, I guess we all have priorities. What are yours?
One of the year’s greatest gifts was the election. As someone who was in the US for the election of Agent Orange, the fact that the people chose Joe Biden in 2020 was one of the high points of the year. Yes, Joe is a neoliberal servant of the corporate overseers, but when compared with the Source of All Evil, he is a miracle, sent by god herself. Please understand, I know Amerikkka well enough to know that in spite of all the choices available, she would only choose an old, cis-het, white (non-jewish) male. I added the whole non-jewish thing to remind y’all that America has never been fond of the Jews. The same people that objected to Obama would go out of their way to make sure Bernie never had a chance. Let’s all remember that the home of the president is called the White House. That wasn’t an accident. And for those of you who would say that Jews are white, there’s a large chunk of American history that would argue that point. The current occupant of the White House would argue that point. All the more reason that Joe’s win is our win.
Another thing that the election brought into focus is the fact that Americans are living in two different realities. The members of Cult 45 have their reality, and then there’s the one that the rest of us exist in. They believe COVID is a hoax. In spite of the 300,000 deaths. In spite of the death of Herman Cain. In spite of the death of Luke Letlow. To their mind, this illness either isn’t real, or it only affects the weak. And they aren’t the weak. After all, that’s what white supremacy has told them. So they want the economy open, no matter the cost. Your grandma dies? So what? You die? So what? Unfortunately, this isn’t exclusive to Cult 45. This mentality exists in every first world economy. As a teacher, I directly felt this. Small children being at home prevented the economy from being fully open, so the only answer was to reopen the schools. Here in Germany, we have had in person school since August. I have also been afraid for my physical safety since August. Coincidence? I think not.
The initial lockdown in March brought out the fact that there were two different sets of priorities at play. Everything since has reinforced that fact. Some people were concerned with the economy, and some were concerned with their health. These two things were diametrically opposed. Eventually, the economy won out. Coincidentally, the COVID numbers everywhere rose dramatically shortly thereafter. The lesson that I got from the entire scenario is that your health and safety means nothing when compared to money. That is an extraordinary lesson. It’s also one that you don’t get to learn twice. Trust me when I say I won’t make the same mistake again.
2020 also showed us the depths of the alternate reality in which some people live. After years of being fed “fake news” and “alternative facts”, a lot of folks were simply not equipped to deal with the real world. To their minds, COVID was a hoax, systemic racism a myth, and Biden rigged the election through an elaborate Deep State conspiracy. This was the moment that the rest of us realized that in our quest for peace and happiness, we couldn’t take everybody with us. Like so many of the difficult lessons of 2020, this was a blessing in disguise.
The biggest blessing of 2020 was the gift of knowing who people are. This year more than any other, people decided to take a stand. For better or for worse, this let us all know the truth about our nearest and dearest. There were those moments when we were taken by surprise in the worst possible way, like when a dear friend of mine decided to use Martin Luther King’s memory to silence the current protests, but there were also the times where our loved ones were allowed to pleasantly surprise us. To my mind, the pleasant surprises are the ones worth remembering. At the end of the day, we knew the truth, and that was infinitely better than not knowing.
No matter what, I cherish the things I have learned this year. Through the hardships, I have found my strength. In the silence, I have discovered my voice. And through every revelation, I have found myself closer to the ultimate truth. Shonda Rhimes Presents 2020 has been a challenge, but I embrace it. All of the struggles of this year have brought me closer to becoming the best version of myself. I believe that we have all learned something this year. The question is, what will we do with that knowledge in 2021. We should choose wisely, because I hear Steven King is signed on to co-write next year.