OPINION | For marginalized communities, new year brings little positivity

Apoorva Verghese, Intersections Editor

new year marginalized communities
Emma Vaughters

The beginning of a new year has always been more than the transition to a new calendar year. A new year is a symbol of changing times, an opportunity to reflect on our past. Especially considering the challenges that 2020 posed to so many people, midnight on Jan. 1, 2021, carried a lot of weight and a lot of hope. 

For many, entering the new year was a welcome event. Of course, no one expected all our problems to end when the clock struck midnight, but symbolically, 2021 represented change. Americans rang in the new year anticipating the start of a new, promising administration accompanied by the news of approved COVID-19 vaccines that could soon be widely available. I viewed the new year through rose-tinted glasses, believing that marginally, things had to get better. At the very least, they couldn’t get worse. 

Then, a mere six days into 2021, our country witnessed a historic attack on democracy, as white nationalists stormed the Capitol building, a line that hasn’t been crossed since the war of 1812.  

Despite the fact that I am lucky enough to be economically and socially privileged in many ways, it’s impossible to move past the fear that has been brewing in me. Since that first week of January, I’ve been existing in a perpetual state of terror. I highly doubt that I’m alone, either. In the days following the storming, white supremacists have sworn to continue causing unrest, especially ahead of President Joe Biden’s inauguration. Chances are, the events of Jan. 6 were just the start of a long string of extremist attacks

I often find myself wondering whether there is cause to be as concerned as I am right now. Realistically, precedent tells us that the presidential inauguration will pass, a peaceful transition of power will take place and though dissent will still exist, there’s no need to live in a constant state of fear. Precedent, however, means nothing in a year like this. 

Of course, while the actions of white supremacists were historic, the riots at the Capitol weren’t indicative of any newly risen sentiment, either. If anything, it proves what marginalized groups have been trying to say for so long. It proves that white supremacy continues to be a powerful force in this country. 

For me, the start of 2021 didn’t signify any change at all. Rather, it only reinforced how little the world has changed. It highlighted how pervasive white supremacy is in our society and how much fighting we have left to do. 

In my opinion, however, the most unfortunate part of this year is that the very best we can hope for is a return to normalcy. Unfortunately, for marginalized individuals, a return to normalcy in our country simply means a return to the casual oppression of everyday politics. As an immigrant and a woman of color, a return to normalcy for me means that I can once again travel internationally, granted I stand frozen with fear in front of immigration agents. It means I can finally go on long road trips again, granted I don’t dare to stop in any sundown cities. A return to normalcy in the U.S. means returning to fight the seemingly indestructible systems of oppression that have existed for centuries. Only we wouldn’t have to wear our masks anymore. 

Simply put, I’ve found no way to put a positive spin on this year. Either we find ourselves falling deeper into pitfalls of extremism or we return our society to its former, terrifyingly flawed state. 

It’s difficult to talk about what this year holds for marginalized communities when it’s already off to a rough start with few optimistic prospects. Trying to stay positive during times like these is an exhausting and seemingly vain mission. It is somewhat helpful, however, to recall words that remind us why we’re fighting. This past Monday on Martin Luther King Jr. day, I saw many people remembering this particular quote of his: “The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.” Well, here’s to hoping that arc bends a little faster.