2013 Pretty Much Sucked for Black People

The past 12 months were promising, frustrating, tragic, ironic, infuriating, distressing, uplifting and inspiring.

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For one thing, racism died. Or at least, Republicans thought it did. Yes, 2013 was the year of the racial insult, from Paula Deen’s fall from grace to the Duck Dynasty dude’s racist and homophobic ramblings to Megyn Kelly’s white Santa and white Jesus. But it was also the year in which folks got called out for their racism. As long as there’s such a thing as #BlackTwitter, the bigots of the world will be looking over their shoulder. Just ask Justine “Just kidding. I’m white!” Sacco, who right about now probably wishes she’d never heard of Twitter.  

No doubt about it, it was a good year to be Beyoncé, who had an outrageously successful world tour, and then, without letting anyone in on her secret, independently dropped her self-titled visual album. Mrs. Carter broke records, selling nearly 1 million copies in a matter of days, all the while sparking a debate on black feminism and definitively answering this question: Who Run[s] the World? As if you had to ask.

Charles Ramsey saved three women and a little girl from a decade of torture in a horror house. For his heroism, he got his 15 minutes of fame, a book deal and some criticism about this own checkered past. No good deed …

Black hair became a thing—again. Girls with proudly poufy hair ran into school officials who were determined to tame their locks, and the Internet rushed in to support them.

If you were black and a quarterback and played in the NFL, this was your year. If you were Kobe Bryant and played for the NBA, not so much.

Miley Cyrus took to twerking and sticking out her tongue and patting black booties, setting off a firestorm of controversy at MTV’s VMAs. Jay Z and Paula Patton gave her a pass, but folks were not amused. Nor where they amused when Kanye decided to claim the Confederate flag as his own in some misguided effort to ... what, exactly?

Cicely Tyson returned to Broadway after a 30-year hiatus and won a Tony for her mesmerizing turn in Horton Foote’s The Trip to Bountiful at 80-something. On the other side of the age spectrum, Quvenzhané Wallis at 9 became the youngest actor ever to be nominated for an Oscar in the leading actress category. She didn’t win, but with her infectious grin and puppy-dog handbag, she seemed to be the embodiment of that old adage: It’s an honor to be nominated.

This was, for once, a really good year to be a black actor working in Hollywood. And a black director working in Hollywood. Scandal continued to dominate Twitter on Thursday nights, with Shonda Rhimes heaping on improbable plot point after improbable plot point, and Gladiators gobbling it up and asking for more. The show made history recently, the first ever show with a black female trifecta: writer (Rhimes), director (Ava DuVernay) and star (Kerry Washington). TVlandia was also good to Nicole Beharie in Sleepy Hollow and Michael Ealy in Almost Human, Don Cheadle hamming it up in House of Lies and Jeffrey Wright stealing the show in Boardwalk Empire.

But it was with film that black talent truly sparkled, inspiring talk of a renaissance with nearly a dozen new releases: Fruitvale Station, Lee Daniels' The Butler, 12 Years a Slave, among others. These were films that sparked dialogue, forced people to talk about the role of race in America and how often it constricts, both yesterday and today, still.

One of those films released was Mandela: Long Walk to Freedom, starring Idris Elba as Nelson Mandela. Mandela, as you know, died this year at 95, marking a particularly sad passing in a particularly sad year. His legacy reminds us that it’s possible to survive a hard year, that it’s possible to survive 27 really hard years as he did in a prison cell on Robben Island, to survive with a fiery revolutionary sensibility intact, but with the maturity to adapt that sensibility to the changing times. He was the epitome of living gracefully under the most extreme of pressures.