Wall Street Takes Over Washington
March 10, 2000. When the tech bubble bursts and a trillion dollars of market value vanishes, regulators sit on their hands. The financial industry has always exercised major influence over Congress and the White House, but its grip has tightened to an unprecedented extent in this decade. No surprise that regulators fail to limit wild speculation in derivatives, predatory loans or predict the financial collapse. The continued resistance of bankers to renegotiating home loans in foreclosure and the return of big bonuses all signal that the guys in pinstripes remain firmly in control.
The Election of George W. Bush
Dec. 12, 2000.
The Supreme Court issues a 5-4 ruling that, in effect, handed Florida's electoral votes to George Bush, in the first judicial coup d'état in the history of the United States. For many African Americans, who had fought so long for the right to vote and then for their votes to count, the Bush regime will retain a stench of illegitimacy. There were too many stories of voter intimidation, arbitrary ballot disqualification and outright fraud to fully embrace "Dubya" as our president.
The al-Qaida Attacks
Sept. 11, 2001. This date has become our generation's Pearl Harbor. It destroys the American sense of invulnerability and, for a time at least, unites all of us in defense of our country. But just as Pearl Harbor unleashed a darker side of Americanism against Japanese Americans, 9/11 lets loose a wave of rage and suspicion against Muslim Americans and violations of our own values that are only now being corrected.
The Age of the Mobile Device
Research in Motion's first Blackberry smart phone triggers an upheaval that is quite revolutionary. Users have continuous access to e-mail and the Web. In this decade, mobile devices help narrow the digital divide at home and abroad. Blacks and Latinos may still have less access to broadband, but they are making full use of mobile devices. And in the developing world, people who never had a land-line phone or a PC can suddenly communicate around the globe.
Black Oscar Night
March 24, 2002. For the first time in the history of the Academy Awards, two black actors walk off with the top acting trophies. Denzel Washington wins best actor for his maniacal portrayal of a police officer in Training Day; Halle Berry wins for her role in Monster's Ball. Their victories are remarkable in light of the often contentious relationship between Hollywood and African Americans. But while those awards were cause for celebration, they failed to portend a trend toward a more inclusive film industry.
The Steroid Era in Baseball
Aug. 7, 2002.
Is there any sport more obsessed with statistics? Baseball has always depended on math to tell it who was great and who was less than great. The revelation that some of the greatest players of the decade, from Jason Giambi to Alex Rodriguez to Barry Bonds, have enhanced their performances through chemical means has tainted the legacy of an entire generation. For baseball fans, the date that players agree to be tested also marks a decade where the numbers can no longer be trusted.
Oprah Revives the Book Industry
The queen of daytime television relaunches her book club in 2003 after a one-year hiatus, to the relief of a publishing industry that had come to depend on her imprimatur. One academic study indicates that endorsement by Oprah guaranteed sales of 1 million copies or more. One diet book that she backs sells 11 million copies. Now that she plans to move to cable TV, the publishing business may finally have to learn to sell its own products.
The Invasion of Iraq
March 20, 2003.
Unlike the intervention led by his father, George W. Bush's war is based on half-truths, outright lies and a neo-conservative fantasy of reshaping the Middle East to serve American interests. The ouster of Saddam Hussein turns out to be the easy part. Iraq descends into chaos, the image of America in the world is seriously damaged, and the political career of Gen. Colin Powell, who made the case for war at the United Nations, is destroyed.
Jayson Blair Resigns From the New York Times
May 1, 2003.
The revelation that the young reporter has faked quotes, stolen from the work of others and even faked reporting trips seriously damages the credibility of his paper - and by association, much of the "old media." The event put "the mainstream media" on the defensive and lifted the standing of the emerging pack of Internet bloggers and news sites that increasingly challenge and expose the journalistic shortcomings of the mainstream.
The Creation of LeBron James
Oct. 30, 2003.
In his first NBA game, LeBron James shows he is as good as advertised, with 25 points, nine assists, six rebounds and four steals. Bypassing the usual detour to college, James goes right from high school to a dominant role in the NBA. Although an NBA title has eluded his Cleveland Cavaliers, James is seen by many as the successor to Michael Jordan in sheer talent. With his contract up at the end of this season, he could end up with a new team in the new decade and a better chance to win that coveted championship ring.
The Launch of Facebook
Feb. 4, 2004. Mark Zuckerberg's launch of "thefacebook.com" signals the emergence of massive social media. Connecting through e-mail and instant messaging suddenly seems old-fashioned as the Internet offers infinite ways to share, compare and keep up. Twitter, YouTube and other sites turn every computer user into a publisher and a consumer of shared tastes, shared interests and just plain trivia.
The Katrina Debacle
Aug. 29, 2005.
The mishandling of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina exposes the Bush administration's deep cynicism and gives fodder to critics who have argued that its frequent invocation of security concerns are a cover for imperial adventures. The slow and often callous response to the plight of the victims approaches criminal negligence, paves the way for the GOP defeat in the '06 midterm elections, and ultimately opens the path to the White House for Barack Obama.
The Rise of Africa
Nov. 8, 2005.
The peaceful election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as president of Liberia and the first elected woman president on the continent confirms a persistent impulse toward democracy. While disputed elections in Zimbabwe and Kenya were setbacks, the decade has trended strongly toward democracy with gains in Botswana, the Comoros, the Ivory Coast and Zambia. China's fervent new attention to Africa's mineral wealth and South Africa's selection to host the 2010 World Cup all reminded us that the Mother Continent is much more than a basket case.
The Housing Bubble Bursts
The collapse of an overheated housing market triggers the economic collapse that we are still struggling to overcome. One casualty is the initiative begun under Presidents Clinton and Bush to increase minority homeownership. Another loss was a sense that we were closing the equality gap. The recession showed that African Americans are far more vulnerable in an economic downturn because of more puny assets, and our involvement in the financial industry and other service-driven sectors of the economy (including real estate).
The Death of James Brown
Dec. 25, 2006.
The Godfather of Soul leaves this world on Christmas Day; it's just like him to make a dramatic exit. Brown, despite the cape, the choreographed on-stage collapse and the pompadour, was a seminal figure who helped make R&B a worldwide phenomenon. Arrangers around the world struggled to reproduce his punchy brass lines, and singers everywhere rasped their throats raw trying to copy his earthy vocals.
The Decline of the American Newspaper
A spate of poor financial results confirms what has been obvious to insiders for years. The American newspaper, once an economic powerhouse, was in sharp decline in the face of CraigsList and an Internet that it was still struggling to understand. Most worrisome is the potential loss of the watchdog role so many newspapers had played in outing corruption in government and business. Without the presence of a strong and independent press, it is not clear that Web-based entities can take the place of this essential democratic institution.
Raul Castro Replaces His Brother, Fidel
Feb. 28, 2008.
Illness takes down a leader that the CIA, an abortive invasion and a 40-year boycott have not been able to unseat. The change of leadership in Cuba offers the Obama administration an opportunity to undo one of the longest foreign policy failures in American history and could lead to a loosening of the oppressive rule that has made prisoners of the Cuban people.
Obama's Speech on Race
March 18, 2008.
Facing a serious threat to his presidential campaign from the fiery and racially provocative rhetoric of his former pastor, Rev. Jeremiah Wright, Barack Obama delivers a historic speech on race at the National Constitution Center in Philadelphia. "Toward a More Perfect Union" shows once and for all that this black candidate cannot be stopped. Obama steps firmly on the "third rail" issue of his candidacy and demolishes it with a sophisticated, complex and inspiring brief on race at the dawn of the 21st century. In the process, he opens the door on a new black political paradigm.
The Obama Inauguration
Jan. 20, 2009.
For its unprecedented revision of the calculus of American politics and American possibility, the inauguration of Barack Obama as the 44th president tops the list. On that day, we stand on the shoulders of all those who have struggled to be seen as full citizens and witness the event that finally welds African Americans to this nation like nothing before. Suddenly, there was a new default image of what it is to be an American.
The Death of Michael Jackson
June 26, 2009.
Even more surprising than the pop star's untimely death was the mainstream media's surprise at the vast outpouring of grief worldwide. Jackson's great cultural impact, his revolutionary music videos and his vast record sales had all fallen into the amnesiac black hole that is the fate of so many black artists. More diversity in critical circles might help focus attention on his artistic achievements instead of the weirdness of his tragic personal life. Ultimately, his death signals the end of an era of mass pop culture that may never return.