Ode to a year that hurt

If I’m honest, 2020 hurt. There were days when death hung like smog over whole cities. Days, months of death. Ty died. Kobby’s brother Ebow died. So many friends and aunties and grandparents died. Large sections of the world experienced the constraint of limited movement and loss of physical community. COVID19 is most certainly real and most definitely contagious, we had to stay at home (if we could). Still, it doesn’t remove the slow emotional atrophy of a life reduced to an ever decreasing physical geography. Sure, many turned to digital landscapes to go for a drink, a conference, a date, the office. Those mundane rituals of personal and work life. But we also sat with the visceral truth of exile from each other’s touch and unmediated gaze.

In our out-of-body states, with an earth dislocated from its axis Azola died. Kawira died. MaSizani died. 2020, the year of the spectacle of black death. Disproportionate numbers dying from COVID and even more black people killed by police- one so visibly and casually so that it caused a global uprising against racist state violence, questioning the entire premise of carceral systems and the police as protector. Yes, we wished hard that different people were navigating us through all of this, wedded as we are to nation states and their choice of individual leaders as compass. With the US dominating the news much of the year we had to face the deluge of Trump’s tiny hands and whiny voice across our screens. His sadism, his cruelty, the joy he seems to find in death- Central American children at the border, black people (any age, any location). His pre-Christmas killing spree with federal executions was like a way to restart his pulse in the face of electoral defeat. Trump and his spirit-kin Bolsonaro, Modhi all left us with the question of how we ended up in necropolitical hell after all those ‘we shall never forgets’ of our parents’ generation.

The moment of collective cataclysm has meant that all other crises have felt that much bigger. A good friend’s cancer diagnosis, another unable to contact her mother in Axum even after the apparent end of conflict in Tigray. Kampala streets dripping with blood.

There have been ‘wins’-don’t get me wrong. At a meta-level for every injustice we’ve seen response that has been significant in it’s imprint. After this year of protest and reckoning it is hard to deny racism’s structural presence nor it’s import in governance and policy anywhere where people mobilised around#blacklivesmatter. With it there is visibility and demand for the (long fought for centring) of black womens and black trans lives. Mutual aid networks formed in response to Covid-struck economies everywhere, demonstrating the necessity of redistribution to survive catastrophe. Even at a personal level my friends made strides with recognition of their work and contributions- global exhibitions, promotions, books. I launched a long dreamt of visual documentary project, I taught my daughter to garden. Little things.

But as I sit with the truth of 2020 I feel compelled to walk away from the expected crescendo of a finger pointing towards hope. This is not a push back against ‘toxic positivity’ as the internet would have it. I just feel like it’s necessary to sit with the ugliness and disappointment of the year and recognise how deeply it is entwined in humanity’s story. It is harder to relish a deep appreciation of joy, beauty, peace, pleasure if we have no sense of their antitheses. 2020 hurt. And whatever we try or choose (as much as we can choose) to make of 2021 let it be done with a critical honesty about how low we do actually go, how messy things can get (and that’s excluding climate change!), how insufficiently prepared the most responsible are, how Darwinian policy could still be deemed acceptable in an age of leaving no one behind. What a way to end a decade.


(East) African feminist writer, doer, interpreter of the ordinary. Women’s rights strategist and advisor on bodies, movements, feminist futures @stillsherises

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Jessica Horn

(East) African feminist writer, doer, interpreter of the ordinary. Women’s rights strategist and advisor on bodies, movements, feminist futures @stillsherises