Several stories that dominated news headlines in the year 2012 involved race. Some of these stories involved tragedies, such as the killing of 17-year-old Trayvon Martin in Sanford, Fla., or the mass shooting that robbed six worshippers of their lives at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. Other stories involved triumphs, such as Gabrielle Douglas becoming the first African-American gymnast to win the women’s all-around gold medal at the London Olympics or Taiwanese-American basketball player Jeremy Lin rallying the New York Knicks to several victories in early 2012. Barack Obama’s victory over Republican rival Mitt Romney after a racially charged presidential race arguably surfaced as the most notable triumph of the year. As always, pop culture left its imprint on race relations this year as well. This round up highlights all of the 2012 news that focused the nation on race—whether it involved politics, sports, violence or entertainment.
Quentin Tarantino’s slave-revenge film “Django Unchained” focused the nation on slavery
after its Christmas Day release. Some black filmmakers praised Tarantino for featuring slavery as the brutal institution it was. Others, such as Spike Lee, vowed never to see the film. Lee said that a film depicting slavery as a Sergio Leone spaghetti Western disrespected his ancestors. There will likely never be a consensus about this Tarantino film in which Jamie Foxx plays a slave-turned-bounty hunter who kills the whites in his path as he tries to liberate his wife (Kerry Washington). The movie has certainly focused the nation on a topic that warrants much more attention.
With the team’s star players injured, the New York Knicks suffered a slump in early 2012. Enter Jeremy Lin. When the Taiwanese-American basketball player came off the bench, he led the struggling Knicks to victory after victory. His star turn on the Knicks gave rise to the term “Lin-sanity” and made the Harvard-educated athlete a major NBA star. Lin’s fame is said to have challenged stereotypes
about Asian Americans. Lin has discussed experiencing racism
on the court while a student at Harvard and as an NBA star, he’s been the subject of some racial controversies. The MSG Network faced a backlash after superimposing Lin’s face on a fortune cookie. To boot, ESPN apologized after running a headline about Lin with the racial slur “chink.”
When ABC’s “Scandal” premiered in April it marked the first time in three decades that a black woman starred in a network drama. The last drama to feature a black female protagonist was 1974’s “Get Christie Love.” While that show didn’t last very long, “Scandal” is one of ABC’s most-watched television programs. It has thrust star Kerry Washington into the spotlight and possibly paved the way for more shows starring black female leads. In January 2013, actress Meagan Good will star as the lead of NBC’s “Deception.” Good and Washington aren’t the only African-American women making headlines for landing their own shows. Tulane University Professor Melissa Harris-Perry made headlines in February after scoring her own news program on MSNBC in February.
On Aug. 5, a white supremacist named Wade Michael Page gunned six people at the Sikh Temple of Wisconsin. After the shooting, many news outlets speculated that perhaps the massacre was a case of mistaken identity and that Page, a military veteran, had confused the Sikhs for Muslims. This speculation led Sikhs and South Asians in the U.S. to speak out about their long history of discrimination in the country. Unfortunately, the shooting also led to a series of hate crimes
against Muslims. Not only were mosques burned down after the shooting but hate-filled vandals desecrated the graves of Muslims with racist and xenophobic graffiti as well.
Most of the gymnasts who’ve represented the United States in the Olympics have been Caucasian. That’s why Gabrielle Douglas’ success at the 2012 London Olympics became such a news story. Not only is Douglas African-American, she became the first black gymnast ever to win the gold all-around medal at the Olympics in August. Douglas has not taken her achievement lightly. She’s discussed the financial struggles her family endured to help her train for the Olympics and the racial bullying
she experienced at a Virginia gym. In post-Olympics interviews, Douglas has also discussed her disappointment that some African-Americans on social networking sites such as Twitter criticized the appearance of her hair at the Olympics.
At the onset of 2012, no one would’ve predicted that a black teen’s killing would re-open old wounds about racism and racial profiling. But that’s exactly what happened when a 28-year-old neighborhood watchman named George Zimmerman gunned down 17-year-old Trayvon Martin on Feb. 26 after seeing the teen in a gated community in Sanford, Fla. Zimmerman called police to report the teen as suspicious. During the call, Zimmerman never accused Martin of breaking any laws. He simply said that the teen was staring out and wearing a hoodie. Although the police dispatcher told Zimmerman not to follow the teen, he did anyway. Moments later Zimmerman killed Martin. He said he did so in self-defense and weeks passed before police arrested him. The fact that a non-black man (Zimmerman is Hispanic and white) could evade arrest for killing an unarmed black youth resulted in international outcry. Demonstrators wore hoodies and carried Skittles, as Martin had when Zimmerman killed him. After intense and lengthy public protest, authorities finally arrested Zimmerman on suspicion of murder in April. His case has yet to go to trial.
When Barack Obama
won the 2008 election, he was widely viewed as a beacon of hope, as a sign that the United States had entered a post-racial era. During his first term in office, however, it became clear that the president’s race was a stumbling block of sorts. Members of the far-right challenged the legitimacy of Obama’s presidency by arguing that he was born in Kenya, as his father had been, and thus unqualified to serve as president. Coupled with the birther rumors were rumors that the president, an avowed Christian, was secretly a practicing Muslim out to destroy America. Conservatives routinely used racially charged language in reference to Obama, calling him a thug, a gangster and a “food stamp” president. In the end, these characterizations failed to dissuade Americans from backing Obama for another term. He defeated rival Mitt Romney in a decisive victory on Nov. 6. Unprecedented numbers of Hispanic and Asian-American voters ushered him to a second term. In the end, conservatives were left wondering how to improve outreach to people of color.