2020 Was the Year of the Underdog

“…the last shall be first…”

Photo by Boston Public Library on Unsplash

Honestly, I’m not comfortable joining the collective sentiment declaring this year as the shittest year on record. Having had health, food, and shelter for me and those I love, I feel way too privileged. That’s not to say— especially as a Black soul — that I was exempt from the grief this year brought.

However, I did find comfort in a line echoing in my head all year like a prophecy come true in 2020. It’s a line at the end of Story Time with Jesus. (Disclaimer: the ellipsis is me effectively ignoring context to interpret this verse how I see fit, something to never try at home).

“So the last shall be first, and the first last…” — Matthew 20:16 KJV

The consensus among the few commentaries I’ve read interprets Jesus saying God’s grace is given to those least expected. The thing is, I’ve spent most of my life hearing about God’s grace and how he gives it to the crappiest among us, and the constant reminder of humanity's relative crappiness gets real old.

So, here’s what I’m thinking instead. And I’ll dare to say this with no biblical scholarly evidence in tow. Forget God giving grace to the crappiest among us. Grace — strength, power, beauty, wisdom — is innately found in what the world deems as the crappiest among us. By “world,” I mean globalized patriarchal white supremacy through colonialization, gentrification, and whatever other -tion fits. By “crappiest among us," I mean marginalized groups that for centuries are deemed too dark, too weak, too poor, too savage, too sinful. The last. The underdogs.

I think this is the big picture we keep missing, and 2020 felt like a glaring neon sign trying to point us there, leading us to the underdog's rising. See, I believe in the power of two, so it only took two seemingly arbitrary examples for me to get to my conclusion:

1. What’s that about “Shithole” countries and COVID?

In May, I read a piece that pointed to Brazil’s spike in COVID cases as an example of what could happen to the US if we don’t get it together. The writer than commented,

“Coronavirus is harder to contain in poorer countries with thinner health care systems. Haiti and Africa must be concerns. They can’t get there without help from the US or whoever chooses to lead.”

Seven months later, and this is what we have so far:

Screenshot from John Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center

At the risk of reliving my anger to rant about yet another comment using Africa (always the whole goddamn continent!) and Haiti as the examples of poverty or the fact that when I pointed out this was a bold statement to make, I was accused of race-baiting(?), I’ll just leave it with this:

A segment of The Daily Show with Trevor Noah addressing Africa’s success in curbing COVID

Maybe Paula White got the memo when she called for angels from Africa to help usher in Trump’s victory?

2. So, the Indigenous souls actually knew what they were doing?

With the way the year has gone, record-breaking, orange-sky-turning wildfires in California sadly felt like a natural progression. But the most notable story in this particular 2020 event was Governor Gavin Newsom’s executive order to reinstate indigenous ceremonial burning of Californian land to diminish the severity of wildfires.

After stealing their land and banning them from a cultural practice that was actually helpful but assumed to be savage, hypocrisy is too nice of a way to put it.

But on a personal note, this year has steered my focus to the Indigenous People of North America. Yes, this has been another hard year for Black people. But my cousin pointed out that life has not only been hard for Indigenous People of this country, but we haven’t done enough to advocate and end the injustice they still face. I need to learn more. I need to do more. And if 2020 needed to happen to make me realize that, I’m grateful.

I now realize there’s a reason why these two examples stand out to me. I’m going to admit something that makes me hate myself a little. I once believed that the slavery and colonializations Africans were subject to and the genocide Native Americans endured was…necessary. I might as well flat out say I thought it was a good thing. I saw these atrocities as having served both as retribution for their pagan beliefs and catalyst for saving grace through Jesus. And that, my friend, is how disgustingly dangerous white supremacy veiled in western theology is.

Now I understand that Jesus knew the deal all along. Call me naive, but I can’t help but feel The Great Conjunction will bring an era where the last shall be first. The script is slowly flipping. We’ll soon see that everything white supremacy, western religion has taught us to see as less than will lead us to a more wholesome existence.

Learning to be human. Learning to love bigger.

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