10 Important Moments In 2016 For People Of Color

by Gina M. Florio
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty Images Sport/Getty Images

It seemed like 2016 was just full of one devastating moment after the next. We lost some of our most cherished, most influential artists — Prince, David Bowie, and George Michael, Carrie Fisher — and we saw someone who many of us consider to be one of the most racist, sexist people to ever step foot in politics become the President-elect. Hell, it was even sad to see Vine shut down. As we wrap up 2016, it would be easy to say it was overall a disappointing year, but there were some spectacular moments here and there that gave us a glimmer of hope for the times ahead.

Although it has been painful to witness the disturbing acts of racism take place in various settings, people of color have used their platform to step up and speak out against the inequality that's rampant in our country. Beyoncé used her music and performances to shed light on police brutality, comedian Ronny Chieng uproariously demanded that Asian stereotypes finally be put to rest, and Jesse Williams insisted that our society start to value black lives just as much as we value parts of black culture. Of course, there's no way we can name all the big moments in one fell swoop, but this is a good start.

We're still hoping 2017 will treat us better. In the meantime, it's definitely worth hitting the rewind button to highlight the few things that did go right this past year. Here are 10 important moments in 2016 for POC.

Jesse Williams's Powerful Speech At The 2016 BET Awards

On June 26, actor and activist Jesse Williams was presented with the Humanitarian Award at the 2016 BET Awards. He used his time onstage to speak about the injustices black people face in America on a daily basis, and he did so in such a way that had the entire crowd on their feet.

Williams spoke about the deadly police brutality against people (even children) of color, naming 12-year-old Tamir Rice, Rekia Boyd, Sandra Bland, and Eric Garner. "We know that police somehow manage to deescalate, disarm, and not kill white people every day," Williams said. "So what’s gonna happen is, we are gonna have equal rights and justice in our own country, or we will restructure their function and ours."

He hit home when he insisted, "The burden of the brutalized is not to comfort the bystander. If you have a critique for the resistance, for our resistance, then you better have an established record of critique of our oppression." Williams made it clear that black people aren't interested in hearing suggestions about their battle for equal rights if you're not invested in the fight yourself.

Overall, his speech reminded us how important the Black Lives Matter movement is, and how our society appropriates black culture every single day ("gentrifying our genius") without giving people of color the respect and care they deserve as American citizens — and more importantly, as human beings.

Countless people on Twitter shared the speech and retweeted Williams's words. (They even held Justin Timberlake responsible for culturally appropriating black music for so many years when he showed his appreciation for Williams's speech.) People were fired up — and it was a magnificent thing to behold.

All The Black Girl Magic In Lemonade

"The most disrespected woman in America is the black woman. The most unprotected person in America is the black woman," Malcolm X said in a speech in 1962 to a crowd in Los Angeles. During the song "Don't Hurt Yourself" on her visual album Lemonade, Beyoncé revives this quote to pay tribute to the black women in America who are ignored, mistreated, and violated every day because of the color of their skin. It sets the tone for the whole album, which is just as much about the plight of black women in America as it is about Beyoncé's relationship with Jay-Z.

Beyoncé unites black women from everywhere, enlisting outspoken individuals such as Amandla Stenberg, Serena Williams, Zendaya, and Winnie Harlow to appear with her on screen. The mothers of Eric Garner, Trayvon Martin, and Michael Brown, all young men who have been killed at the hands of American police officers, are also honored in the song "Freedom."

Finally, we see the celebration of Jay-Z's grandmother Hattie's 90th birthday. "I had my ups and downs, but I always find the inner strength to pull myself up. I was served lemons, but I made lemonade," Hattie says. It gave us insight into the lives of black women in America, and Beyoncé used this moment to remind the world that black women have a unique strength and magic to transform themselves at any given time, no matter how much they've been disregarded throughout the years.

So far, Lemonade has sold over 1.5 million copies, and it's been called a "revolutionary work of black feminism," as well as a beautiful creation of Black Woman Magic.

The Daily Show's Ronny Chieng Responding To Jesse Watters' Racist Segment

In October, journalist Jesse Watters went to Chinatown to film a segment for Fox News's The O'Reilly Factor. He interviewed elderly Chinese men and women about the presidential election who couldn't speak English, heinously poking fun at their silence in response to his pressing questions. Rather than including any real answers from these real people, insulting sound bites and clips (from movies like The Karate Kid) were added to the segment to add tasteless humor.

Many people were outraged at this display of racism toward Asian people. There was even a protest outside Fox News headquarters, where people held up signs that read, "O'Reilly is racist." Both Mayor Bill de Blasio and Councilman Peter Koo expressed their disapproval of this disgusting display of racism national news. The Asian-American Journalists Association released a statement that said, "We should be far beyond tired, racist stereotypes and targeting an ethnic group for humiliation and objectification on the basis of their race."

But when Ronny Chieng, a correspondent on The Daily Show, fired back to Watters with a sharp sense of humor and warranted outrage, Asians felt a beaming sense of pride watching someone stick up for them so boldly — and so hilariously. As Watters bombards an older Chinese man with questions about whether it's the Year of the Dragon or the Rabbit, Chieng triumphantly answers, "'s actually the Year of Go Fuck Yourself!"

Chieng berates Watters for his cowardly visit to Chinatown, correctly calling him an "ignorant sack of shit," and proves that Chinese-Americans do actually have useful opinions about the presidential election, if you would just "speak to people in a language they actually understood — human."

Not surprisingly, Watters shortly after issued a non-apology, saying, "My man-on-the-street interviews are meant to be taken as tongue-in-cheek and I regret if anyone found offense." It seemed that Fox News wasn't interested in apologizing for Watters's conduct, either.

NFL Players Refusing To Stand During The National Anthem

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A few NFL players took the world by surprise when they took a knee during the national anthem that preceded a game. Colin Kaepernick, the San Francisco 49ers quarterback, refused to stand with his teammates as the Star Spangled Banner played. "I am not going to stand up to show pride in a flag for a country that oppresses black people and people of color," he said later in an interview. "There are bodies in the street and people getting paid leave and getting away with murder."

Next to do the same was Brandon Marshall, Denver Broncos linebacker, who was one of the first players to be seen kneeling during the national anthem. He said the act was to raise awareness around the racial injustice that destroys the lives of POC in America every day. His actions garnered enough attention to get him a meeting with the Denver police chief. "I’m encouraged with the many productive discussions and progress that has taken place as the Denver Police department has decided to review its use of force policy," Marshall said.

A few others joined in on the protest, including Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver, and Washington Redskins wide receiver DeSean Jackson wore custom yellow caution-tape cleats to speak up about police brutality. They were small acts from big athletes that raised necessary attention in the sports world about the rampant racial discrimination in America.

There are still NFL players protesting the national anthem today. Just this week, Kaepernick was joined in kneeling by 49ers linebacker Eli Harold and safety Eric Reid, and Miami Dolphins wide receiver Kenny Stills and safety Michael Thomas. Several other players raised their right fist during the anthem as well.

New Yorkers Standing Up For Muslim Women Being Harassed By A Trump Supporter On The Subway

As shattering as it has been to watch Donald Trump's campaign unfold, and see Trump supporters commit acts of violence against everyday POC, there were some times in 2016 when American citizens proved they weren't here for the monstrous hate and racism. In June, on an F train stopped at Jackson Heights, NYC, a man started berating two Muslim women on the subway. Amaira Hasan Din was a bystander on the train who wrote about the incident on Facebook, and it went viral.

The man shouted obscenities at the innocent women, insisting they "two terrorist foreigners" who should go back to where they came from and take their bombs with them. He even publicly declared his support for Trump while ranting about undocumented immigrants and the welfare system. However, the diverse group of New Yorkers on the train refused to sit idly by.

One person fired back, "This is New York City. The most diverse place in the world. And in New York, we protect our own and we don't give a fuck what anyone looks like or who they love, or any of those things. It's time for you to leave these women alone, Sir." At the next stop, the rude man was chased off the subway to sounds of cheering — and sounds of support for two Muslim women who every right to be on an American subway.

Chris Rock's Monologue At The 2016 Academy Awards

It was far from perfect, but Chris Rock's opening monologue at the 88th Academy Awards was a much-needed comic relief that called out Hollywood's utter failure to give enough opportunities to people of color. Rock had us all laughing and fist pumping when he renamed the Academy Awards the White People's Choice Awards, accurately called Hollywood "sorority racist" and joked that Jada Pinkett Smith boycotting the Oscars was like Rock boycotting Rihanna's panties — he wasn't invited.

However, Rock didn't stop there. He then had us caught between painful laughter and sadness when he reminded us of the racism black people in America have endured in the past — violence, lynching, and rape — as well as the police brutality that's killing black people today. At the end, he wrapped things up by getting to the heart of the matter. "We want opportunity," Rock said. "We want the black actors to get the same opportunities. That's it. Not just once."

His monologue alone may not change the landscape of film as we know it, but it was a moment that publicly expressed POC's collective frustration with Hollywood's flagrant inequality.

Latina Representation In The 2016 Summer Olympic Games

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In all the past Olympics games, Latinos have been underrepresented. In the 2008 Beijing Olympics, only four percent of American athletes were Latino, yet they make up 15 percent of the U.S. population. This year, the Latino population in America rose to over 17 percent, and there were still only about three percent of Latino athletes representing our country.

In 2016, people finally starting asking why this was the case — and it all comes down to the opportunity given to Latino kids growing up in America. The average income for Latino families is $42,000, while white families earn on average $60,000. That's a big difference that means Latino children are much less likely to have access to everyday sports, let alone the "highly specialized training" needed to eventually compete at the Olympic level.

Team USA ran ads during the Rio games to encourage young athletes to get more involved in sports, and experts are pushing for national sports organizations to put more funding in for outreach programs that will reach Latino and other underserved communities. It has been helpful to see athletes like gymnast Laurie Hernandez and swimmer Maya Dirado at the forefront of the Olympic games, but it's going to take a lot more work than a few ads to give Latino individuals the chance to join their ranks.

At least the conversation has started, though, and in the meantime Hernandez, who won gold in the team event and silver in the balance beam, says she's happy to lead the way. "I feel I could be a role model to other Hispanic gymnasts interested in the sport," she told The Guardian. The more visibility she gets, the more likely she'll inspire Latino youth to follow in her footsteps.

The Internet Calling Out Khloe And Kylie For Their Culturally-Appropriated Hairstyles

Pretty much the entire Kardashian-Jenner clan has been guilty of cultural appropriation at some point in their famous lives, but this year things really came to a head when Khloe Kardashian and Kylie Jenner posted pictures of themselves sporting black hairstyles within a couple hours of each other.

In August, Khloe posted a photo on Instagram that said "Bantu Babe," but she deleted it shortly after and replaced it with the same photo but a different caption. Her hair was styled in Bantu knots, a hairstyle that originated in southern Africa amongst Zulu tribes. At the same time, Kylie posted a picture of herself wearing red cornrows, a traditionally black style she's been known to copy in the past. People were outraged, and they took to Twitter in a focused fervor to condemn the Kardashians for consistently appropriating styles that belong to people they couldn't care less about.

The Kardashians have remained entirely silent about issues such as police brutality (except for Kim) against POC, yet they repeatedly borrow styles from black culture and call themselves trendsetters, when there's actually a rich, relevant history behind cornrows and Bantu knots. As a result, there was an abundance of tweets flooding the Internet that revealed just how many people were infuriated with the Kardashians' antics. It was an education for many individuals who didn't realize before how insulting cultural appropriation is for the black people who wear these hairstyles as well as carry the burden of oppression that comes with the color of their skin.

Neither Khloe nor Kylie seemed to take heed to any of the commentary, because Kylie posted another picture on Instagram praising her own "birthday braids." They haven't responded to any of the remarks about cultural appropriation either, making everyone think they're simply not interested in changing their behavior.

Beyoncé's Super Bowl Halftime Performance

2016 was a big year for Beyoncé, to say the least. Even before Lemonade was released she had a few important things to say about race relations in America. "OK, ladies, now let's get in formation," Beyoncé instructed during the 2016 Super Bowl's halftime show. Behind her was a whole army of black women wearing Black Panther outfits and rocking natural afros. It was an intentional tribute to the civil rights history as well as the Black Lives Matter movement. The performance honored the black individuals that have been killed at the hands of white police officers and sent out a strong message that police brutality is not something that can't be ignored any longer.

People praised the song "Formation" for being "unapologetically black," and to see it play out on a national stage with that much visibility was a victorious moment for POC who have been fighting systemic racism in our country for years. Beyoncé's dancers even held up a sign that said "Justice 4 Mario Woods," a 26-year-old who was shot and killed by five officers in San Francisco a couple months before.

Nura Afia Becomes COVERGIRL's First Beauty Ambassador To Wear A Hijab

This year, COVERGIRL took a massive step in the right direction by featuring their first beauty ambassador to wear a hijab. Nura Afia is a Muslim beauty blogger from Denver who started sharing her makeup tips with the world in 2011. She's got more than 200,000 followers on YouTube now and 325,000 on Instagram, all of whom can't enough of her smokey eye tutorials.

She now stands alongside other COVERGIRL ambassadors such as singer-songwriters Chloe and Halle, actress Sofia Vergara, and beauty blogger Amy Phan, giving the Muslim community the positive kind of visibility they have been campaigning for all along. It seems that this group of beauty gurus is getting more and more diverse as the years go on, so we expect to see a lot more hijabi beauty spokespersons in the future.

Ultimately, 2016 was a mixed bag, but these celebrated moments reminded us that there's still a lot to look forward to next year — as long as we stand by each other's sides and keep ourselves educated on the things that matter most.