Between the deaths of greats like Prince and Muhammed Ali, the destruction in Aleppo and the circus that was the U.S. presidential election, 2016 was the year of one awful thing after another.
But despite the awfulness, stellar writing by people of color provided clarity, comfort and insight in even the darkest moments this year.
For the second year in a row, we’ve curated a list of essays and articles that defined conversations about race, pop culture, politics and identity in 2016. They cover a wide array of topics, from reactions to the election of Donald Trump, to the huge role young black people play in internet culture, to the genius of James Baldwin. The criteria is simple: all pieces on this list were written by a person of color and published within the last year online.
As a look back, this year-end list is by no means fully comprehensive of all the stellar work written by writers of color in 2016. Feel there’s a glaring omission? Nominate your favorite pieces in the comments. In the meantime, check out these powerful, thought-provoking and entertaining reads from this year:
How Journalists Of Color Plan To Survive Trump’s America
Wilfred Chan, Fusion
What will it mean to be a journalist in the age of Trump? How will journalists of color get through the next four years? Wilfred Chan writes about the “psychological tax” many journalists of color are forced to pay in order to do the work, and the ways in which continuing to write is not only a form of self-care but also a form of survival.
Black Life And Death In A Familiar America
Eve L. Ewing, Fader
Published in the wake of Donald Trump’s election, Ewing explores the deep racial divides in America by way of Chicago. Using the shooting death of Joshua Beal as a connective thread, Ewing deftly explores the correlations between black death in America and the so-called “rise” of hate.
I Will Never Underestimate White People’s Need To Preserve Whiteness Again
Damon Young, Very Smart Brothas
For many black people in America, the election of Donald Trump felt like a rude awakening, a harsh reminder that the racist wounds of this country go far deeper than any of us wanted to admit to ourselves. The ever-brilliant Damon Young perfectly captured that feeling in this essay for Very Smart Brothas, where he bluntly explains how white supremacy works on a systemic level.
Mourning For Whiteness
Toni Morrison, The New Yorker
Toni Morrison breaks it all the way down in this post-election essay where she quite matter-of-factly calls out the reason that Donald Trump won the presidential election: the fear of losing white privilege. “So scary are the consequences of a collapse of white privilege that many Americans have flocked to a political platform that supports and translates violence against the defenseless as strength,”Morrison writes. “These people are not so much angry as terrified.”
What I Said When My White Friend Asked For My Black Opinion On White Privilege
Lori Lakin Hutchinson, The Huffington Post
The concept of “white privilege” is constantly debated, challenged, and questioned, particularly by white people. What is it? Is it even real? And what about “black privilege?” HuffPost contributor Lori Lakin Hutchinson shares her own candid views on the topic of white privilege, and the realities of being black in America today.
Interview With A Woman Who Recently Had An Abortion At 32 Weeks
Jia Tolentino, Jezebel
This brilliant conversation conducted by Jia Tolentino delivers a powerful glimpse into the mind and motivations of one woman after a recent late-term abortion. Thanks to mostly Republican legislators who use rhetoric that implies women who get late-term abortions are just flippantly changing their mind about pregnancy, late-term abortion continues to be widely misunderstood. In a year when there were a myriad of threats against reproductive rights in America, hearing one woman’s very personal story about a complicated pregnancy provides the kind of context we desperately need more of.
My Father’s House
Reggie Ugwu, Buzzfeed
After the death of his brother and the deteriorating health of his father, writer Reggie Ugwu made an important journey of discovery and self-reflection, returning to his ancestral home in Nigeria and helping to take care of his ailing father. Ugwu delves into the Igbo-American identity and experience, capturing the visceral feelings of obligation and grief. On his brother’s death he writes, powerfully: “In the weeks and months after Chidi died, still engulfed in darkness, I felt ready to die, too; by which I mean that losing the person I loved most in the world seemed equivalent to losing the world itself.”
What I Pledge Allegiance To
Kiese Laymon, The Fader
In the year that Colin Kaepernick took a knee during the national anthem, and Donald Trump threatened jail-time to flag burners, Kiese Laymon wrote about the concept of pledging allegiance to a country that he doesn’t feel is allegiant to him. One of the most powerful sentences: “I pledge to perpetually reckon with the possibility that there will never be any liberty, peace, and justice for all unless we accept that America, like Mississippi, is not clean.”
Now Is The Time To Talk About What We Are Actually Talking About
Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, The New Yorker
Celebrated as much for her work as a novelist as she is for her work as an outspoken feminist and activist, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie unsurprisingly had one of the best post-election responses this year. Her reaction: in the wake of Trump’s election, we must become even more determined to fight bigotry, rather than to bend in order to accommodate and coddle racist ideology. “Now is the time to confront the weak core at the heart of America’s addiction to optimism,” Adichie writes. “It allows too little room for resilience, and too much for fragility.”
Syrian Writers, Artists and Journalists Speak Out Against US and Russian Policy
150 Syrian writers, artists and journalists, The Nation
Aleppo was further ravaged by war and destruction this year, taking the lives of countless civilians (many of them children) and displacing thousands upon thousands of Syrian families. Throughout the ongoing conflict, most of the world has turned a blind eye to the tragedy, as well as the exacerbating interference of foreign powers. In this open letter signed by 150 Syrian academics and writers (among them Paris Sarbonne professor Burhan Ghalioun and novelist Samar Yazbek), both Russia and the United States are called out for the role they have played in the conflict.
Adrian Chen, The New Yorker
This fascinating long-read tells the story of how Megan Phelps, once a staunch and devout member of the hate-fueled Westboro Baptist Church, eventually found her way out of its racist and homophobic ideology.
A Letter To My Mom, An Immigrant: The Day After Election Day
Lilliana Llamas, The Huffington Post
In this moving essay, Mexican-American journalist and filmmaker Lilliana Llamas meditates on the life and sacrifices of her immigrant mother as she processes the election. She writes about being neither “from here nor there,” about the pain and confusion of Trump’s election, and about her hope for the future even in the midst of disappointment. “I love being a Mexican-American. I love this country,” Llamas writes. “I just wish it loved us, too.”
The Weight Of James Arthur Baldwin
Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah, Buzzfeed
James Baldwin is one of the great American writers, period. Here, Rachel Kaadzi Ghansah visits Baldwin’s final home in France, and meditates on his genius and his legacy.
The Art Of Letting Go
Mina Kimes, ESPN
In a stellar piece of sports journalism, Mina Kimes writes about professional baseball in South Korea, a “parallel sports universe where baseball players...shatter the game’s unwritten rules.”
How Black Chyna Beat The Kardashians At Their Own Game
Sylvia Obell, Buzzfeed
Once known only as Tyga’s baby-momma and Kylie Jenner’s nemesis, Black Chyna shot into the stratosphere this year after pulling off the ultimate petty move by getting engaged to Rob Kardashian and having a baby with him. In the juiciest read of the year, Sylvia Obell chronicles the soap-opera-esque rise of Angela Renee Kardashian.
How Tobacco Companies Led A Devastating 50-Year Infiltration Into Black Communities
Taryn Finley, The Huffington Post
It’s common knowledge that the tobacco industry is shady, and as Black Voices Associate Editor Taryn Finley finds in this reported piece, big tobacco’s practices within the black community are overwhelmingly insidious. Tobacco has strongly targeted African-Americans, especially African-American youth, resulting in a smoking epidemic that has killed more black Americans than AIDS, car crashes, murders and drug and alcohol abuse combined.
Why Pop Culture Just Can’t Deal With Black Male Sexuality
Wesley Morris, The New York Times Magazine
Explorations of black male sexuality and the black male body in pop culture are few and far between, which makes Wesley Morris’s essay on the topic a refreshing and badly needed addition to the conversation. Here, Morris calls out the fear of the black man’s body in film and TV, particularly the black penis, which Morris writes “is imagined more than it’s seen.”
For Women Of Color, The Price Of Fandom Can Be Too High
Angelica Jade Bastién, The New Republic
Fandom culture is supposed to be about inclusion, especially for those who feel “othered” in their every day lives. But this New Republic essay by Afro-Latina writer Angelica Jade Bastién uncovers the secretly racist underbelly of mostly-white fandoms that exclude women of color, refusing to empathize with black women characters to the point of demonizing them.
Choosing A School For My Daughter In A Segregated City
Nikole Hannah-Jones, The New York Times
The harsh realities of the segregated American school system are brought to light in this extraordinary essay, in which Nikole Hannah-Jones describes the dilemma of finding a suitable school for her daughter in an education landscape that is heavily competitive, heavily segregated, and seemingly set up to disenfranchise students of color.
My President Was Black
Ta-Nehisi Coates, The Atlantic
Ta-Nehisi Coates is a master. This is fact. His mastery is on full display in this long-form essay which serves as a comprehensive and captivating history of the Obama presidency and the myth of a “post-racial” America.
My Identity Can Get Me Killed
Denise Oliver Velez, The Daily Kos
In this beautifully written essay for Daily Kos, activist and author Denise Oliver Velez takes the reader on a journey through the history of her family, from her great-great-grandmother who was born into slavery, to her grandfather who lived through the hell of the Reconstruction-era in the south, to her parents, who faced the indignities of segregation and discrimination. Velez offers up a moving, vivid portrait of the generational impact of racism.
We Lost The Election. Let’s Win Pop Culture With Inclusiveness.
Inkoo Kang, MTV News
Some writers may have railed against diversity and “identity politics” after the election, but MTV’s chief TV-critic Inkoo Kang rightly points out in this essay that now is not the time to move away from inclusive television ― it’s time to get more inclusive.
Under President Trump, Radical Hope Is Our Best Weapon
Junot Díaz, The New Yorker
Masterful writer and novelist Junot Díaz offers up some much-needed words of hope in this post-election essay, where he reminds us that “we always knew this shit wasn’t going to be easy.”
“So what now? Well, first and foremost, we need to feel,” Díaz writes. “We need to connect courageously with the rejection, the fear, the vulnerability that Trump’s victory has inflicted on us, without turning away or numbing ourselves or lapsing into cynicism. We need to bear witness to what we have lost: our safety, our sense of belonging, our vision of our country. We need to mourn all these injuries fully, so that they do not drag us into despair, so repair will be possible.”
An Open Letter To That Lady Who Has All The Answers To #NoDAPL
Renee Nejo, Native News
This year, protests at Standing Rock brought urgency to environmental issues as well as the ongoing but largely ignored battle for Native American rights. Here, artist Renee Nejo, a tribal citizen of the Mesa Grand Band of Mission Indians, calls out a white woman who accused protestors via Facebook of looking for “handouts,” silencing the very real grievances of the water protectors. “You are missing very important facts, and your response reeks of those missing nuances,” Nejo begins in her epic, thorough and poignant rebuttal.
Don’t Blame Black Lives Matter For The Death Of Dallas Cops
Lilly Workneh, The Huffington Post
Black Lives Matter remained at the forefront of national conversation this year, with the wrongful shooting deaths of young black men and women at the hands of police. When five police officers were shot and killed by snipers in Dallas in July, some people immediately blamed BLM for acting as a catalyst for the tragedy. Here, Black Voices Senior Editor Lilly Workneh takes these people to task, explaining that just because the Black Lives Matter movement wants to end police brutality “does NOT mean it encourages violence against police by black people.”
Fariha Róisín, Hazlitt
This meditative essay on family, identity, violence, and trauma recalls the brutal rape and murder of Jyoti Singh Pandey in 2012, as well as numerous other incidents of sexual violence against brown women over the years ― including her own mother.
The Incoherence of Latino Political Identity
Alexandros Orphanides, Complex
We live in a world where the president-elect suggested during his campaign that Mexican immigrants are violent rapists and talked on and on about “The Wall,” yet still managed to get a surprising number of Hispanic voters. As Alexandros Orphanides writes here, Trump’s election proves that “the concept of Latinos as a unified voting bloc or as a homogenous ethnic group is largely incoherent.”
‘I Cannot Take Nate Parker Rape Allegations Lightly’
Gabrielle Union, LA Times
The controversy surrounding past rape allegations against director Nate Parker cast a heavy shadow over his initially-lauded film “The Birth of a Nation.” Not only did people question Parker’s approach to discussing his past, they also questioned the inclusion of two rapes in the movie. In a September op-ed, Gabrielle Union (a star of the film and a rape survivor herself), broke her silence on the controversy. “Since Nate Parker’s story was revealed to me, I have found myself in a state of stomach-churning confusion,” Union admitted. The essay presented the kind of open, honest and vital transparency about the situation that some felt Nate Parker failed to provide.
Black Teens Are Breaking The Internet And Seeing None Of The Profits
Doreen St. Felix, The Fader
2016 was the year black people ostensibly broke the Internet: from Dark Kermit, to the smiling baby, to the Mannequin Challenge, black memes were the most viral and the most imitated across pop culture. Doreen St. Felix explores the way young black people are shaping the culture through social media, and questions the exploitation and lack of credit that they get in return.
The Pulse Nightclub Shooting Robbed The Queer Latinx Community Of A Sanctuary
Veronica Bayetti Flores, Remezcla
The tragic mass shooting at the Pulse nightclub in Orlando this year sent a shockwave through the LGBTQ community. The majority of victims in what became the largest mass shooting in American history were queer Latinx. Here, Veronica Bayetti Flores writes about the history of violence against queer Latinx bodies, and how the Pulse shooting “robbed [us] of a pivotal space where queerness and Latinidad have been able to not just co-exist, but be celebrated.”
Editor’s Note: This list has been updated to reflect an even more diverse pool of POC writers.