Congratulations to every SMU undergraduate, postgraduate, doctoral or professional out there who has managed to come out of 2016 on top and alive!
It's that time during the holidays where some of us may still be in last week's boxers, on our laptops binge watching Netflix or frantically packing to leave this country and its 98% humidity levels. But before we snuggle under the covers with the laptop balancing precariously on our tummies or book the next flight out of Singapore, we urge each and every one to just set aside a moment or so to look back on the eventful year that 2016 has been. So much has happened in the last 12 months that we felt we needed to reflect and be mindful of what has changed us and the world, and see how far we’ve come from 2015.
And that distance we've put between us and 2015 is strangely quantifiable through the annual year announcement of Dictionary.com's ‘Word of the Year’ - which embodies a major theme that resonates deeply in the cultural consciousness of the world over the past twelve months. This year, some of the most prominent current affairs have centered on the subject of fear of the 'other', and how that has risen to the extent of global cultural discourse and chaos. Because of that, the word xenophobia is Dictionary.com’s 2016 Word of the Year. This draws stark, saddening comparisons to last year’s top picks, where even Oxford Dictionaries awarded Word of the Year (for the first time ever) to the sweetest, most peace-loving pictograph:
(The term ‘on fleek’ made third place, mind you.)
This begs the question of how much we have plunged collectively as a society that xenophobia has been chosen to effectively encompass the ethos, mood and even preoccupations of our 2016. Understandably, we all have had our own individual challenges to face and mountains to climb, but nothing should cloud our judgement or awareness of the greater issues the world has faced, whether in the face of victory or defeat. Let's take a look at 2016:
Xenophobia has manifested itself in terribly ugly forms this past year, most notably with Syria and the refugee crisis. According to Amnesty International, over half the country’s pre-war population — more than 11 million people — has been killed, internally displaced, or forced to flee their homes. Immigration has become a primary source of political contention this year, with the European Union (EU) and western world deeply divided on how to approach and fulfill the needs of millions of refugees whose numbers continue to grow at alarmingly exponential rates. To those countries that have chosen to close off or restrict their borders to humble refugees, it is indeed plausible that xenophobia lies close to the core of such anti-immigration sentiments.
Source: Financial Times
Brexit, as well, has set the United Kingdom on a very dangerous trajectory, especially given how the referendum has become characterized by the worst kind of dogmatic rhetoric, and marred by downright lies regarding immigration. ‘Brexiteers’ believe that leaving the EU would sever all ties of the UK’s prior commitments to welcome new immigrants and integrate new ones, but the sad reality of a fact is that as much as there is currently no clear political leadership that defends immigrant rights in the UK, there is little chance of Brexiteers’ grand vision coming to fruition.
Across the Atlantic, it is hard to fight anyone who holds that President-elect Donald Trump stands the highest on the pedestal of prominent persons feeding the xenophobia narrative. The new elect who effectively forced his way into the White House riding a campaign wave of demagoguery, riddled with wildly inaccurate statements, racism and xenophobia, managed to associate fear to some of the country’s most vulnerable and marginalized populations. This, coupled with the ravages of globalization (once touted as the key to prosperity), has now created a gash in the American working class fabric. But instead of trying to alleviate this through proper retraining or re-education for a new economy, many Republican politicians and their newly elected leader have cast foreigners, minorities, and immigrants as a cause for working-class tribulations.
That said, before we sink into an abyss of perpetual disappointment and mistrust of the world, let's be reminded that the world, with all its vastness and immeasurable limits, really shouldn't be surmised into one word alone. While certain events may have cast shadows on humanity’s capacity to love everyone and all things unfamiliar, others represent a beacon of hope that welcomes the concept of otherness and celebrates all things unprecedented and remarkable. While Hillary Clinton may not have 'shattered the highest and hardest glass ceiling' to become the first female President of the United States, 2016 shone a light on many other female accomplishments worth applauding. Taiwan elected their female President ever, Democratic Progressive Party chairwoman Tsai Ing-wen. The Rio Olympics saw the female contingent stand at an impressive 45% – a far cry from the 2.2% of female participants in the 1900 Paris Olympics. And Harriet Tubman, an African-American and a Union spy during the US Civil War, will be honoured on the country’s paper currency as the first woman to ever do so in American history.
Bridges burnt between once clashing parties got re-erected as Barack Obama became the first US President to make the journey to Cuba in over 88 years, laying bare over a half-century of tensions with Cuba’s President Raul Castro.
All in the field of science and medicine rejoiced as the Ice Bucket Challenge campaign, previously criticized to be nothing more than ‘slacktivism’, helped fund a breakthrough in Amyotrophic Lateral Sclerosis (ALS) research in 2016. Scientists discovered a new identified gene, NEK1, which now ranks among the most common genes that contribute to the disease, presenting a potential target for developing therapies to help ALS sufferers. Meanwhile, Russian cosmonaut Mikhail Kornienko and American astronaut Scott Kelly returned to Earth this year after spending almost a year in space in a ground-breaking experiment foreshadowing a potential manned mission to Mars. Even Mother Nature has made a dramatic comeback: the estimated number of tigers living in the wild has increased from 3,200 in 2010 to 3,890 as of this year, accounting for the first time that wild tiger populations have increased in more than a century.
Even in pop culture, 2016 has had small victories that coloured life with gleeful chaos. Social media cheered on as Leonardo DiCaprio finally won a well-deserved Oscar for his performance in The Revenant, and Harry Potter fans heaved a sigh of relief when J.K. Rowling revealed she had no plans to end the beloved franchise that has sculpted much of our generation’s childhoods. Lastly, the summer fling of 2016 goes to the worldwide affair with Pokemon Go, a first of its kind augmented reality game that got everyone, both young and old alike, on their feet to catch imaginary monsters.
These are but some of the few milestones that pebble the span of 2016, and there are many more that have characterised and shaped the last 350-ish days we’ve all been through together. Some to be proud of, some to be regretful of, but all lessons to be learnt. Our job now is to sift out the good from the bad, to climb out of the troughs we’ve fallen into, and gear ourselves ready for the new mountain to climb that is 2017.
Let’s all pray for the strength and courage to make 2017 a better one, and hope Dictionary.com announces a Word of the Year far more cheerful and optimistic than this year’s. All the same, we’ve had a good run. For now, enjoy the next weeks of break everybody! From all of us at The Blue and Gold, we wish you a Merry Christmas and a Happy New Year ahead.