I’ve just discovered another indication of my white blindness to the lives and culture of black people. Juneteenth.
A few days ago, I noticed “Juneteenth” on my Google calendar as a holiday. Had no idea what it meant. Had never heard the word before.
I looked it up and…well, I wish there were a place where I could send my apologies to all black people for committing a sin against their humanity. How could I not know that Juneteenth is the celebration of the emancipation of slaves? And why have I not celebrated that triumph with them my whole life?
Perhaps if I had been aware of and celebrating this event with the black community all along, I would have been less blind all these years.
So, for MY sake, not for the benefit of black people, but for MY growth as a more aware American, I’m celebrating Juneteenth this year. I’ll celebrate at home by reading aloud Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. I’ll eat some watermelon and drink hibiscus tea because red food and drink hold ages-old symbolism for the blood shed by millions of enslaved black people and because red is a color of strength in the ancient African cultures from which American black people are descended.
I’ll listen to gospel music and I’ll spend time reading from the books that are helping me to dismantle the lifelong conditioning that had desensitized me to the realities of life of black people in America today and conditioned me to the state of white supremacy. Books at the top of my list are Me and White Supremacy by Layla Saad, White Fragility by Robin Diangelo, How to Be An AntiRacist by Ibram Kendi, and The Invisible Man and Juneteenth by Ralph Ellison.
Since I’m confessing my sins of racism, I want to share an example of that conditioning.
As I researched Juneteenth this week, I learned that the holiday had its roots in the June 19, 1865 reading of the Emancipation Proclamation by General Gordon Granger in Texas that all slaves in Texas were free. This took place two and a half years AFTER Lincoln officially freed slaves in America.
Blacks began celebrating June 19th as Black Independence Day, or Emancipation Day. When I read this – get ready for it – my white mind spoke up to say “Why don’t they celebrate the actual day that Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation?” Then I stopped myself – thank goodness. Who am I to suggest changing the date that black people choose to celebrate their release from the horrors of slavery? Really? I can’t even allow them that much sovereignty? Ugh!
Today the celebration is known as Juneteenth and it has become a state holiday in 48 of our 50 states. That’s great, but it’s not enough.
Juneteenth should be a federal holiday. Now. Let’s put our history of slavery front and center in the minds of whites as well as blacks by coming together to celebrate the end of slavery. It is one step towards healing our separation.
I just signed a petition in support of this action. Please consider signing too. Here’s the link: https://www.change.org/p/united-states-congress-make-juneteenth-a-national-holiday-in-2020
And, if you are white like me, I encourage you to consider spending a few minutes or a few hours on June 19th to contemplate the history of blacks in our country and the realities of white supremacy we have been conditioned to.
If you are black, well, this wish for you is full of love and regret, plenty of soul-searching and much new awakening…Happy Juneteenth.