Happy Juneteenth, y’all! Friday, June 19 is one of my favorite holidays—and, yes, it’s also my birthday. If you’re black, brown or mixed race living in America, Juneteenth is a day to rejoice. Yet, it’s a holiday most white people have never heard of.
To say this year has been a weird ride barely scratches the surface of the science-fiction nightmare we’ve been living. A global pandemic? Check. A president melting down with hourly Twitter tirades (and shucking all responsibility)? Check. A country divided over whether to follow stay-at-home orders or to reopen [enter your state here]? Check.
For black and brown people, this isn’t just a nightmare; this is America. Many folks assume since we’ve had one black president, racism has finally come to an end and black people should celebrate their status as equal, free Americans. In reality 100% freedom and equality for black Americans has been a ferociously contested battle since the Emancipation Proclamation. The lack of justice following the murder of Trayvon Martin all the way to George Floyd is an ad-nauseam cycle we’ve been stuck in for the past eight years. It has become predictable, infuriating, sickening and heartbreaking.
Today I honor the black women who have done the emotional labor in this country for far too long. To Sandra Bland, Atatiana Jefferson and Breonna Taylor: your faces are forever painted in my mind and I hope your spirits find rest. More importantly, I hope justice is served.
As a mixed-race woman of Jamaican, Greek and Hungarian descent, it has taken me 34 years to find my natural self and acceptance in a society that glorifies the “adorable” mixed-race baby, but has no clue what to do with the living, breathing, confused, hurting mixed-race adult. I’ve been called everything from “Oreo cookie” to “mulatto” to “mutt” and worse. I’ve been told more times than I can count: “You’re not white enough or black enough; you sound too sassy or too white; you should be more urban, sing it more black, not be so difficult.” While this may seem incredulous to my white friends and family, it’s all part of the underbelly of America. It starts with language and too often ends in death. This is what we are made from, and for decades to come, we as Americans—especially white Americans—will need to work to reconcile the sins of our forefathers.
That being said, it is nice to see a majority of people finally falling in step with the Black Lives Matter movement. All of the hard work is finally being recognized to elevate the voices of black people in Wilmington and the country at large.
Juneteeth is the oldest nationally recognized commemoration of the ending of slavery in the United States. On June 19th, 1865—two years after the Emancipation Proclamation—General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas. As one of his first orders of business, he read the following to citizens:
“The people of Texas are informed that in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”
Hundreds of thousands of slaves were freed and they didn’t know it. (I bet no one in the Union was in a rush to tell them, either.) Yet, in this same order, the general implored slaves to stay with their masters and work for wages. No hanging around being free (“No loitering,” anyone?). Their freedom wasn’t exactly welcomed, either, as many were murdered for leaving plantations because slave owners didn’t want their “property” running off. That brings some perspective to the conversation about monuments and history, doesn’t it?
Juneteenth should be a federal holiday. A young senator by the name of Barack Obama wrote legislation declaring as much, but it never passed. As the protests and tough conversations, hopefully, continue toward meaningful change, I say this to my black, brown and mixed-race friends: If you need to take a break, do it; protect your energy. This Friday, we celebrate how far we have come and honor that the road ahead is long, but we will have justice and true equality.
To my white and white-adjacent friends and family: Please, remember to listen, humble yourself and act with care. If uncomfortable feelings come up or you feel defensive when called out, take a minute, take a breath and stay in it for the long haul. We need everybody in this fight.
So, grab a strawberry soda, light up the grill and take a moment to celebrate this Friday, June 19, 2020, which marks my 34th birthday and a mere 155 years since we as black Americans have been free … ish.