Although Juneteenth was a two days ago we wanted to make sure the articles on it were of high quality, and believe the importance of Juneteenth should be celebrated year round.
“Do you get Juneteenth off?” My bestie asked me before she headed out for her long weekend. “It’s now a holiday my company recognizes.”
“I think that’s really cool, and about time, but no, I will be working.”
“Aww man, well I am headed to a bbq down south and was hoping you’d be able to join.”
And there it was. Three years ago my friend wouldn’t have been able to tell you what Juneteenth was and now they have a state holiday which really just amounts to another day to kick back and relax.
This is the shortcoming of public holidays like Juneteenth, which is the first federal holiday since Martin Luther King Day was created in 1986.
For most Americans, it wasn’t until the recent killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and others that Juneteenth was on our radar. Unless you happened to be a Southerner, descendant of formerly enslaved, or a scholarly person it’s likely you have little to no connection to this new Federal holiday. And if you do, it’s likely a vision of food celebrations and summertime.
This is the second year we are honoring this federal holiday and I want to take a moment to reflect on the last one that was created, Martin Luther King Day. For me, a former AmeriCorps member, it is a call to action – a day of service. What I haven’t seen in the stores around MLK day is flavored ice cream products or registered “I have a dream” trademarked candy flavors.
I’m referencing businesses already copting Blackness and Black culture as an avenue for profit as they often do. A classic approach to marketing awareness and virtue signaling as a means of supporting a noteworthy cause or movement.
America can’t just show up to the cookout and expect a seat at the picnic table without first taking a long hard and uncomfortable look at why we weren’t invited in the first place. (Especially white America) I know that this is an uncomfortable space to navigate but you won’t find me shying away from that. I welcome it. Who cares about being comfortable, when most people are going to take the day off and do nothing that is a problem to me.
We should know our history and how we got here. We should understand why there is a problem with policing in our BIPOC communities. We should talk about how Pride isn’t as inclusionary as it could be although Stonewall was spurred by a Black Trans woman. And we should really have an issue with companies rushing to co opt and brand the heck out of a freshly-minted holiday that most folks haven’t even learned the history of yet.
So what should we be doing instead? On Juneteenth we can decenter ourselves and our fear of our mistakes or how others may receive what we are saying or sharing.
We must start showing up, and not as a, “hey look at me” kind of way.
I am action oriented and have made myself a personal commitment pledge (a holdover from being an AmeriCorps alum) that you can read below.
- I promise to stop being afraid of my own internalized white supremacy. I will instead continue to educate myself and look at hard facts, leaning in and being authentic in all my interactions.
- I commit to reflecting deeply on the real wound of racism on the hearts of every Black American.
- I will spend time in spaces with folks who are not like me.
- I will stop talking and listen to what needs to be done.
- I promise that I will not show up to talk about how uncomfortable it is to talk about racism or police violence, instead I will show up as readily for Black folks as I do for my own children, with all the fire and passion that I have in protecting my own.
- On Juneteenth and throughout each year, I commit to learning, celebrating, and making room at any table I find myself at for Black and Brown Leaders, their history and stories, and their voices before my own.
- I will hold others accountable. I am a force for change and do not shy away from good trouble.
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