This isn’t about a personal conflict or problem—I’m seeking advice from a POC point of view about how complex celebrating and recognizing Juneteenth seems to be. I’m really proud of our community for putting in effort to not only celebrate but also educate people about the holiday. But online, most of what I’ve seen is a lot of attitudes that this holiday isn’t for anyone that’s not Black to celebrate. No one person’s opinion captures what a group of people think, too, so I don’t want it to seem like I think that. But I’m interested in hearing what you want to see from non-Black loved ones, friends, community members, etc. in regards to Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is a holiday for everyone, and learning about America’s past in regards to race helps each and every one of us to dismantle these systems of oppression and make a better future. I know of some Black people who only want to celebrate the emancipation of America’s Black enslaved peoples with other Black people, and they’re allowed to curate their Juneteenth experience however they’d like. Personally, I think there’s a caginess amongst some of us when it comes to white allies, because some of them really take that “cookout” stuff seriously and think they’re one of us (ha), or they’re trying to exorcize their own white guilt by overcorrecting and simply doing too much. Saying too much. Prostrating themselves at the feet of the only Black people they know and begging us to validate their identity as antiracists. But here’s a secret: You don’t need anyone’s approval to do what’s right and to make the world better. Leave your Black colleagues alone and let them celebrate how they want, even if that celebration does not include you. The trauma of slavery and systemic racism runs deep in Black Americans, and our trauma responses can be varied. Some folks just don’t want white people at their Juneteenth cookout, but I think most about my dad, who would never let me and my siblings go to white friends’ houses until we were in our late teens. There are people in my family who were lynched and killed, but I didn’t know that at the time. Now that I do, can I blame a Black father born and raised in the Deep South for not letting his children be alone with white people? There are no thoughts of supremacy at work here, just a traumatized community trying not to experience any more traumas.
A person’s private celebration is completely different from a municipal one, and you shouldn’t feel entitled to someone’s backyard barbecue just because it would help you feel better about benefiting from centuries of white privilege. The ACC government has a Juneteenth Collective that organized events that last all month, from movie nights and talks about the injustice of Linnentown to jazz concerts and outdoor festivals. Those events were for everyone, so I hope you went to some! White people can and should celebrate the legislation that ended slavery, and the members of their community who fought to create equity where there was none before. They should understand that this country belongs to all of us, and that we all have a duty to destroy fascism. Who do you think it is putting Nazi stickers and graffiti all over downtown and Pulaski Heights right now? I think it’s the shitheaded child of someone who lives within walking distance of those areas, someone whose parents went to Elephant 6 shows and bought in a historic neighborhood before mortgages exploded. That’s why y’all can’t act like Juneteenth has nothing to do with you, or that you’re not allowed to celebrate it or learn about it. It’s much, much bigger than just you or me—do you think that van full of white supremacist terrorists in Idaho came from households that talked much about Black history? You are raising the next generation of individuals who will either continue to dismantle fascism or could very likely be the next Proud Boy that I punch in the face. It’s your responsibility to make sure they grow up to be the former, not the latter.
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