I’ll spare you the “Matrix” references, but it’s hard not to notice a great awakening to reality in recent weeks, especially among white people. Racism and its effects aren’t just “stains of the past” that you hear about in history class, nor are they ridiculous “race cards” or joke material for comedians of color. Racism has always been here.
The strong roots of inequality in America and the oppression of Black people worldwide have evolved and continued to thrive. The thing is, too many people have gotten used to living with it. Until now.
On one hand, it’s really frustrating that it takes Black tragedy unfolding on video to wake non-BIPOC (Black, indigenous, and people of color) people up to what’s been happening for generations. On the other hand, we have to leverage the unique opportunity before us: A lot of people are finally listening.
I don’t mean merely retweeting #BlackLivesMatter (though I’m glad to see it). I’m talking about really listening to Black voices, letting those voices illuminate the personal areas that need change, and allowing that change to reverberate throughout other areas of life. And since you’re reading this, I’m guessing you want to be on the path toward real systemic change also — and that’s important.
That said, we’ve got to be realistic too. The systemic uprooting process will likely have a lot of people dropping from exhaustion. (If you’ve ever tried to pull roots out of the ground by hand, you’d know.) But the anti-racism movement isn’t about fast-tracking some kind of utopia overnight. It’s hard work, and the stakes are high for everyone involved.
The goal is to see this as a marathon — not one that you can complete in under 3 hours, though (shout-out to my fellow runner alumni). No, you’re gonna have to take some checkpoints along the way. But here’s the good news: Those checkpoints allow you to tap into some much-needed healing energy through education, celebration, and, yes, joy. Cue the Juneteenth celebration and why it’s key for non-Black allies to join in!
Every year in June, the Black community commemorates the end of slavery in America. While many people think the Emancipation Proclamation, signed in December 1863, did the job, it only started the process. It fell short of freeing slaves in all 50 states. It took another 2 years and the passing of the 13th Amendment for slavery to be totally abolished (on paper, at least). And even then, it took another 6 months for Texas to get the news.
It was on June 19, 1865, that Texas finally received word that slaves had been freed. And that’s why June 19th (eventually shortened to Juneteenth) has carried significant meaning for Black freedom and advancement in America.
Despite the delay of the message, it was no less welcome, sparking celebrations among all who’d fought and hoped for freedom. All the staples of the best cultural celebrations, from food to music, dance, and art, are a part of Juneteenth. It’s now a Texas state holiday and growing in recognition all over the country, but it has yet to reach national holiday status like the Fourth of July. What will it take to get there? Participation!
Speaking directly to the non-Black allies: Your acknowledgment of and participation in Juneteenth is important. It shows that you value a monumental moment in American history, not just Black history. That’s right — Black history is American history. And just like the voiceless who need justice, it takes all of us to repeat the name of Juneteenth until it’s heard, acknowledged, and remembered.
“I’m grateful to see so many white people show up for us after someone’s death, but we really need all of them to show up for us in life as well.”
Participation also helps you see what it looks like to proactively support Black people in times of joy and not just in response to injustice. I recently heard a Black woman who was participating in one of the large protest demonstrations say, “I’m grateful to see so many white people show up for us after someone’s death, but we really need all of them to show up for us in life as well.” The invitation is open.
Participating as a joyful ally does not mean you’re minimizing the work that still needs to be done, however. There’s a “both/and” situation at work. It’s a delicate balance between truth and hope where Black people constantly live and need advocates. Looking at the truth of our circumstances without having hope for the future is detrimental to the cause and to our mental health.
No, allies won’t have the same relationship with Juneteenth as Black people do, but that’s not the point. Visiting this celebration checkpoint grants you an emotional/mental reboot you need for the marathon. You don’t have to have any answers. You don’t have to do any boycotting. Just celebrate us. Plus, celebrations are fun!
Careful, though. Juneteenth is still about you practicing empathy — not performing empathy.
It’s natural to want to let everyone know you’re feeling good about changes you’re making and why, especially when doing social justice repair work. But reverting to the previous version of “woke culture,” where you felt good about playing Black music or reading Black authors while little else changed, won’t cut it anymore. Real impact comes with thoughtful engagement and centering those who need to be centered.
So, where do we eat?
Start where you are.
This kind of participation creates an atmosphere for some strong change agents to join with some strong allies at the mental respite table.
Granted, this year Juneteenth celebrations have gone a little dystopian in our physically distant climate. But there are still plenty of virtual engagement options available to bring people together.
Here are a few ways you can learn more and virtually participate in Juneteenth 2020:
This award-winning film depicts the often-ignored all-Black Civil War regiment — the 54th Massachusetts Volunteer Infantry.
Stream with a subscription on Netflix.
This Netflix documentary from acclaimed filmmaker Ava DuVernay dissects mass incarceration and the stronghold of racism within the American justice system.
I Am Not Your Negro (2017)
This powerful documentary features a searing look at racism in America through the eyes and words of the late writer/activist James Baldwin.
This historical drama spotlights the Selma-to-Montgomery Voting Rights Marches of 1965, led by Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
Lee Daniels’ The Butler (2013)
This film is loosely based on the true story of a Black man who served 30 years as a White House butler and witnessed important social and political events of the 20th century.
“1619” (The New York Times): the podcast version of that epic work you’ve heard about exploring the 400 years of bad roots in this country
Notable episode: “The Economy That Slavery Built”
“The United States of Anxiety” (WNYC Studios): The sins of America’s past inflate the stakes for America’s future.
Notable episode: “The Life and Work of Ida B. Wells”
“Code Switch” (NPR): one of the leading voices on the leading subject that people don’t want to talk about
Notable episode: “20 And Odd. Negroes”
“Still Processing” (The New York Times): culture, entertainment, and all the layers in the stuff that we love
Notable episode: “Fantasies”
- Virtual Juneteenth Music Festival, 8 p.m. ET
Also, search the following hashtags on social: #Juneteenth, #Juneteenth2020, #Freedom, #FreedomDay2020, #BlackExcellence, #SupportBlackArt
Alternatively, Google “Juneteenth” and your city for any additional info on local streaming events. Here are a few we rounded up:
One thing effective change movements have shown us is that they don’t start and end with one person. It takes everyone doing their part, carrying the baton forward until it crosses the finish line (and even after that, we gotta keep defending our title).
Winning doesn’t happen just by being “woke,” it comes from doing work. Teamwork and pace. Leave room for celebration along the way.
We don’t know how far we have left to go, but let’s use the joy that comes with Juneteenth 2020 as a mental recharge needed to run the next leg of the race together.
DeVonne Goode is a lifestyle editor at Greatist, on a quest to find creativity through wellness and wellness through creativity. Find him traversing the waters on Instagram.