Not long after footage of Ahmaud Arbery and Breonna Taylor’s deaths circulated the media I received a call from leadership at the organization I was employed by asking me to provide details into one of the many grants I was tasked with writing. I wasn’t surprised that things were business as usual, but when my voice lacked its usual enthusiastically chipper tone I was pressed to explain my mood. Exhausted and unable to hide my heartache, I did not perform. Instead, I disclosed the heaviness I felt by simply being Black in America during a time when racism and civil unrest plagued those without the privilege of ignoring it. I was briefly comforted with clichéd expressions like, “everything that’s been happening is just unbelievable” and “we just need to love each other to light the way” before the conversation was redirected back to the urgency of the grant application.
Soon after, when George Floyd’s execution sparked a worldwide awakening of the disproportionate deadly force inflicted upon Black bodies by the hands of law enforcement I was urged to draft a statement that expressed the sentiments of the organization. Feeling as though the messaging was performative, I shared that it would be inauthentic for me to write something of such magnitude. I was not in a position of leadership and I was also battling systemic and structural inequities as one of only two Black employees within the institution. Still, I was assigned with the role of reviewing what was crafted and offering suggested edits from my “personal lens” to ensure cultural sensitivity.
Even though the majority of 2020 was filled with unavoidable reckonings of racism I was not surprised when Juneteenth rolled around and I was not celebrating the day, in 1865 when my Texas ancestors learned of their emancipation from enslavement (albeit two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation), in a worthy fashion. Instead I was forced to work until 9:30 that evening on a project that would be sent off for two white women to pass off as their own and present to deep pockets that funded the organization. If after reading that last sentence you’re thinking the situation sounds a bit incongruous, please trust that the irony is not lost on me.
But here we are. One year later with Juneteenth falling on a Saturday (insert praise hands) and I’m in full control of my schedule with the autonomy to establish collaborative partnerships and prioritize my workload in a manner that best suits my preferences and mental health (can I get another set of praise hands?!). This year I’m not facing microaggressions that imply a subpar work style or failure to effectively manage time, instead Black folx are on the receiving end of symbolic gestures and virtue signaling rather than transformative change. Don’t get me wrong. I personally appreciate Opal Lee’s tireless advocacy for Juneteenth to receive the recognition it deserves, but the decision to make June 19 a federal holiday seems hollow to me. Efforts towards dismantling the systemic racism that is entrenched within law enforcement institutions, like the George Floyd Justice and Policing Act, have stalled. Education and housing apartheid continues. Voting rights are repeatedly infringed upon and only the most sanitized versions of America’s racist, violent and oppressive tactics are allowed to be taught in public schools. Certain concepts related to race and racism can’t be discussed but Juneteenth has now been co-opted into a federal holiday. Make it make sense.
Juneteenth is a day that honors abolition and celebrates liberation. So if you received the day off, are planning on hitting up a cookout rockin Kente cloth or a Dashiki (loving reminder: cultural appropriation is harmful and passé), or just enjoying the extra time to rest I hope you will find some time to stand in solidarity with the Black community. A few items for reflection and action are included to offer some guidance.
Together we can create a society where Black joy, intellect, power and futures are nurtured every day rather than being limited to a designated month or new federal holiday.