Human progress is neither automatic nor inevitable… Every step toward the goal of justice requires sacrifice, suffering, and struggle; the tireless exertions and passionate concern of dedicated individuals. Martin Luther King, Jr.
Even as I write that title, “AM I WELCOME…” I’m thinking this is not about you, Melody! And it is most decidedly not, except in the fact that we white people are a part of the problem. We’re afraid to talk about race, racism, ethnicity, and even good things like Juneteenth. If we don’t talk about it, we won’t take part and if we don’t take part thus perpetuates the ignorance and fear.
So here I go, knowing ultimately it’s not about me, but I don’t want to be afraid of acknowledging and raising awareness for white people. I want to say, hey people this is a good thing!
I believe it is worth noting that Wisconsin Gov. Jim Doyle has signed a bill that makes Juneteenth Day a legal holiday in Wisconsin. (It’s too bad the NPR headlines are leading with the end of puppy mills in Wisconsin, not this. But I always see the ‘cup half empty.’)
I have to be honest, I’ve been afraid or uncertain if I was welcome at Juneteenth celebrations. OK, to be brutally honest, I have been unwilling to put myself in a context of (potential) discomfort. Yeah, that is what I know is true deep down.
Ten years ago, when we were church shopping, we attended Fountain of Life, a black Pentecostal church committed to multi-ethnicity, about two or three times. (I even know the pastor, Alex Gee, but he wasn’t there while we were.) But in the end it was too hard to be different. I know, ew. That was hard to admit., It sounds awful. I have to imagine being in that scenario all the time, every day, is terribly difficult. (Mostly white churches, organizations, schools.) I can only imagine what it is like to be a minority all the time — I was exhausted after a service there. I mean I like to move, and raise my hands (I do that frequently in worship) , but I was so self-conscious of my stiff-white-person-moves! So, not for only those reasons but including them I walked away. I guess because I could.
Perhaps I jumped into the deep end, with church, and Juneteenth will be a chance to dip my toe in.
If you don’t know on June 19, 1865, Union soldiers sailed into Galveston, Texas and announced the end of the Civil War. The order given to free the quarter-million slaves residing in the state.
“It’s likely that none of them had any idea that they had actually been freed more than two years before. It was truly a day of mass emancipation. It has become known as Juneteenth.” Read more history here.
Celebrate the end of slavery as a holiday? Regrettably, most white Americans will read that headline and think, uh, what’s the big deal?
The recognition also is a chance to foster dialogue in the community, said J. Vincent Lowery, assistant professor in humanistic studies and history at the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay. Lowery’s work focuses on memory and race relations.
“I think that it really represents an opportunity for the state of Wisconsin … to have open conversations about the history of race relations in America,” Lowery said, “not just as they relate to emancipation, but the much larger freedom struggle.”
Today Juneteenth commemorates African American freedom and emphasizes education and achievement. It is a day, a week, and in some areas a month marked with celebrations, guest speakers, picnics and family gatherings. It is a time for reflection and rejoicing. It is a time for assessment, self-improvement and for planning the future. Its growing popularity signifies a level of maturity and dignity in America long over due. In cities across the country, people of all races, nationalities and religions are joining hands to truthfully acknowledge a period in our history that shaped and continues to influence our society today. Sensitized to the conditions and experiences of others, only then can we make significant and lasting improvements in our society.
As Dr. Lowry said it is important to remember. I think it’s also good to feel the discomfort of being a minority, to stick your toe in the water! And grab a hand of someone you don’t know and to begin to talk.
Or perhaps it would be best to listen***…
Have you attended a Juneteenth celebration and if so what was your experience, as a white person or person of color?
***If I’ve done or said something in this post that is offensive culturally or otherwise would tell me (firstname.lastname@example.org)? While I want to talk about race and feel the risk is worth it, I would never choose to offend. Never. I want to learn.