Dear White People who just discovered Juneteenth,
Hello! I am so glad you are here. I found out about Juneteenth in 2007 when my black students told me about it. How someone can get to a school in Atlanta as the teacher and not know about Juneteenth is perhaps something to ponder. Anyway, I too was late to this particular party so I will not shame you for your tardiness. I would however like to make some recommendations about how to act correctly at this particular party. There are some things we need to understand.
This party is not for us: Let me explain. When we think of going to a Juneteenth party many of us (by us I mean white people) think of it like a graduation party, and YEAH! WE ALL GRADUATED! Ahem. No. Not at all. Think of it like showing up at a siblings graduation party. WE didn’t do anything. THEY did something. THEIR name is on the cake. THEY get all the presents. Every single one. There is nothing at the Juneteenth party that has our name on it because we are not children who needed concillatory gifts. We are grown ups, celebrating a piece of history. It is not our history. It is still worth celebrating. So go and have cake and bring a gift and be joyous, but do not be all salty because it is not about you. Because IT IS NOT ABOUT YOU
We might not even be invited: There are a lot of Juneteenth celebrations out there. Some are literally not for white people. If you think that is unfair, may I suggest it is perhaps more unfair that slavery was a thing that needed to be abolished in the first place? And if you think slaver is actually abolished then I have a Juneteenth activity just for you! Watch Ava Duverney’s 13 on Netflix. It is free and in your house already. If you are looking for a Juneteenth thing to actually go to, make sure your presence is welcome. Juneteenth is not and will never be about us. Sometimes black freedom needs to be celebrated without white people around. Make sure you go to places you are welcome. If you think it is totally valid for your girl to be allowed to have an all girls slumber party for her own birthday then you really should have no trouble understanding this.
Celebrating Juneteenth is NOT “the work.” So you have probably seen a bunch of posts about “the work” and doing “the work.” The work is anything that you do to help dismantle systemic racism in yourself, your community, and the world. The self thing is really just pre-work. You need to do it in order to get ready to actually affect change somewhere. Just like buying the gear is not the work out, reading and thinking and listening and learning are super important and you need to do them, but it is just like buying yoga pants and a yoga mat. It doesn’t mean you can actually do the yoga. Celebrating Juneteenth is good! But it in no way means you are doing “the work” so don’t post on social media as though it is. You know how cringey all those “look at my new bike” posts feel when two years later you literally cannot remember where your bike is? Yeah. Don’t do the anti-racism equivalent of that.
A great way to celebrate Juneteenth is to support black people! Buy from black people! Have dinner take out from a black owned restaurant! Literally Google it. There are so many lists to choose from! Also if you are thinking man, if I don’t know about Juneteenth what else am I missing? Buy this from Danielle. You are welcome.
Celebrate Juneteenth and don’t be a racist!
The tone of this whole essay made me smile.
Oh my goodness, Abby, thank you for this! You are always right on point, and I needed this reminder. Juneteenth is not new to me as a white person, but I’ve never been to any actual event regarding it. My family will be participating in the intentionally multi-racial OneRace event/march downtown on behalf of Be the Bridge, so we are definitely “invited”, but it’s good to be reminded of the tone/posture to take.
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OMG this post really got me in my feels! THANK YOU for shining light on this remarkable holiday that celebrates the freedom of the African Americans. As a white, homosexual, non-binary, non-gender discriminatory, non-ethnic, they/them, I am soooo on board with all of your points. Last year, I was invited to my first Juneteenth celebration. I sat in the corner by myself, respectfully watching the African Americans celebrate their native traditions. I did not eat the food, knowing it was NOT for me, despite being sooo tempted to indulge in the chocolate covered watermelon. However, I remained disciplined and remembered that I was not there to celebrate, and that the party was not about me. I continued to sit in the corner in silence and happily watched all of the African Americans enjoy the festivities. In fact, for 15 minutes I faced the wall to put myself in timeout to punish myself for my great, great, great ancestors probably owning slaves. I am white, so it is a safe bet that someone in my family owned slaves. Like 98.7% probability. I did not want to risk the 1.3%, so I faithfully served the full timeout. An African American (I will exclude any pronouns to avoid assuming any genders) approached me and said I didn’t have to sit in the corner the whole time. I INSISTED that I must punish myself and proceeded to give the person all the money in my wallet to repay him. I actually took down his Venmo and agreed to Venmo him in monthly installments as reparations for slavery. I know that I was not directly responsible for slavery, nor anybody alive today’s, but I felt that it was my responsibility as a white, non-binary, homosexual, trans person that I do this. As the party continued, I finally built up courage to stand up and move around. Oh, this took so much courage! I was so scared I was going to intrude on the festivities at the party that I was invited to watch! I made it my mission to find every African American at this party, grab them by the hand, look deeply into their eyes and say, “im sorry” while proceeding to bow down and kiss their feet. As the party winded down, I watched the African American’s play their favorite game, Pin the Ears on the Obama. It was getting late, so I decided to head home early. I was really bummed because I missed the American flag burning ceremony that concluded the party. But despite that, BEST JUNETEENTH EVER. CANT WAIT FOR NEXT YEAR.