Saturday, June 19, 2010


Juneteenth is the oldest nationally celebrated holiday - on this day we celebrate the ending of slavery in the U.S. It is African American Emancipation Day. Let me be honest, I have not ever paid attention to Juneteenth. I haven't ever been to a Juneteenth event. I haven't ever known how it is celebrated nor have I been aware of Juneteenth celebrations in my own community. As a social studies teacher I know about Juneteenth, but I haven't ever made it my own. I'm not making a stretch saying this, but,  like many white folks, I just didn't pay attention or make this day important. Blueberry has changed this.

Today, Mr. SillyPants, Blueberry, and I headed over to a local park to celebrate Juneteenth with our community. I am going to write these next pieces with great humility and honesty - I hope I do this part justice...

When Mr. SillyPants and I were figuring out the pace of today and I mentioned the Juneteenth event, which I had read about in one of our local papers - I knew it was happening, where, when, and the outline of events. I noted the event was scheduled at a park located in the "heart of South _____" (our most diverse neighborhood in our community). How shall I say this? I felt some discomfort coming on as I was contemplating heading over to celebrate Juneteenth - and I've been training myself to recognize this discomfort (it's my racist horn blasting) and to head right into the discomfort with full awareness and action. Yeah, so the discomfort alone nailed the day's plans - we went to the Juneteenth celebration.

In our community we live in a neighborhood that is mostly white (nearly all white). Our neighborhood schools are diverse (the result of bussing), but our daily home life reflects majority/ middle upper class white. I get that - and I get the ways my son doesn't see himself reflected in our daily lives unless WE MAKE THAT HAPPEN. Part of our commitment to him, and to ourselves, is to make our way to places and spaces where he sees himself reflected around him. Music, art, food, fun, faces, dress....I want him to see himself. I want him to know he belongs everywhere in the world. (These are things I NEVER deliberately considered with the biggies/ I thought about their belonging in a different way).

My chameleon charms aren't so "chameleon-ish" when I'm in a space that is nearly all African American. I'm eating huge pieces of humble pie in these places. I feel my whiteness. Here's the thing, I feel my whiteness like my students of color, like my friends of color, like my colleagues of color, tell me they feel their blackness EVERY single day they leave their homes and their neighborhoods and head out into majority spaces (um...I'm talking MOST spaces). So I got a dose of this (from my place of privilege).  And I felt uncomfortable - or maybe it was aware - or maybe it was outnumbered - or maybe it was without the cultural skills I needed to make connections instantly and easily. Hear what I'm saying?

So damn good for me. But this isn't about me. It's about Blueberry. We listened to some spoken word poetry, some praise hip-hop, some hip-hop, watched some awesome double dutch, and a step competition, and then we wrapped it up with some youth hoops. My African American boy was interested. He soaked it in from the comfort of our arms and shoulders or swinging inbetween our holding hands.

Next year? We're back for more. I'm going to do better for him. One step is embracing my discomfort and heading right into it. Because he needs this and I signed up for it...with him.


Cindy said...

I am always inspired by you. Thanks for sharing!

M and M said...

Cindy - thank you. One thing I noticed was there were only a handful of white folks at this event - an event with easily over a thousand people of color (African American, mostly). On top of that, a number of white folks were obviously there watching hoops - their white kids were on the teams. On the one hand I felt like, hey, here is one space the white majority hasn't "claimed" from the black community and coopted/defined/managed. On the other hand, I felt a great deal of something like shame for the reality that so few white people were celebrating the emancipation of a people WE ENSLAVED. Here's the thing, even if I can't identify any of my ancestors as slave holders, I can tell you that each and every one of my ancestors has benefited from the history of slavery. Period. Including me.
(Yeah, you can tell this is on my mind...big time).

hotflawedmama said...

Wow, this was incredible. I love the honesty because I have the same feelings/thoughts. Thanks M, it was a great reminder today.

Waiting for Zufan! said...

You are such a good role model. For me, too!

Shannon- said...

Great job momma!