My family is from the South, a small town in the middle of Alabama, miles and miles from anything remotely close to resembling a “city.” There’s a certain calm I experienced spending my summers there, away from technology and breathing a different type of air. Thick air.
I always wondered why my spirit was both tense and at peace. Angered but complete. The paradox of the two feelings always seemed to be unable to find balance and for many years, I haven’t returned.
As Juneteenth approaches, I am reminded that the “progression” of my people, from my family to the community of folks I identify with, is juxtaposed against the backdrop of racism, classism and other forms of inequity that is America—or America as I know it.
A Twitter status I most recently came across reads:
“Gaslighting is making Juneteenth a federal holiday while banning critical race theory in schools, destabilizing COVID mutual aid efforts, refusing to defund and abolish police, and blocking reparations legislation.
Go play in someone else’s face, America.”
Those two sentences illuminated the feelings I have had for years and gave voice to the behaviors of not only the oppressed, but also the oppressor.
Each year when June comes around, we are inundated with black, green and red. Within the last decade, I’ve seen the word “Juneteenth” evolve from being spoken about in households and small celebrations to being commercialized by big box stores with end caps and displays. The feeling of acceptance that exhales in relief that I, we, my people are finally being seen is quickly contrasted to the reality that we are STILL fighting for basic elements of equality and equity in almost every sector.
The school-to-prison pipeline is still present—its jargon evolving from zero tolerance to “No Excuses.” The inequities in healthcare still exist—from the access of a particular vaccine in low socioeconomic (read: Black) communities, to the disproportionate number of people we’ve lost in the Black community to COVID-19. We are still celebrating having individuals be “Firsts” in many areas still today, decades after the Civil Rights Movement.
Imagine thinking you’re “free,”only to realize you’re still enslaved. This is a reality for many of us.
America, this is truly gaslighting at its finest.
Let’s not actually reform anything, not teach American history as it should be. Let’s not provide all schools, especially those in underserved Black and brown neighborhoods adequate resources for high-quality education. Let’s not provide adequate resources to communities inundated with violence. Let’s gentrifiy neighborhoods and force communities to be dismantled and displaced. Let’s deliberately not support the culture, but let’s create a holiday to commemorate the pain.
The last time I stepped on the red Alabama soil was almost 10 years ago, when my daughter was four. And I couldn’t breathe. I wasn’t ashamed of the history of my family, nor the present-day circumstances of the family members who still lived there. I mourned for my ancestors who toiled the soil and began a legacy that I was born through. I mourned for their work and what they endured for me to stand as “free” as I was in that moment.
Holding my daughter’s hand though, I remember that moment as also a commitment to never just take what anyone “gives” me. To not be blinded by the pacifying of my greatness—even if that meant I had to work a bit harder. I was both sad and joyous. Broken, yet complete.
I used to always hear the elders in my family say, “You can’t pee on me and tell me it’s raining.” America, we know the difference between the sweetness of precipitation and the stench of urine. But either way, I’m prepared with my umbrella.