June 19, 2020

My First Juneteenth

Today is Juneteenth – admittedly, a holiday I had never heard of until this year. I don’t think I’m alone in not having celebrated this before, but it’s interesting to see a new-to-me holiday form, and take some time to consider what traditions I may want to establish for it.

I liked this NY Times primer on Juneteenth. And here’s an article on the meaning of the Juneteenth flag.

First, there is the question of whether “happy Juneteenth” is even an appropriate greeting. Right or wrong, this is how I chose to greet colleagues on my calls today. In a discussion with coworkers on race, I decided that I think one of the most important things we can do is apply the agile concept of “fail fast, fail often.” If we keep our thoughts to ourselves, we won’t have the opportunity to be corrected when we’re misguided. The more I read and learn, the more I’m opening my eyes to new ways of thinking, but to get there, I have to be willing to admit what I don’t know and not take offense when I inevitably mess some things up and get scolded. If we feel we have to be perfect, we’ll never start the journey; making mistakes is part of the learning process. In this case, though, the general consensus seemed to be that “happy Juneteenth” is the appropriate greeting.

One of my colleagues mentioned she was planning to make one of these curated Juneteenth recipes, which I thought sounded like a fun way to celebrate. (And I did have this delicious southern pickle-brined fried chicken for lunch – though that recipe is not from a black author.) However, it also made me wonder if simply cooking would be trivializing the importance of the holiday. This year, we are of course all still mostly isolated due to COVID19, but next year, would it be distasteful for me to throw a “Juneteenth party” (you all know I love my theme parties) with a menu featuring these recipes?

It seems like helping to get black history into mainstream culture should be one of our collective goals. However, as a white woman, I’m concerned that throwing a Juneteenth-themed party would be wrong – like I’m appropriating something that’s not mine. It feels reminiscent of that tweet above for me to host a Juneteenth party, particularly as I realize that I have very few black friends who would attend.

I am especially unsure how to address this last point. Consciously seeking out black friends seems counterproductive / performative (“I’m not racist; I have black friends!”), but I also recognize I need to broaden my social circle to include diverse perspectives.

This year, to commemorate Juneteenth, I’ve tried to raise awareness of the holiday where I can. My company allowed those who wanted to take the day off to celebrate to do so; next year, I plan on devoting the day to educating myself more on black history and racism. This year, I honestly didn’t think about Juneteenth in time to plan to take the day off, but I participated in a book club discussing White Fragility by Robin DiAngelo – an excellent book that is making me really examine my core beliefs. I also talked to one of my best friends on the phone for nearly an hour about what we’re each learning when it comes to race and inequality. Those two activities felt, to me, like an appropriate way to celebrate.

Will we have a vaccine or cure for COVID19 by next Juneteenth? I doubt it. But I hope that even if I can’t celebrate Juneteenth next year with an actual gathering, I’ll have come a long way in my own learning.


4 thoughts on “My First Juneteenth”

  1. Nice post. I’m happy you are embracing Juneteenth. As a Texan, I thought it was a public holiday all over the country, and didn’t realize that it was only a Texas thing until this year.

    I can’t say that I have ever known anyone to throw a Juneteenth party, but for sure the kids would always attend local commemorations in town. Kind of like Veteran’s day type stuff – our local libraries would always have a few story times to honor Juneteenth and retell the story of how the soldiers sailed into Galveston to deliver the news to the slaves in Texas.

  2. Reading, learning, engaging in discussions on pluralism…perfect.
    Laying the groundwork to recognize advantages in our lives of white privilege as a first step in fostering trust and unity and bringing about real progress for change…priceless!

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts!
    I had heard of Juneteenth before this year, because it is always celebrated here in Tulsa, but I never gave it much thought.
    This year I am learning more about it, along with everyone else, which is great!
    I think having a Juneteenth party next year would be more meaningful if you had a close group of black friends. Maybe find a celebration you can attend next year or help plan.
    I think it’s awesome that you are listening and learning! I’m trying to do the same. The time has come for all of us to do our part to end inequality!

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