June 19, 2007

Juneteenth

I'm embarassed to admit that today is the first time I'd ever heard of Juneteenth, which is apparently the celebration of the day the Emancipation Proclamation was first enforced on June 19, 1865. The diarist, tface1000, builds on talking about what today means to speak movingly about what those lessons should mean to our current immigration debate, so I highly recommend reading it.

It isn't like I really had to tell you I didn't know about Juneteenth. It isn't like it's a morally big thing of me to do so, either. Just consider - what's the likelihood that this day of rememberance is unknown to the average African American? I'd consider myself reasonably well-informed, but it doesn't really ring a bell more than the nagging suspicion I might have heard the word somewhere. If I ever knew, I've long forgotten.

Nor is this the first realization I've had like this since beginning occasional forays into the world of racial politics. Moments when it hits me that, yeah, there are ways in which people of color live in a whole other country than I do. A country into which I have the option of being a tourist by choice, but in which they have to live.

A woman I know visited the South a while ago, a town in Mississippi. She said that as an outsider, though she never brought it up herself, everybody seemed to want to talk to her about race. The white people told her that they didn't have any idea why people thought there was so much racism in that part of the country, that they knew a lot of black people, or had been raised by black nannies, or were friends with the blacks who worked on their farm.

One of the black woman my friend talked to said that most of the discrimination anymore comes down to economics; people just won't hire you, won't buy from your business. In my friend's words, "She didn't say, 'I had a lot of white friends, I worked on their farm.'"

Yeah. Swirl that one around uncomfortably for a minute.

Not that it just happens in the South. From 2000-2001, I was renting a room in a well-heeled suburb of Redwood City, CA. Right in the heart of Silicon Valley, a liberal, ultra-modern region of one of the most reliably liberal states in the country. One night, talking with the homeowner, he told me a story that just blew my mind. I might have told this story before, I've written a lot of things over the years, but it seems relevant to tell again, anyway.

There was a church about a block and a half away from us and they'd wanted to have a small charter school there for a few dozen kids who, for reasons I was never entirely clear about, didn't have another school to go to that year. They were from a lower-income neighborhood and from what I was told, mostly black and Latino students. Some of the residents of the few blocks surrounding the area, including a retired fire chief who lived on the other side of our block, really didn't like the idea.

In private conversation, it was said that the kids were just going to grow up to be prostitutes and drug dealers, anyway. I may not remember the exact words as they were told to me, but yes, the words prostitutes and drug dealers are lodged firmly in my mind.

Long before Nelly videos portrayed black women as sexual commodities, as others have observed before me, white culture generated and maintained the same ugly subtext in dealings with women of color. Women as objects; white women to own, women of color to use.

So the neighbors organized. While insisting publically to the press that their actions had no racial motivation, they hollered, protested, complained and generally raised hell until the church told the charter school organizers that they would have to find somewhere else to study.

To celebrate their success, they organized a block party, and asked for a collection to purchase small tokens of neighborly esteem for the two women who had organized the protest effort. I know because there was a flyer to this effect that had been left at our house and that the homeowner showed me. I asked if I could have it and faxed it to a reporter at the local paper. Unfortunately, she said, it was kind of a dead story now and really too late to do anything.

A whole other country, right under my nose. And apparently there was an even worse story about a Latino charter school being targeted by hate radio and terrorist threats in Los Angeles.

So, happy Juneteenth, everyone. Drinks all around.

And, btw, submissions are open for the June Erase Racism Carnival at the white anti-racist parent blog:

The Erase Racism Carnival is a collection of blog posts dedicated to creating a world free of racism. The Carnival is published around the 20th of every month.

You can check out the current issue, hosted by Angry Black Woman, here.

It is now time to send in your submissions! All, not just white anti-racist parents, are welcome to submit work. To submit a post written by you or someone else, go here and click on “submit your blog article to this carnival”. Along with the URL of the article, be sure to include your name and email. You can also send me your submition at warpblog at gmail dot com. ...

Posted by natasha at June 19, 2007 02:23 PM | Race | Technorati links |
Comments

I think Juneteenth comes from Texas. It's mostly celebrated in places where there are a lot of black people who originated in Texas, like California. San Francisco and San Jose both had large celebrations.

No reason why it couldn't be adopted in other parts of the country, though.

Posted by: Alfred Doten at June 20, 2007 10:34 PM