Monday, June 19, 2017

Juneteenth - A Reflection

Happy Juneteenth, everyone!

While this holiday has holy historic meaning for my African American friends in ways I cannot begin to imagine, this is a day white people must mark as well, for it is the anniversary of the day news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached Texas.

On June 19, 1865, Union soldiers led by Maj. Gen.Gordon Granger landed at Galveston with news that the war had ended and the enslaved were now free -- two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, which had become official January 1, 1863.

The news freed the enslaved people of Texas. Let me say that again -- the news freed the enslaved people in Texas. People held in bondage for generations were set free. Wives and husbands who had been sold away from one another began searching for each other. Parents began looking for children who had been ripped out of their arms and sold to other masters. Separated families began searching for lost members.

Contemplate that. Sit with that for awhile. In a state as big as Texas, imagine how much love, hope, and determination it took to not just sit down and weep as your search began. And that search had to happen in hostile territory, for plantation owners, clustered mainly in East and South Texas, weren't happy to lose free labor. For the most part, they weren't interested in helping former enslaved people in any way.

So know this -- while all family reunions are important, family reunions for African Americans are holy events in ways that are rooted in our shared history.

We Americans are bound together by that history, and it's time we owned that. The whip that left scars on the backs of enslaved people also left scars -- less visible and far less painful but no less real -- on the person who wielded the whip. One human being cannot hold another human being as property without them both being affected. Bondage is not a natural state. The human spirit yearns for freedom. In order to keep humans in bondage, systems had to set in place to enforce that bondage. And those systems drew their power from violence and terrorism. The penalties for running away to freedom were always horribly violent -- whippings that shredded flesh to the bone, often followed by maiming of the feet or legs. And that is if the runaway wasn't killed -- usually a long agonizing death by hanging. 

White people benefited from those systems rooted in violence then, and now. The systemic racism that enfolded and enabled slavery is alive and well, and we are kidding ourselves if we don't acknowledge it. Your ancestors didn't have to actually own people as slaves to benefit from slavery -- all they had to do was be white and free. You don't have to hate people of color to be racist, You don't have to be a member of the Klan to be racist. All you have to do is fail to question and test assumptions, fail to look beyond the surface of your reactions to some people and events, fail to listen to people different from you. That's what white privilege is. It's not economic privilege, although that's part of it. No, it's privilege that lets us white people not have to ask those questions or face those issues. We can, if we choose, isolate ourselves from the realities of racism. 

But when we do, our world becomes much smaller, much more fear-filled, much more restricted. This cozy bondage of privilege can be so comfortable. But that comfort comes at a price -- it can take your integrity, and eventually, your soul. 

So this Juneteenth, let us white people resolve  to set aside our unexamined lives. Let's open our eyes and ears to the realities of the lives of our neighbors of color.

Sit with them and listen.




If we can do this, we may begin to heal this country. 

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