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.
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?
I have mixed feelings about Juneteeth. On the one hand, people are learning about our history and my job gave me the day off
On the other hand, now that white people know about it, you know kente cloth sheets are gonna be half off next year at Targets “Juneteenth Sale-a-bration”
— michaelharriot (@michaelharriot) June 19, 2020
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.