It’s that time of year again when murmurs of Juneteenth start to circulate amidst our friends and stores. The 19th day of June marks Juneteenth—or if you know it by its official federal name, Juneteenth National Independence Day.
It’s Freedom Day.
It’s Black Independence Day.
It’s Emancipation Day.
A day to remember the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans.
Fun fact: it originated in Galveston, Texas. Not so fun fact: Texas was the last state within the confederacy to let go of institutional slavery. So, maybe hold off on the yee-haws. Still, it’s a symbolic holiday.
For many Black Americans, that’s about all it is—symbolic. But a few things remain true about what today—and every day that’s not Juneteenth—should look like for Black Americans.
Black people just want to exist; to enjoy the freedom that was promised. The freedom to go grocery shopping in their community, sleep on their own beds, play in their neighborhoods and worship in their own congregations without getting shot. The celebrations of Juneteenth may have started in 1865, and became federally recognized in 2021, but as you can see from the links, Black people in America are not enjoying the freedoms promised as part of the American dream.
Black voters want their voices to matter. Instead, Black voters are being silenced through redistricting and having to wait in longer voting lines. This is not only true in Texas; it’s true across the country. The numbers are grim. But we’re not helpless. We can pay more attention to local elections, and vote for candidates who demonstrate a willingness to center these issues. Yard signs, door mats, and car stickers declaring allyship are wonderful visual fists-in-the-air, but we can achieve so much more in testy advocacy terrains–like Texas–when we actively support or volunteer with organizations that advocate for people of color, including young Black people. Donations, patronship and volunteering are all ways of telling Black people, “Your voices matter.”
We shouldn’t have to say this: Black History is American history. As school boards continue to insist on teaching history with a slant and covering racism with a fur blanket, allyship means lending our voices to truth.
To know Black history is to know American history. To know Black history is to recognize Black people. We should want all Texas schoolchildren to know about American history—unfiltered, without agenda. This is why it is important to support initiatives that advocate for accurate, honest, quality education such as the Teach the Truth campaign. Book bans and syllabus reversals do nothing but harm communities that are already invisible in history. Alas, we know some people would like for it to stay that way. After all, people fear what they do not understand. And fear has been a powerful mobilizer against Black progress.
So, how do I make sure I’m an ally?
- Read Black authors, historians, and documentary makers; share their work and believe them
- Learn about Black history
- Challenge and educate others in your spaces who haven’t had the opportunity to learn about Black history
- Show up to school board meetings and add your voice to the conversation in support for inclusive lessons
- Vote for candidates who care about the truths that unite us rather than culture warmongers who only seek to divide and confuse.
- Hire Black Professionals. This involves recognizing and ending racial biases in hiring, as well as creating a workplace environment that truly values diversity beyond paperwork.
Finally, allyship looks like a willingness to question your biases. Where some people feel an acknowledgement of racism is a personal attack, allyship looks like listening, learning and acting on that knowledge. Being called racist will never hurt as much as being hurt by actual racism.