On Thursday, June 17, 2021, President Biden signed legislation which was overwhelmingly passed by the House and Senate, making Juneteenth a federal holiday.  Juneteenth commemorates the end of slavery by marking the day that enslaved people in Texas learned that they were free.  This was on June 19, 1865, two and a half years after Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation took effect.  For obvious reasons, word was slow to spread to people who were enslaved.  Texas was the last state in which the state government was still permitting slavery, in resistance to the federal law.  Juneteenth has been celebrated since 1866, and is also known as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day,and Black Independence Day.  While the declaration of Juneteenth as a federal holiday is a wonderful victory, it is a small step in the right direction.  I know that this is an unpopular opinion, but I and many others believe the descendants of enslaved people deserve reparations.  The generational trauma of slavery experienced by black people to this day resonates in ways that are not obvious to white people who are not actively paying attention and trying to understand.  Add to this the very obvious systemic racism in the justice system and the historically racist origins of policing and so many other American institutions, and it’s clear that the implications of white supremacy continue to reverberate throughout black lives.  Here is a great article about reparations: 

The Case for Reparations

If you’re white, it’s a copout to say, “Well, I don’t see any racism,” or, “I’m just not political,” or “I just don’t see color; I’m colorblind.”  That’s called privilege.  You can turn your face away while you assume that if you aren’t experiencing something, then nobody else is either.  By choosing to ignore racism, you are part of the problem.  None of us are colorblind; we are all conditioned from birth to have biases that we aren’t even aware of.  Racism is baked into our language and every part of our society.

Words have immense power.  It was only in the past week that I learned something that I now feel should be obvious: “slaves” is not a kind term.  “Enslaved people” is much kinder.  Why?  Because a slave is treated as a non-human.  It’s a dehumanizing term.  When we refer to people collectively as slaves it places a label on them that minimizes their humanness.  They are people and are not defined by that experience.  Enslaved people are poets, mothers and fathers, beloved children, tradespeople, skilled artisans, with talents and hopes and dreams.  They are people who are enslaved, not slaves.

We can’t undo history, but we can take sincere steps to listen to the pain slavery has created and try to right the wrongs.  Tear down the statues of the Confederate traitors that endorsed and glorified the horror, and the torture of their fellow humans.  I don’t care what metal pins were attached to their chests; they deserve zero honor.  If they are part of your heritage, then as their descendant, you have a unique opportunity to reject the hatred of your ancestor and start the healing.  You can be someone better. 

We all know that the declaration of Juneteenth as a holiday isn’t going to magically stop racist brutality and hatred against people of color in America, but it furthers the conversations that matter.  It helps us to build a culture in which hateful racist rhetoric and violence will be confronted, and an acknowledgement by any reasoning person that there was never a level playing field.  America was never the land of the free for our brothers and sisters of color.

Maybe it feels like you can’t really do much or that as a white person in white rural Oregon, racism doesn’t really “affect” you.  Maybe in an area such as rural Tillamook County, it seems far removed from you.  However, there is a clear historical reason that Tillamook County is predominantly white, and it isn’t pretty.  Here is a link to information about the real reason slavery didn’t happen in Oregon: (Spoiler alert: it wasn’t due to anti-slavery values)  This YouTube video by Walidah Imarisha, a Portland State University professor, walks us through Oregon history with a rarely seen lens.

Oregon Black History Timeline

Based on what I have witnessed locally, there are clear reasons that people of color continue to feel uncomfortable and unsafe in our communities.  We can do better than this.  We can have conversations in our own communities that involve open eyed awareness of our own local history, and honest evaluations about how some of the shameful attitudes persist.  We ALL play a role in creating a kinder, more collaborative society.  It may mean facing and confronting uncomfortable truths, but the discomfort we may feel is nothing compared to what others are experiencing.  We can teach our kids to play a role by informing them of the truth of our history and teaching them empathy and compassion.

In a predominantly white community, it’s easy to tokenize the few people in color by continually going to them with questions about racism.  Imagine how exhausting it must be to be expected to represent an entire race.  Nobody wants to be treated like that, which is why it’s even more important for us as white people to take the responsibility to learn without burdening others. 

Here are a couple of resources:

I highly recommend this article by Peggy MacIntosh about white privilege.  If that term upsets you, it’s all the more reason to take the time to ask yourself why you are feeling defensive about it and read the article: 

Unpacking the White Knapsack

And here’s a link to a site for white people who want to learn how to be effective allies who dismantle racism, improve our communities, and create a society with equity, inclusivity, diversity, and justice.  

Dismantle Collective

I’m in, are you?

To read more of my blogs, please feel free to visit me at Peace Out Loud.

1 comment:

  1. Passionate, informative and well written. This should give everyone some food for thought. I'm still learning on a daily basis.


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