What I’m Thinking About on Juneteenth
Growing up in Southern Virginia for much of my childhood, my mom took every opportunity to teach me and my siblings about our blackness.
I remember reading about slavery in the first few chapters of The People’s History of the United States of America by Howard Zinn. I recall my family gathering around the TV to watch Glory, a movie about the first African-American regiment of the Civil War. In elementary and middle school, my class regularly read books and watched videos about slavery, the civil rights movement, and the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr. I even remember visiting a slave plantation on a school field trip once.
The recent events in our nation have resurrected the feelings of immense sadness, rage and pain that I felt as a child while revisiting those moments in history. And I’m overwhelmed with the weight of regret for not being more vocal about my experiences and the injustices suffered by the black community sooner.
To be a black man in America is to be taught that you are not an individual. I was taught to honor the long history of those who’ve sacrificed their lives for my “freedoms.” To pursue my dreams and to never forget about other blacks who’ve not been afforded the same opportunities. To focus on contributing to the betterment of my community.
I was also taught that no amount of accomplishment or success will ever impact the way most whites view me.
I’ve experienced many episodes of overt and covert racism. I’ve never suffered police brutality, but I’ve been pulled over without cause multiple times. I’ve looked up to see down the barrel of a gun after reaching into my glove compartment for my registration and proof of insurance. I’ve been pulled out of my car and placed in handcuffs while my license was being run – only to be freed or issued a seatbelt ticket after finding no issues.
Once I walked into a bank to refinance my home, and before I even pulled out my ID or shared any of my information, I was told my credit score would probably be too low. I allowed the banker to process my information just to tell her that’d I’d be taking my business elsewhere.
These aren’t moments that haunt me. I don’t lie awake in bed at night thinking about them. I’ve come to accept them as truths associated with being black in America. Maybe it’s only because the entire world has come to a halt that we’re examining our abhorrent history with racism once again. Unfortunately, our current political climate instills little confidence in me that we’ll do any better addressing these issues this time.
After the events of the past month – and the arrival of Juneteenth – many people have asked me how we should combat racism and racial discrimination effectively and permanently. The only answer I can come up with is this: Try. After all, how long have we not been trying?
Let’s start by admitting that our employee handbooks have fallen short. Let’s admit that our laws have negatively and disproportionately affected the black community. And let’s admit that simply recognizing these things isn’t enough.
I acknowledge that the black community isn’t the only community suffering racism and racial discrimination, but I would caution us all from attempting to lump all discrimination into the same pile. Black history and discrimination in America is different. You cannot separate the mistreatment and subsequent generational curses plaguing our community from the history that brought us all here.
I welcome everyone to the fight for equality. However, equality does not correct the injustices of four centuries of murder, abuse and oppression, which have created real and long-standing trauma in the black community that too many people refuse to acknowledge or take accountability for. Not only do we need to remove the systems that have perpetuated this, but we’re also obligated to heal the deep wounds left in their wake.
So let‘s create the space to talk about these things, once again. So many are afraid to say the wrong thing or admit their own ignorance and bias. In an effort to ensure conversations remain constructive, we should all try our best to assume positive intent and not be offended.
And after we talk, let’s get to work – in our communities, our offices and in our lives.
Jonathan Tate is Fair’s Director of Customer Care.