• Miranda L. Galbreath, MA, MA, LPC

Who cares what some white lady has to say about Juneteenth?

Updated: Jun 19, 2021

If that's what you're thinking about some white lady (me) writing a blog about Juneteenth, I'm with you. Who cares, indeed? My voice is absolutely not the one that matters. On the off chance that it's the only voice around you that is informed about Juneteenth, I will use that voice to help you get to the voices that REALLY matter: The voices of black people.

Here's why I am writing a blog about a holiday that finally exists to recognize the day that the last of the enslaved folks in America finally learned that they were free, over two years AFTER they were actually free.....

I was at an appointment today (the day that the government observance of Juneteenth is occurring for the first time), and I overheard the (all white) front desk staff at the office I was in talking amongst themselves about how they heard today was Juneteenth, and what the heck did that mean, anyway? Nobody in the office seemed to know. When I eventually checked out at the front desk, I told them I'd overheard them, and explained that Juneteenth was the day when the last enslaved folks in the US, who happened to be in Texas, were finally notified by the arrival of the Union Army that they had been freed over two years ago. The folks enslaving them had kept this information from them after the Emancipation Proclamation, because of course losing the labor of enslaved folks would have hurt their profits and entire way of life.

The women at the front desk said something to the effect of, "When did this happen? When did it become a holiday? How come I've never heard of it?" I explained that it became a state holiday in PA last year, and a federal holiday only yesterday. I explained that lots of black folks have been recognizing this date for years, but white folks, not so much. Her only additional response was to express frustration that it interfered with her life, as her husband had tried to call a government office today, and it was closed for the holiday.

As I was driving around running errands and listening to Performance Today on American Public Media (shout out to WQLN!), the music was interspersed with brief interviews from various staff who shared their thoughts about Juneteenth. Many black staff indicated that they too had not heard of Juneteenth until recently. And no freaking wonder, given that most of us experience a white-centric education, and even the idea of teaching a more accurate history is such a hotly debated topic (see any story ever on Critical Race Theory).

One of the folks who was interviewed, Jeffrey Yelverton, said something that really struck me. He talked about how it doesn't matter how many laws we make or holidays exist; those things don't make racism go away. They don't take away the labor (emotional, intellectual, physical, etc.) that black folks have had to do, and are still doing, to bring about these changes....labor that white folks have the luxury to not even know about or think about (as noted above). I don't have a lot of room to talk in the not knowing department. I've only known about Juneteenth for a handful of years; and that's only because I have gone out of my way to educate myself about the history and experiences of folks who are different than me; particularly marginalized populations (Thank you, Ibram X Kendi!).

Anyway, who cares what some white lady thinks? Is it important that I care about and seek to understand what this day, and the history behind it means? Absolutely. It's important for my own knowledge, and also so that I can share my knowledge with others, and make use of this knowledge in the choices that I make in my day-to-day life. It's important that I use this knowledge specifically in support of black folks and the issues that matter to them. And it's important that I continue to seek to expand my knowledge and seek out black voices for that purpose. So, since you are here, listening to my not-very-important voice on this topic, here are some of the voices I recommend you check out instead of mine:

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