As a Texan by birth celebrating Juneteenth has always been part of my life. Hand cranked ice cream, Grandaddy on the barbecue pit, red soda water. Potato Salad. Watermelon. Yesterday felt a little surreal for the little younger Tanya that exists inside. As I talked with a friend on Friday - the word to describe what I was feeling came to me. Expansion. My friend, when I felt stumped about how to describe the feeling I felt on Friday, wondered if it was like when you know about a band or musical artist for years without them being recognized widely. Then the time finally comes where folks know them - having them hit “the big time”, everyone finally knowing about their magic, gift and skill. Yeah. It was something like that.
It was my joy to wish EVERYONE a Happy Juneteenth! EVERYONE. Without this holiday and the emancipation that we commemorate on this day, the United States and everyone in it would have a very different way of being. Not to say that the way of being we have now is where we settle in and get comfortable. But it would have been vastly different. As I watched White people wish me “Happy Juneteenth”, I wondered if they felt the importance of wishing themselves and other White people, the same. Though that day, June 19, 1865 was not a liberation of the psychological, mental, or material impacts of slavery and its grandaddy, White Supremacy, it was a moment of catalyst for everyone in the United States. Who would we be without it? What would we look like as a nation without it? Even with all that has yet to be transformed and changed, we need to all celebrate this day as a day of liberation and celebration. And therefore use it as such.
I’ll be honest. I want Juneteenth to be a holiday that is owned, directed and dictated by African Americans. I know the grubby little hands of greed/lack based capitalism is already in its back rooms devising how to get more money out of this “new and shiny toy.” And I will fight like the dickens to have it been seen as something more than that for the rest of my life. I want it to be seen than more than just a chance to try on “Black culture” for a day - you know, eat some soul food, wear some Kente cloth, get your hair braided kind of try on. And I want it to be more than just another history lesson where Black folks talk about how we got over. Where we drudge up every movie of how a Black figure - struggled against the system to defeat it and has a smiling white child at the end asking for an autograph to help us understand that we’ve made it.
Yes, it is a holiday whose catalyst was a moment in history, but the people who were emancipated that day only were around to be emancipated because they had been thinking about the future. The blood that is running through my veins belonged to ancestors that honored history, but did not get stuck there. They saw something out beyond and they worked in ways I can’t imagine to stay alive in unconscionable and horrific conditions so that I might put these words to the page. We can honor the day most by thinking about Black Futures. I will forever use this day to both read the narratives of enslaved ancestors and to dream about mine and others’ possibilities.
Part of the story of Black folks in the United States has been a story of waiting. Enslaved folks waited two years to get the news of their physical emancipation. I think we have internalized that in some harmful ways. When my friend and I were talking on Friday, I wondered if my feeling was about feeling finally seen by White people in this way. To have a day important to me, about the history of my people, acknowledging the truth of our struggle. As I stated earlier, we’ve been celebrating Juneteenth for eons...for me it’s been a 48 years. The celebration felt bigger on Friday, and I wondered if I had been caught in that same familiar manifestation of internalized racism, waiting to be seen and validated by whiteness and White people.
On my long walk Saturday morning, every person that I passed got the head nod and hello, whether we caught eyes or not - whether they returned it or not. It didn’t matter whether or not they saw me - the hello and head nod was for me. I was in an energy of wanting to acknowledge every being that I encountered. I realized I was not waiting to be seen, but I my hello was about me rather than it being about them. Whether they saw my head nod “hello” or heard it - it didn’t matter. I wasn’t waiting to be seen. It was great if they witnessed the hello, but it was still there whether they saw it or not.
There is a different energy in waiting to be seen, as opposed to being witnessed. To be seen - you’ve given all of your power over to someone else. You’re waiting for them to see you to give you worthiness and their notice of you gives you worth and meaning. In the witnessing, the power is retained and you are inviting others to bask in your brilliance with you. I needn’t wait any longer. Juneteenth is a beautiful space of not waiting to be seen, but having Blackness be being witnessed. And choosing into the brilliance of it right now. It is time for us, as the brilliant, the beautiful, the boundless - the Black - to know that liberation, emancipation, freedom, divinity, and worthiness can be our in an instant. Our world needs us to know that now.