It's Juneteenth and organizations are coming under fire for how they are commemorating this bittersweet holiday.
It reminds me of the blindspot any of us can fall victim to. We judge ourselves by our intention. Others judge us by our impact.
I remember the refusal of many of my elders growing up to talk about slavery and Jim Crow. Those who had memories of their parent, grandparents, or personal experiences with the horrors of that time would not speak of it. My curiosity and desire to hear first hand what they endured went unsatisfied. Suffering is not an easy topic.
Make no mistake Juneteenth marks the end of almost three additional years of suffering after the emancipation proclamation ending slavery in 1863. On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger — who had fought for the Union — arrived at Galveston, Texas, with nearly 2,000 troops to announce that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were finally free.
Yes, Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom. The end of legal slavery. However, the feeling of this holiday is bittersweet. The feeling is it's great to have the holiday; where are the amends?
Just as it was painful for my elders to talk to me, it is painful to see this hard won holiday reduced to themed food and commemorative trinkets.
Juneteenth also marks the beginning of new struggles; civil rights, equity, justice, equality, the right to life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness.
The way to celebrate Juneteenth is to examine, address and change, policies, laws, ideas and parts of your culture that disenfranchise and/or marginalize Black people in your organization.
Celebrate by being a real Ally. Talk to Black people in your organization and outside of your organization. Find out what is working for them, what is not and what their perception is of your organization. Implement their ideas to promote inclusion and equity. Evaluate your corporate culture and what leadership looks like in your culture. Root out systemic barriers to inclusion and eliminate them.
Celebrate by really pushing back on attacks on our freedom. Today, even our basic right to vote is under attack. Don't offer ice cream then send a corporate donation to people who support redistricting to disenfranchise the Black vote.
Don't offer watermelon salad and use psychological safety as a reason to water down your DEI&A efforts. Yes, psychological safety is important. However, it does not & cannot serve as an excuse to stay in your comfort zone. Your organization needs courageous, inclusive leaders.
Juneteenth is a celebration of life, perseverance, and freedom. It is also a call to action and courage. It is a call to acknowledge our tragic failings, and to change.
Despite the centrality of slavery in our history, it is not central to the American narrative in our monuments, history books, anthems and folklore. And many states have enacted laws forbidding the conversation. Whether an organization guides, or hides issues of inequity, discrimination, marginalization and/or racism, these issues are being discussed.
Celebrate by leaning into the truth and finding a better way forward. Without unflinching assessment, in our organizations, states, and country there is no healing, real reconciliation or atonement.
Look to examples in other countries ripped apart by racism and how they began to heal and come back together. From South Africa, to Canada, truth and reconciliation has been central to the process of healing and coming together.
Juneteenth also gives us the opportunity to never forget. Germany has made consistent effort to come to terms with its own past with regularized rituals of repentance and understanding. This collective culture of atonement is captured in the 26 letters that comprise the German word "Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung." It translates loosely to “working off the past.” Vergangenheitsaufarbeitung refers to Germany’s efforts to interrogate the horrors of the Holocaust and the rise of Nazism. It has been a decades-long exercise, to examine, analyze and ultimately learn to live with an evil chapter through monuments, teachings, art, architecture, protocols and public policy. The country looks at its Nazi past by consistently, memorializing the victims of that murderous era, so much so that it is now a central feature of the nation’s cultural landscape. The ethos of this campaign is “never forget."
Unlike my elders, (upon whose shoulders I gratefully stand), refusal to talk about it; I beg to differ. We must talk about it. We must process and support each other through, as we confront our past, make amends, and take action to create more equitable organizations, communities, and democracies. We must and can move forward together as a united people. Our future is inextricably tied together. The only sustainable way forward is courageously together. #juneteenth #inittogether