• Barbie Winterbottom

Juneteenth

Today, in the United States we celebrate Juneteenth. I have to admit, that while I have always known about the Emancipation Proclamation and the abolishment of slavery, until the most recent few years, I had not heard of Juneteenth. While admitting that is a bit embarrassing for someone who prides herself in being an advocate for others AND who had a black foster son, I somehow did not realize Juneteenth was an actual thing. I also believe when you know better, you do better and now that I know, I want to be sure everyone else knows and "gets it", too. 


The reason I share this part of my truth is because I believe my lack of "knowing" truly illustrates how out of touch most white people are when it comes to the reality minorities, and especially black American's face each and every day.


Our history books have whitewashed our most gruesome events and experiences in US History, including times when our founding fathers (and mothers) stole land, massacred indigenous people, intentionally spread disease made public entertainment out of lynching innocents, raped, beat and profited off the naked backs of men and women (literally forced slaves to work unclothed so they wouldn't steal) who wanted nothing more than to exist, fully recognized as a human being with the rights, protections and privileges afforded all Americans. These acts are horrific and stripped these innocent people of their humanity in ways we may never fully understand and it is heartbreaking.


It is now 2020, hundreds of years have passed since the abolition of slavery, and we are still nursing the gaping wound left by this shameful part of our past and despicably, there are many salting this wound and in some ways, in even worse ways, far too many pretend this wound never existed. To deny the existence of another persons reality is, in my experience to deny the very core of what makes them human. This denial is an insidious narcissism we have permitted for far too long and we must collectively stand together and say, NO. MORE.

While we cannot undo what has been done, we can take the long overdue and necessary steps to change ourselves and influence others to do the same. It is hard to step back and look at our own actions or lack of actions and admit when we felt or acted entitled or failed to recognize the privilege light skin provides. It's a strange thing to me, because somehow, in the name of vanity, capitalism and power, we have made melanin the currency of humanity. If we are too fair skinned, we want a tan, but if we are born dark, we aren't worthy. Perfect pale white faces grace the covers of magazines, while at the same time, we (white people) quite literally give ourselves skin cancer in the never ending desire for the perfect tan, while at the same time shouting from the rooftops, "I don't see color".  Really? Come on people.


We can attempt to argue away the plight of the black American is not "our fault" or responsibility, because none of us were alive when slavery existed in this country. This argument, however, is fragile.


Perhaps if we think about racism as an illness, a real biological sickness, maybe we can start to see how we all have a responsibility to eradicate it from existence.


Imagine if your very healthy child (6 years old) came home from school not feeling well and told you their teacher, Miss May, had been sick all day in school, coughing, sneezing and even vomited twice throughout the day, she looked really sweaty and said she was dizzy a few times. All the students knew she had the glitter bug, but instead of going home, she chose to stay at school because admitting she was sick was shameful and glitter bug tonic is scarce, so she stayed in the classroom working as best she could, for 9 long hours. (no that's not a real illness, but anyone with children will know and understand that glitter is an evil being much like a plague you can never escape...so stick with me here). 


As the evening progresses and you are sitting down to a beautiful meal, your child's fever starts to spike, nausea ensues, they can't eat and begin to feel light headed and are endlessly thirsty as their fever is now rising beyond the "typical" low grade 100º and is ticking up to 101º, then 102º, 103º and then 103.5º. Imagine, they know YOU know they are sick AND all it will take is for you to get up and go to the medicine cabinet and grab the glitter bug tonic, give them a few doses and a glass of water and they will start to feel better, the fever will subside, they will be able to eat and by morning they will be well on their way to normal and healthy again...but you don't get up. Instead of helping, you sit there. At first you tell them that they aren't really sick and it's all in their mind, after all, you aren't sick so they couldn't possibly be sick either...as you watch them become sicker and sicker. 


Then, because it is now blatantly obvious they are sick, you have no choice but to acknowledge their sickness and so you tell them you are sorry they aren't feeling well, but it is probably nothing major and will pass quickly and we all have to deal with struggles...as you continue eating your delicious meal because after all, you worked for it, prepared it and it's hot and ready to eat and you think to yourself, "I didn't make them sick, their teacher did, she is the one responsible for this, not me. Why should I have to give up my delicious meal and time and my coveted glitter bug tonic? If I give this child some tonic, when will it end, what if another child gets sick next week, am I expected to give that child my tonic, too?"


This all sounds ridiculous, right? What parent would sit idly by and watch as their child suffers when all they have to do is stand up and get the tonic? They already have the tonic and it's not actually scarce, they can get as much tonic as they need, but they have to publicly admit the glitter bug exists in order to get the tonic and no one was brave enough to do that, so they ration what little tonic they have. Meanwhile, their once healthy, vibrant child is slowly becoming sicker and sicker. What would you do in this scenario?


Think of that child as any black American over the past 400 years. The glitter bug is the sickness of discrimination, inequality and injustice and all you have to do is stand up and admit that the glitter bug exists to get the tonic. Will you stand? Will you help save your child and the rest of the children who may be suffering at the hands of racism and discrimination? 


I recognize that my little parable may have a lot of flaws and we can argue every finite detail, but the point is...no, we did not cause slavery. We did and do not own slaves and while we may not be the genesis of the problem, if we are not willing to stand up, admit the sickness exists and grab the tonic, we are just as responsible for the ongoing existence of the disease as those who actively spread the disease.



So, on this 19th day of June in the year Two Thousand Twenty, as we collectively celebrate Juneteenth, let's all stand up. STAND UP together and admit the sickness exists, share the tonic and create the healthy, glitter bug free America we all desire. We are all worthy of equality, justice and a life free of discrimination and it is in our power to make it happen...so let's MAKE IT HAPPEN!

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