Well, of course, I never paid any attention to Juneteenth until this year. A random “survey” of loved ones—easily considered to be longstanding champions of social justice and anti-racism—revealed that only one of them ever had.
As if we ever needed any further confirmation of our complicity in the perpetuation of American racism, this obliviousness to what many people of color celebrate as their Independence Day would go into the overflowing basketsful. One of the privileges of being born white is getting to indulge an obliviousness to the pain of others and their ongoing struggles. It really is quite possible to go through an entire white lifetime with blinders on, wondering from time to time what all the fuss is about. Or blaming the victims.
Well, it occurs to me that one of the silver linings of the COVID-19 cloud is the amazing amount of time we all have to pay attention to American racism writ large on our TVs every single day now. Racism is now our daily news, our breaking news, our chronic news. Day after day. We can’t escape it. And thank God! This is remedial education for whites on a grand scale. Ostensibly well-read on the subject of racism over the years, in the last few weeks I have learned more—and so much more deeply—about this criminal conspiracy of which I am a part than I ever thought possible.
Were we not sheltered away from the daily distractions of work, restaurants, sporting events, travel, movies, and all the involvements we prefer to indulge in, events such as the murder of George Floyd and the celebration of Juneteenth would surely have been minor speed bumps, sound bites in a single day’s news cycle, just like all the other unnoticed or unmentionable or uncomfortable indicators of our unfinished work as a people.
But now all across the nation, we are finally, at very long last, showing at least some stirrings of awareness of how blatantly we have allowed racist icons to stare us down at every turn. Were it not for this nationwide stirring, we would not see the removal of public statues of traitors who sought to abolish the “united” in United States in order to perpetuate slavery. We wouldn’t hear serious discussion about adding Thomas Jefferson and Woodrow Wilson to the list of demotions. And for sure, we would not see the banning of Confederate flags at NASCAR events—to me the most breathtaking decision any moneymaking entity has yet made in doing the right thing at the risk of alienating a massive proportion of their paying customers and sponsors.
All of us who both yearn and work for tikkun olam—the healing of creation—have a precious moment in our personal histories and the history of our racist nation to find ways to keep up this momentum. In the days ahead, I plan to share with you some of the ways that make sense to me.