Happy Pride and Happy Juneteenth, friends! Last week I reflected on the first verse of “American Spirits” by Drumming Bird. This week I want to turn to the second verse:
“I was born in a city built on homes of the Cherokee
And named after Muskogee words to describe
We hijack the narrative, say that it's heritage
Tell them how good it is that history's white
Leave out the stolen land, replace it with Dixieland
And everyone claps their hands and sings its delight
You can face it or just forget, I ask for a cigarette
You hand me a silhouette smoking a pipe.”
Today is Juneteenth, the celebration and remembrance of a proclamation freeing slaves in Texas on June 19, 1865. While slavery would remain legal in some places in the United States for another six months, Juneteenth represented one of the last points when chattel slavery was still permitted in the US. The Rev. Jim Wallis has called slavery “America’s original sin,” an appropriate metaphor for the abhorrent treatment of Black people from at least 1619 to 1865.
For those of us who are white and those of us raised in intensely white supremacist environments—intentionally white supremacist or not—we have been trained to think that with the end of legal slavery in the United States, life for Black people was set right and the sins of the past were forgiven. In fact the well-known 19th century abolitionist William Llyod Garrison and many of his fellow white contemporaries literally closed up shop, convinced that their work was done. You see, what we weren’t taught in school about these “good” white people is they may have hated the institution of slavery, but they didn’t see Black people as their equals. Black people should be free, they thought, but they shouldn’t have the same rights as white people. So as Reconstruction languished in the American South and laws called Jim Crow took more and more rights away from now free Black people, the “good” white people looked away, comforted that at least Black people were free.
White nationalist groups often discuss their ideals in terms of “heritage not hate.” They claim that they value a return to a white America which they believe is their heritage. They continue to slither their way into schools, libraries, churches, and other public and private institutions. Currently, Ohio is considering House Bill 103 which proposes to create a social studies curriculum based on the American Birthright Standards (read: white nationalist). These standards teach a “heritage” at is white, embracing all the errors and outright lies that “heritage” continues to promote.
Clearly, these and many other mechanisms of racist America persist to 2023. Indeed, as a white Queer man, I could reasonably forget about Juneteenth because it gets lost in Pride Month. Even as a Christian who centers my activism and advocacy on the teaching and model of Jesus, the church remains, as Dr. King said, the week’s most segregated hour. For the white Queer community, Juneteenth should be a reminder that Queer liberation cannot be achieved in a vacuum. None of us can be free until we all are free. If we want the Queer community to be free then we must address racism, ablism, sexism, classism, and all other forms of oppression with the same tenacity that we fight homophobia, transphobia, and heterosexism.
How is your heritage presented in schools? Do people like you dominate the pages or appear predictably in small groups?
Let us pray: God who knows no race, sexual orientation, or gender, but who lived as a brown-skinned, refugee, and religious-minority on earth, bless the many times we screw up and fall far short of your expectations. As we celebrate Pride Month, bless us with the wisdom to remember that our liberation is collective and communal. Homophobia will never dismantle racism, classism will never tear down transphobia, and silence will never do anything but build complicity. Give us the strength to tackle our own prejudice so that we can fight it in the world. We ask this through you, our creator and guide. Amen.
Blessings on your weeks, my friends! Remember to keep your Pride flags up as you continue aspiring to be allies with the groups different from you!