Juneteenth, In This America

She was a glorious Black woman, of an age that could have been forty or sixty five, wearing a green and lavender traditional dashiki for women, ringed with gold and a headscarf proudly showing the cap of her bald head. She grew up in New York and now travels all over the country as a self proclaimed Ambassador of Goodwill. He was an amazing White man, that could have been a hard lived fifty, but could have easily been seventy. He was wearing a red tank top, blue shorts, and work boots that screamed America, his bald head ringed with the missing white from his attire. He grew up in Scranton, then left for the South after he joined the Army and served over seas, growing tired of how Liberal Scranton had become. He is now traveling the country seeing what sights he can before he can’t anymore.

He struck up the conversation with this woman because he wanted to ask her about her African garb, he had never seen anything so fantastic before in person, and her laugh was deep and beautiful. He said that he liked to ask strangers about themselves because he wanted to learn, and she liked to explain the meaning of what she wore to those brave or curious enough to ask. Their resultant ten minute conversation is where I learned all this information about them. Near them, a young Black woman, not older than twenty, wearing her hair in twists and a white crop top that bore the likeness of another Black woman, Lauryn Hill, was listening anxiously to the beginning of their conversation. Around us, families mostly from nearby in the south, judging from their accents, also were oddly quiet at the beginning, each waiting for something they could not define but never came. Soon the normal din of continental conversation filled the room.

Was that the normal pause in conversations that used to magically occur on every hour at the eleventh minute, or was it a collective holding of breath to see what this man, so diametrically opposed to his table mate, would say to this woman? I prefer to believe in the former. I have to, because if I honestly believed it was everyone waiting to see if this man, who was the poster child for “Old American White Person”, would spew something ignorant, it would have meant that twenty some odd people had little faith in him, or them, and without faith we are doomed in this country.

My family was just visiting Asheville, NC, a delightfully weird place I honestly can’t wait to visit again. I was initially hesitant to go. It was a long trip, 10 hours driving with a car of three children, I hadn’t even finished my school year when we left. I had to complete some of my end of the year training at one of the hotels we stayed at. And, after all, it was North Carolina. Deep North Carolina. If you haven’t been paying attention to current affairs, North Carolina has been in the news a lot in these past ten, fifteen, twenty years or so for its questionable treatment of BIPOC, from policing to voting practices, to just being NC. So of course I was hesitant, but I was delightfully surprised by Asheville. And I feel a little better about North Carolina. And I feel a little better about humanity in general.

I always do when I travel. Twain said, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.” I firmly believe this. The news and the media in general paint such a negative picture of our country, and to be sure, there is a lot to be negative about. Along the highway home the flags I saw hoisted the highest above interstate 40 was not the American flag, but the confederate one. One of which was ringed by Trump signs, and one telling me to F*** my Feelings. This particular collection belonged to a local construction company, which apparently did not suffer business for its political declarations. But the people I met on this trip, and on every trip, are always a surprise. Where I expect to find animosity, I find helpfulness. Where I expect to find ignorance, I find respect. At least a decent amount of the time. One cannot judge a person by just a fleeting meeting with them, anyone can be pleasant for a few minutes. But it still gives me hope, and I have faith, faith that is renewed when I get out in this country.

This country sorely needs some of that positivity now. I have heard more negative commentary about the recent announcement of making Juneteenth a federal holiday than I have positive. There have been many ignorant comments by people in power who should know better, but can get away with it because of who their base is, which is to be expected. And there were many outraged Black voices who decried the method in which this announcement was done, that it was just a performative act by an ineffectual government who fails time and again to pass meaningful legislation that would help Black people in this country, which is true. But let’s take a moment to recognize that if nothing else, this promotes conversation. Not from the talking heads we see on television and on the internet, pundits more concerned about their ratings than real change. I’m talking about the little conversations, like the one between two older Americans, one Black, one White, learning about each other because she wore her Dashiki to celebrate Juneteenth. And if this is happening in one little hotel in a tiny corner of Virginia, it’s happening elsewhere too. It’s a slow change, but it’s the only kind our country is apparently capable of. One person at a time, through good conversations over a shared experience, whether it’s a shared sports team, a shared hometown, or a shared meal in a hotel.

If you want to learn how to honor Juneteenth, such as helping Black communities, modern reparations, buying from Black owned businesses, how to be a good ally, or if you just want to learn more about the holiday, there is, of course Google, or you can visit these pages below. But the best way is to have a conversation with someone who might know something about it. But it is not their job to educate you, don’t burden them with your lack of knowledge. And if you’re someone who knows something about it, be patient with those who don’t and want to learn. I know a lot of us are tired of having to explain things we think they should know, but in order to have a conversation, it requires two sides. The onus is on both to share our experiences and knowledge. And, if you turn them away with anger or disdain, where might they get their answers from? Like Ghandi said, be the change you want to see in the world.




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