Many of us want to be good allies in the fight for racial equality, but we don’t always seem to have a good handle on how to do that. Black comedians have done a pretty good job of lampooning the white character, too eager to join in and be one of the good guys, all the while making everyone uncomfortable. We mean well, presumably, but our efforts are often a little tone-deaf, and sometimes even counterproductive.
For instance, I’m not entirely sure, that as white people, we’re supposed to be joining in on the upcoming Juneteenth celebration. It’s good for us to recognize it for sure, but it seems like it’s maybe not our party. Certainly not our party to throw, given that we didn’t even recognize it until quite recently. We didn’t even know it existed and now we want to bring the macaroni, and our weird potato salad.
I mean, do you invite the warden to your prison release party? Do you invite your kidnapper to celebrate your newfound freedom?
On the one hand, it would be good if we found a way to universally recognize the end of slavery in America. But the fact that we exchanged one type of slavery for another has to play into how we “celebrate” about our own history. Jim Crow laws were designed to subjugate an entire race of people in America. They were very successful. When did it end? Did it end? Not exactly.
America has yet to really deal with our own brutal history in a meaningful way and we have a serious need for truth and reconciliation, which won’t come while a significant portion of the country is actively fighting the basic idea that we teach an accurate version of history that doesn’t twist reality into white heroism.
America has the potential to be exceptional, but lying to ourselves to convince the world of our own greatness, is a bit childish, at best. It’s beneath us.
It’s not clear to me how to proceed. You hear a lot of conflicting messaging, coming from all sides. So much of Black culture developed in isolation, over centuries, that integration isn’t seem as a welcome answer to the problem. Not everyone feels like desegregation is the answer. Black Americans have developed their own culture, out of necessity, and they’re not terribly interested in having it co-opted by white society and turned into a pageant show.
If you want to know how tricky this situation is, there are people who will have a problem with me writing this, on multiple sides, and for a variety of reasons, not because I’m talking about it, but because they won’t agree with my understanding of it. There is no one good answer. It’s complicated.
In talking with various people over the years, it would seem to me that Black America has no intention or real desire to end segregation. Just look at church on Sunday, the most segregated space in America.
Separate but equal would be just fine for many Black people, as long as it was truly equal. I would typically argue that this is not sustainable and won’t lead to lasting change, but it’s not my culture that is in danger of being consumed. I am forced to recognize that we live in two different countries, or at least two cultures that don’t always exist in harmony.
It’s similar to French Canadians, only if instead of being confined to a single Province, the French in Canada were sprinkled throughout the country, but mainly occupied the more densely populated urban centers.
As much as this exists in relative normalcy in Canada, I can assure you that there is a great deal of animosity between the French Canadians and the rest of the country. So it’s not a perfect model for mutual coexistence.
I don’t have an answer here today. I’m not even sure there is one.
Just maybe that we recognize that many Black Americans are going to celebrate their own heritage on June 19 and that even if we are invited, it’s not our party. It’s like being invited to your neighbor’s house because it’s his cousin’s birthday. You’ve never even met his cousin, and frankly, you don’t even know your neighbor all that well. Just a little wave when you’re both taking out the trash. So if you are invited, out of courtesy, it’s probably best not to behave as if the party was thrown for you. It’s not your party.
You bring a bottle of booze as a gift, and you sit quietly on the sidelines. You sing happy birthday when the cake is cut, but you don’t make the toast. You compliment the food and don’t try to interject a story about your family’s recipe. You engage supportively, but recognize that you’re the outsider.
Since the prevailing wisdom is that it’s our job as white people to figure this out on our own, this is my best thinking on the subject at the moment.