“I get it,” a Kenyan man of Indian descent said, as I finished a presentation in Nairobi, Kenya. “The chain necklace, it represents your slave ancestors.”
Actually, I was thinking that my vintage silver chunky chain necklace had more of a Hermès vibe, a kind of Paris Rive Gauche meets Fort Greene, Brooklyn-via-Lake Elizabeth picnic energy. But clearly this gentleman had watched an interview of 1980s era Mr. T explaining his epic layering of gold chains. And of course, one interview, discussion, book, or article explaining one thing one Black American has done covers us all for everyone, right?
But to be fair to this man in Nairobi, earlier during the Q&A portion of my presentation, I explained that, without a doubt, I was proud of my slave ancestry. This seemed to come as a surprise to many in attendance. In fact, someone exclaimed out loud, “Why would you be proud of that?”
I responded, “I am honored and encouraged by the survivor-to-thriver Transatlantic slave history of the African American.” Should the descendent of a slave owner have more pride than I?
It was I think the first time anyone in that group, in a country like ours which is still recovering from post-Colonial trauma, has ever heard such an idea.
What we memorialize and celebrate says so much about who we are as a county, a people, and a planet. In the United States, we have more “happy or obedient slave” statues, like the recently removed Stephen Foster and mythical “Uncle Ned,” than we do of slave rebellion or slave memorials. And we have very few of both.
However, there are hundreds of monuments to the Confederacy and Confederate soldiers in the United States. There are hundreds of statues and monuments to Christopher “we could subjugate them [First Nations’ people] and make them do whatever we want” Columbus, here and all over the world.
So while we say we celebrate freedom and equality, what we really are celebrating, through the monuments we build and holidays we celebrate, is violent white supremacist patriarchy. Which is why the building of monuments recognizing our slave ancestry, heritage, and history is so important. It is all of our history, all Americans — from the new immigrants to Pre-contact Americas. It is the foundation for the place-making nation and wealth creation of the North and South American continents.
Juneteenth is the only specific holiday in the United States that honors the ending of slavery. It marks the day in 1865, two years after the official end of slavery, that slaves in Galveston, Texas were informed that they were free.
But Juneteenth by its very nature is bittersweet. What was freedom then, two years late? When will true freedom come?
Taking stock Juneteenth 2019 - June 19 2019:
If we look at the state of the Black Pittsburgh region, the bitter includes the continued displacement of Black residents, environmental racism, income disparity with many Black “leaders,” and elected officials committed not to the Black community but to white male elected party leadership. It may feel that a celebration is a lie.
But celebrate, acknowledge, and honor we must. It's bittersweet, being Black in America.
Juneteenth 2019 also marks the one-year anniversary of the murder of Antwon Rose II. Rest In Peace Brother Antwon, we are still fighting for you.
The sweet: a dynamic, unbroken legacy of creativity and innovation. Local, national, and international presence of Pittsburgh born and based African Americans impacting industries from the arts to transportation, technology to design.
There is no Pittsburgh without Black people — past, present and future. That’s worth celebrating this Juneteenth.