Who Gets to Wish Me a Happy Juneteenth?
A Reflection on Trust
Years ago, I started a discipleship relationship with a man who I now call my spiritual father, and he has adopted me as his spiritual son. I am Black, and he is White. When we met, George Floyd was still alive, nobody had heard of Critical Race Theory, and the war on wokeness had not yet begun. The world has changed around us and the temperature has increased. Fortunately, dad has responded with the self-awareness and thoughtfulness appropriate for the moment.
So this weekend, when he said, “Happy Father’s Day” to me, I appreciated the pause that came next. I knew what his question was before he asked.
“What would you want to hear from a White person on Juneteenth?”
He wanted to know what would be the proper greeting between us on this holiday in light of the world around us, the Jesus in us, and the history between our two peoples.
Juneteenth for Black folks is a celebration. As Dr. Christena Cleveland recently said in her newsletter, Juneteenth is “for banishing racialized shame.” Part of that is the joy of celebrating in all the Blackity Black Black ways possible. So I ate Red Velvet Cake while playing dominoes and listening to Kirk Franklin at a cookout with 35 other skinfolk. The “Happy Juneteenth” I got there from the two White people present, vouched for and known to be partners in the struggle, landed like a good handshake. If they had said that as strangers on the street, they would have garnered an internal side-eye as I wondered, “Does this person even know what they’re saying?”
For White, and other non-Black people, we might celebrate together, but I need to experience contemplative action and relationship first. If White folks haven’t explored their history or the white supremacy that animates our culture, Juneteenth is not for them. They cannot genuinely participate in festivities that include Black people. Without the receipts, “Happy Juneteenth” lands like a microaggression as the celebratory space must bend away from uplifting Blackness to accommodate the possibility that the ignorance of dominant culture has crashed the party. But if I’m sure the White person in front of me has really asked themselves what they were taught to believe about Black people, or I’m not their one Black friend, I can receive their affirmation. When I know they are wrestling with their implicit bias, I could believe they can sincerely celebrate.
My white dad ended up saying, “I hope you and yours had a great Juneteenth.” I know from years of relationship and meaningful conversation that his hope is heartfelt and genuine. And he can confidently offer that hope because we both know he’s earned my trust. So I thank God I am able to receive him and his words because of the good work the Spirit has done in us.
So Happy Juneteenth to Black folks, those we trust, and those working toward increased Black joy and liberation from White supremacy.