Observing Juneteenth

President Joe Biden signed the bill to recognize Juneteenth as a federal holiday, which may be some modicum of progress, and one that I celebrate. However, it’s impossible not to see this as some kind of – I don’t know if compromise is the right word – instead of Americans doing the work that is necessary to acknowledge the real trauma of slavery and its ongoing impact on our nation. It seems such a small, insignificant thing as voting rights are under attack, and as Black people are literally under attack.

All that aside, I am observing Juneteenth by reading, listening, and learning, trying to understand the significance of this holiday in history, and its meaning now. I’ve known about Juneteenth for some time, but only now I am coming to truly appreciate its meaning. What is sticking with me now is that, while Juneteenth is a joyful celebration, it comes from a place of profound pain, and you cannot separate the two.

This week, my learning includes the second video episode of the Black History Continued series from the New York Times. Juneteenth: The New Black Joy is a wonderful episode about Black creativity and resilience. It includes an interview with Questlove about his new documentary, Summer of Soul, about the little-known, yet very important cultural event in 1969, the Harlem Cultural Festival. At the end of the video is a beautiful conversation with Esperanza Spalding about her work, and her sanctuary for BIPOC artists (I hope someone from the MacArthur Foundation is paying attention).

Additionally, I’ve been listening to Ibram X. Kendi’s new podcast, Be Anti-Racist. The latest episode is The Juneteenth Mixtape, a collection of reflections of people on the street and cultural thinkers and intellectuals and their thoughts on the holiday.

My spouse celebrated his birthday last week, and in the week prior, we had started to delve into the wonderful Netflix series, High on the Hog, about the food and cooking of the African Diaspora and its impact on American culture and food. My husband, a brilliant cook and lover of history, said to me “how do I not have any of Jessica Harris’s books?!” So I knew that I needed to give him her book, High on the Hog, which is the inspiration for the series.

With inspiration from this documentary, my spouse and I are considering how we will henceforth observe and celebrate the holiday, This New York Times collection of recipes, including a submission from Jessica Harris for succotash, is giving us some ideas, and I think we will be doing some testing throughout the year. YUM!

Finally, you cannot have a celebration without music. I found a fantastic Juneteenth list on Spotify, and this will be our soundtrack.

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