Juneteenth

The video below provides an animated version of the Atlantic Slave Trade. For 2 minutes, dots of varying sizes indicating the number of black human beings transported from Africa to the Americas against their will move across the Atlantic Ocean from the Old World to the New.

If this isn’t horrific, I don’t know what is.

Today, 19 June, is Juneteenth, the day we should all celebrate as marking the end of a most horrific era in human history, the day when all black Americans learned that the ownership of other human beings (meaning, their ownership by their white masters) officially ended across the United States. Yet, few know that Juneteenth actually exists or what it specifically means and refers to. That lack of knowledge and skipped-over bit of history is problematic all on its own. It’s also emblematic of how far we still have to go in the United States and elsewhere in making racism and inequity and inequality a part of our past rather than current events so that we may truly claim freedom for all a reality.

That Juneteenth honours and remembers events from Galveston, Texas, when Major General Gordon Granger informed the people of Texas that all slaves were free, makes it all the more ironic if not outrageous to this particular Daughter of the Republic of Texas (yes, I am actually a member of the DRT). We are not taught this particular and incredibly important event in our ‘history’ courses. We are taught the history of white America, but not American history. Rather than being taught the history of Juneteenth in grade school or university history classes as a young girl or young woman, much as I learnt about the Emancipation Proclamation, I first heard the term Juneteenth within the last several years. Perhaps this is unsurprising given that most textbooks are written for and approved by the Texas Board of Education, an agency known to bend to the whims of political ideology and religious dogma at the expense of critical thinking or scientific knowledge and understanding of the world around us. At one point in time, before an outcry and complaints, one Texas textbook referred to slaves as involuntary ‘immigrants’ and workers. Talk about whitewashing history.

It’s shameful to me that in 2020 we are still woefully unaware of our own history. That history, whether we acknowledge it or not, shapes our lives today, and informs how we view and treat one another. From Juneteenth to the Tulsa race massacre and destruction of the Black Wall Street to the impact and legacy of Jim Crow laws to rewriting MLK and Malcom X as less threatening and more ‘peaceful’ to the deaths of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor and Robert Fuller and today’s mass incarceration and the New Jim Crow, we need to revisit and rewrite history, making it less favourable to white America and more reflexive and inclusive of the voices and lived experiences of POC. It will be uncomfortable, and it will be difficult. But, it is necessary. And, it is right and just and honest and true, even if we find it horrific.

So, as a first step, let’s start today. Right now. Here’s to making Juneteenth a national holiday, celebrating freedom and a day of remembrance.

Proud to be an ally; not proud that it is necessary

It’s Pride Week in Helsinki. My husband and I will be there to march and show our support and allegiance with not just Finnish but all lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and intersex (LGBTI) individuals during a week we’d rather be celebrating marriage equality for all. Alas, Finland has yet to adopt a measure which would allow all couples regardless of their genders to marry legally.

Now, more than ever, it seems crucial that we do something, anything, to show our solidarity with all LGBTI communities.

We unequivocally support everyone’s right to love who they want and to show that love for one another openly and without fear of being persecuted. Love is love. It’s a thing of beauty in its many varied forms, shades and expressions. And, the world and all of us could benefit immensely from a bit more love and a lot less contention and hate.

But, as we in much of Western Europe and North America works towards marriage equality, LGBTI communities in places like Uganda, Jamaica and Russia among far too many others face situations much worse and far more dangerous. The reality in these contexts for individuals suspected let alone known to be gay, lesbian or transgender is akin to what I’d imagine is hell on earth. There is an element of extreme hatred towards LGBTI communities, where violence and criminal prosecution for simply existing are daily realities. And, yes, LGBTI individuals fear for their lives.

What does this have to do with me? Well, my fellow countrymen are complicit in creating these realities. It goes without saying that I do not support their actions nor their efforts and will do what I can to call them to account.

God Loves Uganda tells the story of how American evangelicals, primarily those affiliated with the International House of Prayer (a more sinister use of the acronym IHOP), work to ‘spread the good news’ to Ugandans (and others further afield). Unfortunately, rather than spreading messages of loving they neighbour, the growth of evangelicalism in Uganda seems to be fanning the flames of hatred and bigotry.

Essentially, interpretations of Biblical dogma legitamize and grant licence to allow hate, violence and in extreme cases death to individuals identified as LGBTI or their allies. During a two-conference lead by Americans in Kampala in 2009, my fellow countrymen provided justification and fodder which ultimately resulted in a law which would make homosexuality a criminal offence.

It’s sick. And, quite frankly, the worst sort of application of religion possible. In all honesty, I’m struggling to describe the film in a way that isn’t just as hate-filled as the rhetoric it captures.

Perhaps it is because it is Pride Week here that we feel compelled to act and even more motivated to voice our allegiance. As an American and as an American who grew up in a relatively conservative Christian household, I find myself particularly proud to be an ally. I am not, however, proud that it is necessary.

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Extra-ordinarily (un)common

I’ve been thinking a lot lately about things which used to seem exceptionally extra-ordinary that have become rather banal and common.

What started this train of thought was the tragic story of a young man from the UK who summited Mount Everest but ultimately died on the mountain after suffering from blindness and not being able to climb down unaided. Rather than risk the lives of the entire team, he was left to die alone on the highest peak in the world.

Many have died there undoubtedly. But, what struck me was how many actually attempt to summit Everest each year now and how many of them die in the process. It seems to me that attempting a super-human feat such as summitting the highest peak on the planet should not be a goal undertaken by just anyone.

But another story of ordinary individuals attempting and succeeding in exta-ordinary feats also serves to inspire me.

Recently, several individuals from a South African-based organisation called Positive Heroes ran an 89-km marathon. What made this such an amazing tale is that all of the individuals are HIV-positive. Further, this was not their first time running the marathon and they’ve managed to incorporate the rigid routine of taking their anti-retrovirals during the marathon.

These are truly positive heroes. They demonstrate in an extra-ordinary way the amazing feats that ordinary individuals can aspire to and use as inspiration to others.

Congratulations to the ultra-marathon runners on their success and victory! And, many thanks for demonstrating the true meaning of extra-ordinary.