We are one week out from Juneteenth. Many Americans have no idea what Juneteenth is, let alone it being one of the oldest NATIONAL holidays in the country. I asked 10 white people from my area, Indiana, only 2 knew or heard about it. With the president about to politicize Tulsa and Juneteenth, soon the whole country will know about the holiday and the horrific events that took place in Tulsa 99 years ago. However, that is another topic for another day. This post is regarding cultural appropriation and how to appropriately recognize Juneteenth.
White people, I am speaking (writing) to you… urging you, no- begging you, no- imploring you… do not make this holiday about you. Do not accessorize and appropriate black culture to feel or be ‘woke’. It is very easy to appropriate ones culture and I, unfortunately, am guilty of the fact. Nearly everyone is. However, I am very fortunate to have been involved in deep/serious/sobering conversations. I am fortunate to live and grow in West Africa. I am continuing to learn the history of my white forefathers and the terror they caused and atrocities they committed; still being felt today both on the African Continent and in the US. Ok, ok, ok let me back up and explain Juneteenth.
A little history…
The Emancipation Proclamation went into effect on January 1st, 1863, but many ‘western’ states didn’t hear about it (so they say) and/or refused to acknowledge the freedom of slaves. It wasn’t until two and a half years later, read: 2.5 YEARS of opposition to the law, on June 18th 1865, Union Soldiers, rode into Galveston, Texas and enforced the rule of law. Why, did it take so long? Your guess is as good as mine. From the Juneteenth website:
Later attempts to explain this two and a half year delay in the receipt of this important news have yielded several versions that have been handed down through the years. Often told is the story of a messenger who was murdered on his way to Texas with the news of freedom. Another is that the enslavers to maintain the labor force on the plantations deliberately withheld the news. And still another, is that federal troops actually waited for the slave owners to reap the benefits of one last cotton harvest before going to Texas to enforce the Emancipation Proclamation.
Being one of the oldest holidays, why isn’t it posted and advertised everywhere? Why don’t we see supermarkets, alcohol, and sports teams trumpet and paste it all over? 4th of July sales basically go up after Labor Day, why are there not Juneteenth sales to go alongside?
Since Juneteenth is so close to 4th of July, I believe the US does what it does best. First it appropriates tradition, before stealing and erasing the founder from history. Finally, they proclaims it as theirs. For example, BBQ is known as a staple of the South especially in Texas. One wonders how the influence of Juneteenth played into this, especially during 4th of July.
Certain foods became popular and subsequently synonymous with Juneteenth celebrations such as strawberry soda-pop. More traditional and just as popular was the barbecuing, through which Juneteenth participants could share in the spirit and aromas that their ancestors – the newly emancipated African Americans, would have experienced during their ceremonies. Hence, the barbecue pit is often established as the center of attention at Juneteenth celebrations.
Now that we know about Juneteenth and its history, how can we as white allies recognize/celebrate it properly? First, we need to know what is cultural appropriation.
Cambridge Dictionary defines cultural appropriation as “the act of taking or using things from a culture that is not your own, especially without showing that you understand or respect this culture. Or this quote from Julianne Escobedo Shepherd: “Privileged people want to borrow the ‘cool’ of disenfranchised people of color, but don’t have to face any of the discrimination that accompanies it”.
Okay, what does this mean?
White people have been appropriating cultures for generations both knowing and unknowing of the negative effects that comes with it. Cultural appropriation has deep roots related to racism with the most infamous being black face. Other examples of racist appropriation are dressing up as a Native-American, wearing weaves/plaiting hair for ‘fashion’, or any major sports team that displays a Native-American as their mascot. For a deeper look into cultural appropriation, how to avoid it, and celebrities who have participated in it, click here.
Let’s take a look deeper into some of the most appropriated looks:
Starting with one of the most racist forms of cultural appropriation: blackface. I do not think that I need to explain why this is abhorrent, but here is a link if you want to learn.
Next up: Wearing a sombrero/mustache on Cinco de Mayo:
Think back on the last Cinco de Mayo you celebrated and how many people donned a sombrero and/or a mustache? Within this group of people ask yourself: How many know the history of Cinco de Mayo? How many of the people donning sombrero’s and fake mustaches have racist ideas regarding first generation Mexican immigrants and other Hispanic Americans?
Let us refer back to the above quote: “Privileged people want to borrow the ‘cool’ of disenfranchised people of color, but don’t have to face any of the discrimination that accompanies it.” Hispanics are one of the most disenfranchised people in the US. The sombrero is used to shield the face and neck from the intense southern sun. Again, it is not a hat to be glorified and used as a prop on certain occasions by people who do not have to figuratively and literally wear the weight of the hat on a daily basis.
Dressing-up as a Native-American especially wearing a headdress… Thanksgiving/Halloween I am looking at you!
Our ancestors slaughtered and looted millions of native-Americans calling them savages and other terrible terms while today we continue to do harm. Hello DAPL! The headdress is known as a war bonnet and as such is considered a symbol of war for the tribes that don them. It is illegal in the US to don a purple heart or make other fraudulent claims about serving in the military with a sentence of up to one year in prison. The law was struck down because of freedom of speech rights and was amended to only being illegal when there is an intent to obtain money, property, or other tangible benefit. Thus, if you wouldn’t put on a Purple Heart or Medal of Honor without earning it, then don’t appropriate the Native-American war-bonnet for your instagram. Here is an article explaining how to celebrate not appropriate native-American culture.
Now to Juneteenth and appropriating black culture:
One of the most recognized families, the Kardashians, are often called out for appropriating black culture. Kim and Kylie have both worn weaves and plait their hair on many occasions like fashion shows or photo-ops. Kim had incorrectly identified her plaited hair as “Bo Derek braids” in reference to the movie 10. She failed to note the braids originated from the Fulani women of West Africa. Throughout history black women and black men have been criticized, judged, brutalized, and demeaned for their hairstyles. Often opting for dangerous chemical straightening and flattening techniques in order to look clean or ‘appropriate’. Kim and white women who wear these hairstyles do not have to deal with the everyday backlash black women and men face. White people can wear the same hairstyle and be called “chic” whereas black women will be degraded. Remember Don Imus? After all, it wasn’t until 2017 that Army Regulation 670-1 was repealed. For those unfamiliar, the regulation described natural hair as matted/unkempt and restricted black women from wearing their natural hair such as twists, dreadlocks, Afros and braids.
For a better explanation search @mwagiramuriithi twitter feed from June 6th 2020. Until black children can wrestle without fear of having to cut their dreadlocks, can go to school wearing their natural hairstyles, black adults don’t lose job opportunities or are told to straighten or cut their hair (whitewashing) there will always be a resentment when a white person copies and receives praise and is called ‘trendy’
Dressing and wearing traditional African garb is another no-no on appropriating black culture. Please do not be a Nancy Pelosi, Chuck Schumer and the rest of the GOP and make a photo-op out of African wear. Ghana’s kente showed loud and clear in the photo, but many saw it as a publicity stunt. Pelosi and other leaders visited Ghana last year and I am sure they received the Kente cloth as a gift. Knowing the history of Ghana and the slave trade many people questioned, rightly so, the use of the kente cloth as a means of solidarity. Confederate statues still stand, towns are still named “Lynchburg” schools have building named after known slave owners. All of these serve as a constant reminder to Black Americans the brutality their ancestors endured and the continued brutality the current generation is fighting today. Until the government passes legislation to shorten the racial disparity between black and white America, reparations or restitutions for the black community, ridicule will always follow these gestures. Other African clothes to stray away from are boubous, kabas, dashikis, etc.
As a former Peace Corps Volunteer spending time in Cameroon I own many African styled clothes. However, I have learned from countless sources and discussions how me wearing various outfits is appropriating and refrain to wear many of my outfits. I can still show my support while not appropriating African history ie wearing african print I have sewn into t-shirts, shorts, trousers. These clothes made from “wrappa” I can wear to stand in solidarity with the BLM movement, protests, and Juneteenth.
A rule of thumb when considering if you are appropriating or not: If you will feel ‘out of place’ wearing it around your white friends or won’t wear it at your place of work then you are definitely appropriating the outfit and culture.
Follow Louis Fame Official on instagram to see various options on how to support African wear without appropriating the culture. His motto: “Urbanizing Africa for the World” He is always astonishing me with his new works and if you want a really cool mask I suggest you look at his style and patronize him.
- For a deeper look into cultural appropriation, how to avoid it, and celebrities who have participated, click here.
- Here is a video of various people from different backgrounds explaining cultural appropriation. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PwEMVEmeubk
- Click here for an article regarding kente and its various meanings.
- While you’re at it… here is a post regarding 14 black inventors you probably didn’t know about!
I hope you are not scared! There is a big difference on appreciation and appropriation! Click here to find out questions to ask on if you’re appropriating the culture!
Go ahead and grill out, make your mixed drinks, drink lemonade, sing songs, and come together as a community. (During the current Covid pandemic, please be responsible). If you are having a get together, invite your black friends over to enjoy with you. This is where natural organic conversations about race can come into play. If your friend refuses or has his/her own celebration and doesn’t invite you, don’t be upset or turned away. It is nothing personal and nothing to be upset about. Continue with your celebration and continue educating yourself.
If you are recognizing Juneteenth, you probably are emotionally spent like I am. Reading the horrific news while watching mass protests and racist acts live on camera daily is exhausting. It is completely normal to have these feelings; just imagine how heightened many of your friends or acquaintances of color feelings/emotions are right now. Give your friend their required space, respect their choice and as always end on a reassuring confirmation regarding your support of the BLM movement.
If you do celebrate Juneteenth with fellow black friends, be aware and vigilant. Stay back and don’t be the center of attention. Listen and learn. Be respectful of boundaries and aware of your actions, words, and statements. Be conscious of your political discourse and keep it to a civil discussion. Ask questions if you don’t agree and don’t become offended when the answer challenge you. We are all learning and growing together. Your thoughts and beliefs are ever changing. Remember that this is a historically black holiday and leave arguments out of it.
One can learn a lot from sharing, exploring, and learning of other cultures. This makes the US such a diverse melting pot or as a friend described it as a stew. The broth is all of us in the US combined, but there are its distinct parts. A major problem with people being appropriated is the majority-minority imbalanced. With proper education, growth, and a sharing of cultures/traditions growth and change prosper. However, when one particular person throughout history and into today’s society continues to be abused and ridiculed for their style they have every right to be defensive when a difference race appropriates their everyday lifestyle and it is called ‘trendy’. As always change begins with proper education. Once the world, especially, the US is educated and doesn’t stigmatize certain cultures’ habits and style then will it be proper to share certain parts of ones culture.
Off topic, but I think needs to be read as well regarding peaceful protests and how to attend as a white ally.
What to do if the celebration turns into a protest/demonstration and police are called.
As stated before 45, unfortunately, is going to hold a rally in Tulsa, the city of one of the biggest race massacres operated/orchestrated by the government and police: Black Wall Street. Tensions are already at an all-time high and police will be called in various areas. This is where you show your ally ship. The following are protest guidelines were put together by a a friend:
- FOLLOW CALLS ONLY. Do not initiate or lead calls. Your job is to follow and add your voice when it is called for.
2. DO NOT TAKE SELFIES. Ask permission to take pictures or videos of individuals. You are there to witness and learn only. Film the police as much as possible. Your goal is documentation to ensure that the true narrative is told.
3. BE HELPFUL. Bring water and snacks. Make sure protest/vocal leaders are hydrated and fed. This is exhausting work; help keep their energy up.
4. FOLLOW DIRECTIONS. If a black leader tells you to do something, you do it immediately without question. You respect the authority and the decisions of the black protesters at all times.
5. STAY IN THE BACK UNTIL YOU ARE CALLED FORWARD. If you hear “White people to the front” or “Allies to the front” step forward and link arms with other white people to form a shield.
6. WHEN YOU ARE AT THE FRONT, YOU ARE SILENT. Your job is to be a body. You are there to support only. The only voices on the police line should be black voices.
7. REMAIN CALM AT ALL TIMES. This is difficult. You will be emotional and your system will be flooded with adrenaline. Remember this is life and death for the protesters. Save your emotions for home. DO NOT AGITATE.
I hope everyone has a good Juneteenth and continues to support, donate, and raise black voices. If you are from Indiana and reading this I highly suggest you check out http://www.proactindy.org. They do amazing work throughout Indianapolis and their Stand in the Gap initiative to “provide vulnerable neighbors fed and immediate needs met – no questions asked” is very inspiring.
The following is a list of books and resources to continue educating yourself on race relations.
Anti-Racist Starter Kit:
|A People’s History of the United States||Howard Zinn|
|White Fragility: Why It’s So Hard for White People to Talk about Racism||Robin Diangelo|
|Stamped from the beginning||Ibram X. Kendi|
|So you want to talk about race||Ijeoma Oluo|
|The Burning House: Jim Crow and the Making of Modern America||Anders Walker|
|The New Jim Crow: Mass Incarceration in the Age of Colorblindness||Michelle Alexander|
|The Condemnation of Blackness||Khalil Gibran Muhammad|
|How to be an Antiracist||Ibram X. Kendi|
|A Different Mirror||Ronald Takaki|
|Dying of Whiteness||Johnathan Metzl|
|Police Violence/ Mass Incarceration||Nobody: Casualties of America’s War on the Vulnerable||Marc Lamont Hill|
|Education/Colonialism||Lies my teacher told me||James W. Loewen|
|Education/Discrimination/ Bias||Why are all the black kids sitting together in the Cafeteria?||Beverly Daniel Tatum|
|Redlining/Segregation Housing||The Color of Law: A forgotten History of How Our Government Segregated America||Richard Rothstein|
|Voter suppression/Black Voting||Blackballed: The Black Vote and US Democracy||Darryl Pinckney|
|Poverty Housing||Evicted: Poverty and Profit in the American City||Matthew Desmond|
Biographies, Non-Fiction Novels, Personal Narratives
|The Warmth of other Suns||Isabel Wilkerson|
|The Fire Next Time||James Baldwin|
|The Autobiography of Malcolm X||Told By: Alex Haley|
|Between the World and Me||Ta-nehisi Coates|
|Killing Race: Ending Racism||Bell Hooks|
|How We Get Free: Black Feminism and the Combahee River Collective||Edited By: Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor|
|Black Feminist Thought||Patricia Hill Collins|
|Ain’t I a woman||Bell Hooks|
|Bad Feminist: Essays||Roxane Gay|
|Eloquent Rage: A Black Feminist Discovers her Superpower||Brittney Cooper|
|In Search of our Mothers’ Gardens||Alice Walker|
|Sister Outsider||Audre Lorde|
|Women Race & Class||Angela Y. Davis|
|Assata: An Autobiography||Assata Shakur|
|Zami: A New Spelling of My Name||Audre Lorde|
|Real Life: A Novel||Brandon Taylor|
|Unapologetic: A Black, Queer, and Feminist Mandate for Radical Movements||Charlene A Carruthers|
|No Tea, No Shade: New Writings in Black Queer Studies||Edited by E. Patrick Johnson|
|Since I Laid my Burden Down||Brontez Purnell|
|No Ashes in the Fire||Darnell L. Moore|
|The Summer We got Free||Mia McKenzie|
|Other Side of Paradise: A Memoir||Staceyann Chin|
|Giovanni’s Room||James Baldwin|
Films- List by Sarah Sophie Flicker and Alyssa Klein
|American Son||Kenny Leon|
|Dear White People||Justin Simien|
|See You Yesterday||Stefon Bristol|
|When They See Us||Ava Duvernay|
|Time: The Kalief Browder Story||Jenner Furst|
|The Death and Life of Marsha P. Johnson||David France|
|Strong Island||Yance Ford|
|LA 92||T.J. Martin, Daniel Lindsay|
|If Beale Street Could Talk||Barry Jenkins|
|The Hate You Give||George Tillman Jr|
|Crime & Punishment||Stephen Maing|
|Whose Streets?||Sabaah Folayan|
Available To Rent:
|Black Power Mix tape: 1967-1975||Goran Olsson|
|Fruitvale Station||Ryan Coogler|
|I Am Not your Negro- James Baldwin Documentary||Raoul Peck|
|Just Mercy||Destin Daniel Cretton|
|The Black Panthers: Vanguard of the Revolution,||Stanley Nelson Jr.|
|Do the Right Thing||Spike Lee|
Admiring a Louis Fame Designed Suit: