|Bogalusa Daily News|
He grew very quiet and somber. He was obviously trying to be polite but I instantly knew it was simply more than that he had another invitation or just didn't want to attend and was trying to find a polite way to decline.
"What are you celebrating?" he asked.
"July 4th!" I said, as a quizzical statement of fact. "You know: Freedom! Independence! Liberty and Justice for All!"
"Really?" he said. "Liberty and Justice. For all? Or, for some?"
His words - and the reality behind them - hit me so hard I suddenly felt nauseous and dizzy.
Right. How very White of me!
It was yet another time when I realized that racism is so much a part of my life - my White Privilege is so blinding - that I didn't even see the possibility that a national holiday like July 4th would be a reminder of how we still have not lived into the ideals set forth by our founders.
Indeed, I'm quite certain our "Founding Fathers" didn't understand the full implication the idea that "all men (sic) are created equal" and are "endowed by their creator with certain inalienable rights".
|Juneteenth - Emancipation Day|
"Look," he said, softly, kindly, "I don't want to ruin your celebration but the truth is that 'my people' still don't have what the constitution guarantees. Not really. Just because the law changed - and, I'm not saying that I'm not grateful for that - it doesn't change people's hearts and minds."
I took a deep breath. "I'm so sorry," I said. "I....I...I guess .... I don't know....didn't know....didn't realize..... I'm so sorry," I stammered.
Now he was feeling bad because I was feeling bad. I hate the awkwardness of moments like this between friends. It's part of what makes us friends - that we can have awkward moments because we love one another enough to tell the truth - but that doesn't make it any less awkward.
"So, let's think about this," he said, running to his head and away from his heart. I was willing to follow him there. It's a defense mechanism I engage with some regularity.
"July 4, 1776. That's when this country signed the Declaration of Independence. But, the Emancipation Proclamation didn't come until when?"
"Ummm... after the Civil War? Late 1800's?," I guessed
"January 1, 1863," he said.
"So," I asked clumsily, stupidly, the way a three-year old asks questions when s/he doesn't see - can't see - the larger picture, "is January 1st sort of your July 4th?"
"Actually, no," he said. "January 1st is New Year's Day. Remember?" he teased. I blushed.
"The truth is that many of the slaves, especially in the south, wouldn't hear about their freedom for another two and a half years. It wasn't until somewhere between June 17-19 when Union soldiers sailed into Galveston, TX and announced the end of the Civil War and read the Emancipation Proclamation that people who were slaves knew they were free."
It was the first time I learned about the celebration known as 'Juneteenth'.
He smiled sadly and looked away for a few moments, trying to gather his thoughts. God, I honestly don't know why this man is still my friend!
"Do you know when the Civil Rights Act passed?" he asked.
"Ummm... I know that it was sometime in the sixties, right? '62? '63?"
"July 2, 1964," he said, smiling as he added, "And no, that's not our 'Independence Day'. Have any idea why?"
I may be stupid but I'm not dumb. I tried to smile as I said, "Because, real independence, real 'liberty and justice' have not yet come for people of color, even after 1776, or 1863, or 1865 or 1964."
"That's right," he said.
"I understand," I said, quickly adding, "Well, I don't. Not completely. How could I?"
"That's right," he said.
We both grew very quiet. It was the kind of silence that friends often have between them. It's not an empty silence. Rather, it is rich and full, respectful and painfully honest. It's the silence that allows each friend the space to be alone with their thoughts, taking in more fully what the other has said. It's a tension that both tests and confirms your friendship.
"Look," he said, finally, "I'd love to come to your party. But, let's be real clear: I'm coming for your potato salad. You make a mean potato salad."
We laughed, then - that awkward kind of laugh that marks the end of one difficult conversation and signals that you can both move on now, having grown a bit in your relationship."
"Okay," I laughed. "No parade, but potato salad. Got it."
We both laughed again - it was so good to laugh again, and then he was silent for awhile before he said, "I can observe all kinds of holidays, but I can't yet celebrate. You know?"
"It reminds me," I continued, "of the wisdom in the saying that no one is free unless all are free."
He smiled. "I look forward to the day when you and I can really celebrate freedom and 'liberty and justice for all'."
"Me, too," I said. "Me, too."
"Until then, there's always the potato salad," he laughed
"Absolutely," I said. "If nothing else, we'll celebrate potato salad."
Many miles now separate us. We won't be gathering to observe July 4th together this year. But, when I do, I won't forget Juneteenth and the lessons learned about freedom and justice.
But, tonight, I think I'll make some potato salad and celebrate the way some of our friends love us enough to liberate us from our own blindness - even years after we've been set 'free'.