Juneteenth has historically been a day of jubilee for Black southerners. On June 19, 1865 enslaved people were notified of their freedom in Galveston, Texas two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. With great effort and activism from people like Opal Lee who led the way to make Juneteenth a federal holiday, we celebrate this day around the nation. Juneteenth is literally about collective liberation. Black folks in this country choose to celebrate not the day we were emancipated, but the day in which the very last of us knew we were free.
Unfortunately, Juneteenth has been subsumed by capitalist opportunism, corporate greed, and spiritual bypassing. In the legacy/white Jewish institutional community, Black Jews have been offered thoughts and prayers or asked to labor for white consciousness to be at ease that there was a “commemoration”.
We, the Black Jews who brought Juneteenth to the forefront within the Jewish community, expect more than emails sharing optional prayers, or invitations to events. We expect our Black voices and stories to be centered, our Black bodies to rest from the grind of racialized capitalism, and our Black lives to be valued. We expect white people across the United States to do their work to look critically at the role their communities played in the transatlantic slave trade, still play in the benefitting of racialized capitalism, and commit to a praxis of reparations.
We are struggling for justice and the end of the antiBlack racism that causes intergenerational trauma. We are fighting for the humanization of our Black existence and experiences, intentional dismantling of institutional structures that create barriers to access and opportunities. We are fighting for emancipation from systems that attempt to oppress us. From capitalism, to erasure of our history, to demonizing our consciousness, to devaluing our existence, we demand liberation from all forms of discrimination and hate.
We Black Jews will intentionally prioritize our self-care and joy. We Black Jews will unapologetically and authentically be WHO we are in every space and claim our freedom.
How can you join us in continuing to value collective liberation of Black bodies in this country? We call on our Jewish community to be woke (conscious) about the past and present harm caused and to engage in the process of teshuva. From public accountability, to taking actions to eradicate antiBlack racism, to reparations, we demand justice, belonging, equity, and liberation.
1. If you want to collaborate with Black led organizations, consider inviting us before or after the holiday. Don't ask us for our labor on the holiday. For Black folks, this can be an important day of rest. Rest is liberatory. Do the requests you make contribute to the collective liberation of Black jews? or are you requesting their labor for a visual rather than meaningful impact. Impact is always more important than visuals to us.
2. Always pay Black and Brown collaborators for their work, especially around liberation holidays like MLK, Juneteenth or Kwanzakkah. One of the ways you can acknowledge Black liberation is by contributing energy towards our continued success rather than asking for our energy without compensation. Asking for free labor from Black Jews on or around Juneteenth, even on the shabbats close to it, should be re-examined for the ways it devalues our labor and our bodies.
3. Consider making it a part of your ritual to donate to Black liberation organizations. Giving resources to Black Jewish led organizations who are doing work with Black Jews frees us up from other work prioritizing the liberation of Black Jews.
4. Consider not lumping Juneteenth and pride celebrations together. Pride is a whole month. Juneteenth is a specific day. If your organization wants to celebrate the liberation specifically of certain queer Black folks like a celebration of Marsha P. Johnson, that could be beautiful. Be sure to give space for pride to be pride and Juneteenth to be Juneteenth.
BJLC loves the interest and partnerships that Jewish organizations are extending to Black Jews around liberation. We ask for thoughtfulness in how you formulate your requests so that we feel you are approaching all Black Jews in a way that honors our dignity.