A MONTH OUT
A MONTH OUT
An artist reflects on her relationship to Juneteenth (and what it means going forward) after its designation as an official American holiday.
Platform approached me to write something for Juneteenth a year after theorist and colleague Mandy Harris Williams’ contribution on celebrating the holiday in the art world. I accept, because, similarly to a fast-approaching Pride Month for me and others like me, it has become very common to receive timely financial opportunities tied to visibility, thanks to the generosity of well-funded and socially aware institutions, and it feels best to be selective but also to not overthink it.
Eighteen-year-old domestic terrorist Payton Gendron shoots 13 people at a Tops market in Buffalo, NY killing 10 Black people by the names of Geraldine Talley, 62, Margus D. Morrison, 52, Andre Mackneil, 53, Roberta A. Drury, 32, Celestine Chaney, 65, Katherine Massey, 72, Ruth Whitfield, 86, Deacon Heyward Patterson, 67, Pearly Young, 77, and Aaron Salter, 55.
Rapper Rico Nasty posts a video on her Instagram of her walking out to a beach at night. The camera pans to a flailing security guard preventing her from going any further. Clad in a diaphanous dress and long, straight black hair, she bends and twerks at the guard before prancing off in laughter. After seeing this, I began collecting images, artworks and soundbites that help me imagine a festive, Black Juneteenth aesthetic. I revisit a scene in Denzel Washington’s Fences where many Black women dressed in white join together, touching each other and holding Viola Davis. I also revisit Kevin M. Beasley’s portfolio and am drawn specifically to the works Chair of the Ministers of Defense (2016) and A View of Landscape (2018-2019).
I begin a quest to understand how every American, especially non-Black ones, are planning to participate in Juneteenth now that it is a federal holiday. I request that many people with wide nets to cast assist me in my research and I find, as expected, that most people do not know what Juneteenth is let alone how to interact with it. Those who do know, if they are not Black, feel that the only way to observe such a “solemn and reflective” holiday is simply to allow Black people to do what they please while they themselves sit waiting for instruction or education.
I become aware of Walmart’s Great Value brand Celebration Edition: Juneteenth Ice Cream as well as Walmart’s newly released, festive Juneteenth merchandise, which includes a drink koozie that reads “IT’S THE FREEDOM FOR ME.” The products are currently “under review” by Walmart after widespread disaffection on Black Twitter and beyond.
Mary J. Blige, Queen of Hip Hop Soul, is announced as one of Time’s 100 most influential people. In her video interview for Time, she speaks about how learning self-love was the fuel that pushed her out of the social experiment of project housing. On this day, I begin thinking about Black festivity through the theme of the cookout with its cross-generational consistencies. I remember looking forward to moments where Mary J. Blige’s music would erupt all of us into a familiar formation of movement, recitation and joy–something so near and dear to people like me and something clearly excavated in the artistic and intellectual work of Queen Mary J.
My coworker at a well-known retail establishment in Los Angeles is maced and mugged fewer than 600 feet from her job while on her lunch break. She and I are both Black and the only two trans women (that I know of) who are employed across four branches of this store. All of her possessions, including her Telfar bag, are taken from her in broad daylight.
Another Black employee and I crowdsource money to replace her possessions and provide her with a cushion while she takes some time and space to recover. After this incident, I start thinking more about the status symbol of the Telfar Bag, the Black people who celebrate the work of Telfar Clemens, and the power of cooperative economics vis-à-vis the Black Dollar. This accessory gained much-deserved recognition alongside the visibility of Black activists and public figures, and thus mirrored the ingenuity and forever nowness of Black culture in fashion–so much so, that people wouldn’t be caught without such an en vogue and highly accessible item.
Mainly, I am glad my sister is alive and being cared for in the moments after this assault; however, there are multiple vertices and tiers complicating how I think about this incident as it relates to visibility and the illusion of safety and, by proxy, liberation.
Historian Donald Earl Collins writes for Al Jazeera that America is closer to another civil war than most Americans would think, citing the domestic terrorism that took place in Buffalo, NY just this month as a part of a string of atrocities born from the Great Replacement philosophy. Gunman Peyton Gendron’s racist attack on Black Americans in a grocery store, incidentally located in one of many food deserts, illustrates how white people feel a lack of control over a fluctuating American landscape and ideology, and feel that it is in the hands of white citizens to suppress the political and economic power of Black people.
Manifestos like the one written by Gendron relay the same hysteria and rage that ignited war in 1861. The signing of the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 and its enforcement through 1865 ensured the end of a politically sanctioned oppression of enslaved people and yet in 2022 “eco-fascist national socialists” are prompting us all to consider where we stand in ongoing labor toward equity and safety for minorities in the states.