Juneteenth & Youth Day

It’s been a strange few weeks, and there are many better equipped people to be talking about this! If you don’t have much time or mental space, just stop reading this and go become a Patreon member at First Name Basis or follow Equal Justice Initiative and read their stuff! But writing has always been how I put things together, and maybe it will help someone.

My family is from Texas, my mom actually grew up near Galveston, and I have vague recollections of being told about Juneteenth and why it is important. But living in South Africa, we never celebrated it (although we did celebrate Thanksgiving and the Fourth of July with our American friends).

These past few weeks, we’ve seen statues of confederate generals coming down, and calls to include Juneteenth as a national holiday at the same time that people have also been advocating for an end to police violence and full scale criminal justice reform. The Equal Justice Initiative has been advocating for an American version of Truth and Reconciliation Commission to talk about the history of terror that has been visited on black people in America from enslavement to lynching to incarceration. Meanwhile there is a push towards discussion of reparations at the national governmental level.

On the one hand, taking down statues and making public holidays seems kind of like “window dressing” when compared to abolishing the police or ending mass incarceration. Like, are we going to take down some statues, declare some national holidays and call it all good? Hopefully, hopefully not. If I’m honest, though, there is also a part of me that feels uncomfortable about Juneteenth as a white person.  Yes, it’s celebrating the end of enslavement for so many people, but it also highlights the fact that there were enslavers. Explaining to my white three year old why we are having strawberry lemonade and red velvet cake feels way more complicated than explaining why we are having sugar covered sweet potatoes at Thanksgiving (of course, it’s shouldn’t be, but that’s another post).

But then I remind myself, that I’m already doing this. In South Africa, we just celebrated Youth Day. It’s a public holiday- no work, no school. We remember the youth of South Africa in 1976 who protested against the apartheid government for the right to education. They took to the streets, and children were injured. Children were killed. Police violence at its height. It made headlines. It “woke” some people. It was still many years until our first democratic election in 1994. It is in no ways a “happy” day to remember. It wasn’t a memory of a victory. But it was a memory of resistance, and a memory that needed to be mourned.

And so, when our first democratic government had power, one of their tasks, along with the constitution, was to come up with a way to have a shared history for our country. The Truth And Reconciliation commission gets a LOT of flak in South Africa these days for being ineffective. It was ineffective at reparations and convictions of crime. Almost thirty years on, we still have massive economic inequality on racial lines and many feel the TRC was just to make white people feel they had “done something” so they didn’t need to take the next step to restitution.

But, for all its flaws, I think it was pretty effective at helping us come up with a shared narrative for our history. Most of us agree what happened. Eight years after the TRC, I was taught from the South African national syllabus a very robust condemnation of apartheid. I was taught about the human rights violations, about the massacres and deaths, about forced removals and the Bantu Education Act, which denied black people access to quality education. People might argue and complain about the details, or where we go from here, but at least we have a basic agreement on the essentials of what happened. The conversation is in the same universe.

Our government also had the task of taking moments from history that had previously been celebrated, and reworking them into a new narrative.

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Nelson Mandela statue at the Union Buildings in Pretoria

They erected new statues next to the old colonial ones. Sometimes they removed the old ones, sometimes they just built much, much bigger ones of newer heroes to dwarf the old ones. They built new museums. They created a new national anthem. They re-named streets to be for apartheid activists, rather than colonial or apartheid heroes.

And they gave us new public holidays. Now, as a nation, we remember the women who marched to parliament to protest pass laws on Women’s Day. We remember the youth who marched for education and died on Youth Day. We remember the Sharpville Massacre every year on Human Rights Day. And sure, for some it’s just a day off. But even then, even if I have no traditions, I have to answer the “Why?” question.

“Mommy, why doesn’t Daddy have to work today?”
“It’s Youth Day.”
“What’s Youth Day?”
“Uhh, so remember we were talking about melanin and how some people have more and their skin is more brown? Well, youth day is a day that …. hmm…grown ups with skin like ours were being bad and saying that people with brown skin were not allowed to learn and have books they could read. Is that right?”
“NO!”
“Who made us?”
“God made us.”
“Yes, so that’s why it was very bad the white people were trying to stop people from learning. So the kids had to tell the grown ups they were doing something bad and to stop it. So its’ a day we remember the brave kids who said, “Stop doing those bad things!”

Yes. It is extremely awkward. Someone please tell me a better way to talk about this!!
It’s awkward telling your three year old, “White people oppressed people, and we’re white.” On the other hand — because of the bravery and sacrifice of those youth, my life is much richer and freer. There are heroes in this history that I want my son to learn from. I want him to be the kind of person who stands up to injustice. How’s he going to learn that unless I talk about it? Heck, I even wrote a blog post once about how I wanted more white people in my life to talk about this stuff. Why is it so much harder when it’s my own kid? And why is it easier for me to do with South African history than American history?

For me, I think a tiny part is that I didn’t learn this as a child. I learned about apartheid as a child- it was a fact of life. There were no “good old days” for me. Whereas my American history came through nostalgic children’s books and museums on visits to the States, which did not address a lot of these stories, or treated them as a “special interest group” part of history. American history is the history of AMERICANS. All of us. It’s white supremacy says that Juneteenth is a sideline celebration for some of us- not an integral part of our history. I need to reject that that lie. So when Jasmine from First Name Basis podcast shared ways to celebrate Juneteenth with your family, and why you should, I realized: this has to be for us, too. If we’re going to celebrate July 4th all the way over here in South Africa, we can celebrate Juneteenth!

We can make some red velvet cupcakes and talk about the resilience of enslaved people, their joy at their freedom, and the evils of slavery. We can talk about the resistors, black and white. And we can join with those who are asking all of America to do the same.

WAYS TO CELEBRATE:

On Comfort (Or, the Holy Spirit as doula).

So, in the social justice internet circles and books I read, “comfortable” is usually a dirty word. “Comfortable” is a sign you’ve sold out, you’ve bought into the American Dream, you’re valuing your own comfort over the justice that is required for the broader community. “Comfort” is right there next to “Convenient” and these are behind all the air conditioning, global warming, pre-packaged food, slave-labour priced clothes and CEO wages that lead to inequality. Comfort is bad*.

But this week I’ve been thinking about comfort. And how necessary it is.

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Photo by Kate Amos on Pexels.com

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The inefficiency of cooking food

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End of pregnancy and early baby nursing days has meant Netflix for me. And for some reason, the shows I am obsessed with all revolve around cooking. COOKED. The Great Family cook off.  Salt, Fat, Heat, Acid.

This obsession with cooking has arisen at the same time I’ve been involved in our local REKO group – a local farmer’s exchange system, where small-scale farmers (really, anyone with a small garden) can post what produce they have available, and local buyers can pre-order it, then come collect it in person at a meet-up point once a week. Continue reading

Parks as protest

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image: playgroundworld.co.za

There’s some anxiety in South Africa right now about land reform — in a country with extreme inequality, questions about how we provide restitution for historical wrongs, and what political action needs to be taken in order to encourage more equality can be come charged and fierce. (Especially when you throw a nice dose of corruption into the mix).

In uncertain times, the temptation is to hunker down and hoard. The temptation is to huddle off, build a little fortress for yourself, and make sure that at least you and your own are protected.

Which is why I am very excited about the timing of the opening of our church’s public access community park. Continue reading

Locavoring for Lent

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Animal Vegetable Miracle by Barbra Kingsolver (source: NPR)

As we walked into Lent this year, we decided to try being locavores for 40 days- only eating food grown within an hour of where we live, preferably on small farms. There were a number of threads that came together that led to this idea:

One is that I had just read Barbra Kingsolver’s book Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, where her family living in the South East of the USA on a small farm decided to grow as much of their own food as possible, and only buy the extra from a 70 mile radius. The book is a memoir about all the things they learned during that practice. Continue reading

We can’t be defensive about this one

Lately I’ve seen a lot of Christian friends sharing John MacArthur’s response to what happened in Charlottesville. (The video has been shared 42 thousand+ times on Facebook and viewed 30 thousand+ times on Youtube). The question MacArthur was asked was, “What is a biblical, Christ-focused response to what’s happening in Charlottesville?”

John MacArthur gave a little speech, but he did not answer the question. I was disappointed. MacArthur has helped many Christians over the years have a better understanding of the Bible, of sin, and of grace. There are some people that think in order to care about social justice, you have to throw out the Bible (or just follow the most liberal interpretations of it); however, I think a conservative reading of scripture makes us even stronger advocates for things like racial justice. Which is why I think MacArthur totally missed the point in his answer. Continue reading

A letter to my white son

I started writing this letter to you just after Mother’s day. And suddenly three months have gone by and you’re almost sitting up and rolling over. That’s just how things go, I guess. Somehow, too, in the same space of time we’ve gone from a police shooting to white supremacists marching in public. That’s also how things go, I guess. 

You arrived just in time to make me a mother for Mother’s Day.

Scrolling through twitter on the Thursday before Mother’s Day, and wondering when you would decide to be born, I saw an announcement for a Mother’s Day March to the Dallas County Courthouse, organized by Mothers Against Police Brutality.

I didn’t go to the march, because you were born the next day. About the time the mothers were marching up the courthouse steps, demanding justice for  15 year old Jordan Edwards, who had been killed by a police officer in Dallas the week before, we were walking down the steps of a Texas hospital to take you home. Continue reading

When you pray, move your feet

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John Lewis marching in Selma prior to being attacked by state troopers

They say it’s an African proverb (who knows if it actually is):

When you pray, move your feet.

The reason I know this phrase is not because I grew up in South Africa, but because it is a favorite saying of John Lewis, one of the key leaders of the USA Civil Rights movement in the 1960s. Lewis was responsible for helping to lead a lot of the grassroots college protests in the 60’s– the Freedom Rides, lunch-counter sit-ins, and also led the famous march in Selma for voting rights.

In other news, we just finished a small group study of the book Generous Justice with some people from our church. The book systematically goes through the Bible and shows how justice is central to God’s character, and to the way he expects his people to live. One of the most interesting things Keller brings up is the term righteousness in the Bible doesn’t mainly refer to private personal morality, but rather refers to the individual’s role in bringing social justice. Throughout scripture (but especially in the book of Job), we see the definition of an unrighteous person is one who advantages himself at the expense of the community, while the righteous man disadvantages himself for the sake of his neighbour. Whether that is clothes, food, legal counsel, or paying a fair wage–righteous people actively seek justice for their neighbours, even at cost to themselves.

I’ve been thinking about prayer, and justice, and what it means to pray while moving your feet this week, because South Africa just had possibly its largest ever prayer meeting. Thousands of people gathered to pray for our country, and for just leadership in our nation. I believe the work of justice is spiritual work, and so I was encouraged to see so many people willing to travel for hours in order to pray for just leadership. Continue reading

Adventures in Simplicity

simplifyAs my husband and I have been on this journey of trying to think more critically about our stuff, one of the voices I have appreciated is Tsh Oxenrider. If you haven’t checked out her blog “the Art of Simple” it’s worth a skim. Most lifestyle blogs have you getting to the end of a post and thinking, “I need this, oh gosh, and I need that. Aw, and why don’t I have this other thing, too?” Whereas with the Art of Simple, you finish and think, “How can I simplify and embrace contentment where I am?” Continue reading