As I struggled with writing this letter, one thought kept haunting me. How can a white woman of privilege write about Juneteenth, continual racial oppression and inequality, and sustaining the momentum of the recent Black Lives Matters protests? I felt like an alien invader into sacred space others (black people) have inhabited all of their lives.
I pushed forward not because I claim to understand their suffering. I don’t. Not because I have felt their pain. I haven’t. Not because I have ever feared for my life or my children’s lives when they walk out the door. I haven’t. Not because I’ve awoken in the morning to consider what insult or demeaning experience I might have today. I haven’t.
I write because my heart seizes anew with each report of another act of police brutality or murder of a black citizen. This is a tangible reality of the black experience in our society. I can no longer remain silent and hope somehow things will change, that others will see the light. No, not anymore. It is time to speak out and not stop speaking out until meaningful change occurs.
There are many proposals that hold promise – demilitarizing the police, regulating police operations to include properly vetting candidates, better training, banning brutal practices including the infamous, often deadly chokeholds, and requiring immediate disciplinary action when those rules are violated.
Our own policing organizations, as represented by Sheriff [Robert] Mosier and Warrenton Police Chief [Mike] Kochis, have both stepped up through written and verbal statements of support for the Black Lives Matter movement, as well as attending the recent rally in Eva Walker Park. This is the type of action all policing organizations should start with, while other, definitive measures are considered and implemented.
As individuals, we have an important role to play. We must think about and identify our own biases and change our behaviors. A good start is educating ourselves on the real history of black oppression in our society and globally. There are many lessons that we weren’t taught in school which can inform our recognition of the black struggle. One excellent local source is the Afro-American Historical Association of Fauquier County: https://www.aahafauquier.org.
We must cast votes for candidates who are committed to racial equality and addressing police brutality. We must agitate in whatever ways we can -- whether through verbal and written contact with our congressional representatives, or in-person events – until change occurs.
Finally, this brings me to Juneteenth. For those of you who aren’t familiar with it, it is the day citizens of all races, and particularly, black citizens, celebrate emancipation. Why? Because Juneteenth – June 19, 1865 -- marks the date of the surrender of the last territory held by the Army of the Confederacy and the official end of slavery for the estimated quarter of a million enslaved people.
Here is an excerpt from that declaration: “The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor.”
In reflecting on the reference to equality, I realize the truth that equality necessitates equal protection under the law. Can we pretend blacks have ever been treated equally? Let us join in honoring black citizens and ourselves by ensuring we finally achieve the promise of “absolute equality,” 155 years after the final Emancipation Act was proclaimed.