In my home this week we’ve celebrated a graduation, a birthday, a year closing out, a potential work thing for me, and a visit from a loved one. As I round the week out, I’m happy to carry the celebrations further with Juneteenth. This is likely the first year I’ve truly celebrated. It’s not because I was told not to, or didn’t know. Or even told to, this year. It’s simply because the clarity in actually pausing for my life and the lives of others feels necessary.
Living joyfully and free, despite the spaces that tried to question what was inherently mine is a task in which I have religiously embarked on. This is work many Black people do everyday. Not because it is easy, but because to live in a world that we know exists and can exist, is an act of resistance.
In The New York Times today, Sadiya Hartman shared this,
“How to live a free life, how one can live, is the pressing question for black folks in the wake of slavery’s formal end.” Ms. Hartman said that imagining a freer life and a more just society has been the purpose of generations of black people since the days of Reconstruction.
“Recently, I heard Angela Davis talk about the radical imagination,” Ms. Hartman said. “And a fundamental requirement is believing that the world you want to come into existence can happen. I think that that is how black folks have engaged with and invested in and articulated freedom, as an ideal and as an everyday practice.”
What have we been doing all this time? All of it. What are we doing today? Celebrating and connecting with all of it.
In this week’s letter I wrote about the cornering off of freedom. The contradiction of it. The illusion of it. The fight, mainly.
“Our bodies rattled on the train, the speed of which feels frighteningly fast these days. I’m not sure if it’s our new unfamiliarity with it, or if it’s the trains trying to keep up with a virus we were never ahead of. If five trains come within 10 minutes, limiting cars by 100 people, and then naturally, let’s say, for fun, another 100 people who would normally ride the train at that particular time, no longer do–for they have fled the city or are sticking to their bikes or their feet–then maybe we have a chance here? Math is my new nothing. Historically, I’m terrible at it. Numbers crumble in my brain. But recently, I’ve devoured enough texts and heard enough stories to find a whole something in my mathematical approaches.
The trains have always allowed me to be free. And maybe in my calculation, I am performing and assessing this freedom (or the lack thereof). An unmeasured existence in this city. And in my body. A story for another day, or rather the letter before this. What I’m trying to say is that nothing and something of freedom has always been an illusion. A song I sang while cornering off my freedom to protect myself and my family. Until someone says, “You can’t.” Or, “That math doesn’t work.” Or that nothing is actually something—your skin, a virus, a packed train, an empty train, a non-normal new normal.”
So happy Juneteenth. Happy weekend. Loud and clear. I’m going to celebrate in the park, hold my last writing workshop of the season, and take a nap or two or three.
(photo L R.C. Hickman Photographic Archive/UT Austin Briscoe Center for American History)