Thoughts on Juneteenth

My mother Carolyn Saulson with my niece Elisabeta Maria Saulson at Juneteenth in Kimball Park in San Francisco, 2000

Juneteeth is living breathing pushback against revisionist histories glamorizing the Confederacy.

While I am happy that Juneteenth is a national holiday, and while cultural heritage holidays such as Juneteenth can and should be used to educate, I need all of you to understand why this is largely performative and why the performative nature of national cultural heritage holidays is problematic.

For example MLK Day is a holiday, but The Voting Rights Act of 1964 that MLK marched to Selma to get passed was gutted by the Supreme Court and still has not been repaired. Since Biden was elected, regressive backlash laws are being passed to restrict the vote. See the problem?

Despite the conviction for the murder of George Floyd, nothing has been done to reform the system of police violence against African Americans or to stop racial profiling.- Economic inequity, the schools-to-prisons pipeline, the use of prisoners as slave labor, inequity in prosecution (for example, higher penalties for variations of cocaine poor Black people use than for those that white people favor), and many more issues are still very much a problem.

All of these cultural holidays are quickly turned into an opportunity for so-called allies to gorge themselves on alcohol and cultural foods. This time next year, the Dollar Store will probably be selling Pan-African flag (red, black and green) picnic sets. So realize not everyone is happy, and a bunch of people are groaning because they know some folks are going to take things in the same direction as all of those Cinco De Mayo Corona commercials as fast as they possibly can.Well they are correct and allies need to tread lightly.


When I was a little kid in the seventies, my mom had me and my brother out marching to get Martin Luther King Day recognized as a legal holiday. We marched every Martin Luther King Day, for years before it got recognized in 1983. Later, after it was recognized oh, me and my mom and my brother and his kids still march. We were down there with Reverend JR Richardson leading us singing we will overcome together.

Sumiko Saulson (6) and Scott Saulson (5) in 1974

We were in an acting class when Obama was elected president, and everybody in that class knew it was a historical moment. Our teacher, also African-American oh, and my mother’s age oh, was crying because she had not thought that she would see a black president in her lifetime.

My mom told me a lot of things about the struggle. She told me that even though they did not have legal segregation in California like they did in the south, she and her sisters got chased out of restrooms down on Venice Beach in the 60s for being black.

I say this to you because I think a lot of you people who are allies think that you know what I meant in my earlier post about Juneteenth but you don’t know what I am saying. I am happy about Juneteenth being a holiday and I mean what I say. I feel that every single holiday of this kind should serve as something like a reminder of what we have been through in slavery and what we still have to overcome. I think the people should be out in the streets protesting with Black Lives Matter signs singing “We Shall Overcome” and protesting the school-to-prison pipeline that keeps our people enslaved to this very day.

My brother, Scott Saulson, with his daughter, Elisabeta Maria Saulson, at Juneteenth 2000 in Kimball Park in San Francisco

I think Black folks and allies alike are should buy from Black Businesses. I am going to Emmett’s because it is a black owned business, not just cuz I like barbecue which I really do. I think that people who are not African American need to understand that this is a holiday that brings up a lot of complicated feelings for black people. A lot of us celebrated as a black Independence Day.

Since we are celebrating our Liberation from slavery we celebrated with joy. Some of us celebrate as a somber occasion but honestly there are block parties and festivals and picnics. Over the the many years that I have been celebrating Juneteenth since the early 1990s, the Juneteenth fairs and festivals have been almost all black people. The idea that they are going to be invaded by nonblack people who do not understand the significance of the festival makes a lot of Black people feel valid concern. Honestly, allies may chose to honor it in other ways, by supporting Black businesses or through protest.

You may consider it a somber occasion and slavery a painful subject (it is). You may wish to discuss the fact that slavery still exists and Black women are one of the predominant groups affected by it.But you should also, if an ally, have nothing to say at all about Black folks who have a celebratory mood about it. We are also celebrating our freedom. We are allowed to have complex and even joyous feelings about it.

~ by Sumiko Saulson on June 18, 2021.

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