Saturday, June 19, 2010

Ally Issues: On Juneteenth vs. Helen Keller Blogswarm Days

Helen Keller Blogswarm Day came and went, and since I knew about it beforehand, I'd already made a promise to write something for it. This, despite not being Helen Keller's birthday, or even the day of her death. 

At the same time, Juneteenth came and went, an actual day of celebration. 

And from here on out, this post is going to be All About Me. Even though I know it ain't about me.

I had no idea what Juneteenth is until this morning, and it is currently 1:24pm, June 20, in Malaysia. I am not African-American, nor have I been a minority in North America for most of my life. It shows how few black / African-American friends I have that such a seminal holiday, so integral to black North American history, has been off the radar despite my reading blogs on race issues in North America for the last few years. Even if not all black people celebrate Juneteenth, I surely would have heard about it from at least one.

I don't know why I never knew. I have no good reason not to know. I should know, because whether or not I like it, the North American hegemony permeates my consciousness whenever I do most of anything. 

And yet, I am resentful, because this North American hegemony is not one I belong to, and thus I resist it, and in my resistance, I can and have participated in ignorance of a very important day. I colluded.

Nonetheless, Renee's callout to FWD on hosting the Helen Keller Mythbusting Day made me wince. Her callout is legitimate. She's been left in the dust a lot, for someone who speaks so much truth to power. She makes no apologies for the things she says and does unless it hurts someone else substantially. She has made the call-out of the blogswarm being racist, of white privilege erasing what is an important black holiday. 

I reacted viscerally because it felt like the onus was on me, a minority in both North America and in my own Southeast Asia, to center North American, specifically US American, history once more. Yet, at the same time, the reaction is against the words of a minority in North America. It's just not fair to all of us, what the white North American and Western European hegemonies have done to us minorities within and without. 

I've been involved in a similar sort of fail several years ago. Back then, I knew nothing about black-white race relations in North America. I apologized, but it was an empty sort of apology because I had no idea what I was apologizing for - all I knew was that I had hurt someone, and that's worth an apology (and I rarely, if ever, apologize, verbally). Knowing better now, I look back and I see I was behaving very badly.

I cannot help but feel that right now, although I understand the inherent problems, I'm still in the same place I was then - outside this context of which I never grew up in and have never felt I belonged to. I don't even have White Liberal Guilt to fall back on. I don't know how in any way this post could make anything better, especially since both events are really quite happy events, celebrating two communities that have traditionally been marginalized. 

BFP brought it home in pointing out that Renee's callout is of systemic privilege - that once again, celebration of a white person has taken precedence over a black person's celebration. She also brought it home in pointing out that these two events can, and should, co-exist with each other, because marginalized communities need to work together. 

At the end of it, all I can say is, I am sorry I colluded in the contribution of erasure. 

1 comment:

  1. Thanks so much for this. This weekend was incredibly hard for me as a disabled person of colour. I would like to point out that though it is not officially recognized in Canada, many descendants of slaves celebrate this day. St.Catherines which is 20 minutes from where I live has a huge picnic every year to celebrate. This is a sort of quasi family reunion that is open to the public.

    When I said something about this event, I did so from the perspective of the African Diaspora. We have become so disconnected from each other because of slavery and think that we need to take special attention to any issue that involves Black people to help to heal the wounds of our loss. I don't think that we should see the borders created by Whiteness as a barrier to our attempts at unification. What happens to Black people anywhere is our business.

    I am not sure that I agree with celebrating Helen Keller day on Juneteenth, because it means putting a White woman front and center on a day that is a celebration of Black emancipation. I do think that there needs to be some serious discussion about disability though. Perhaps if the event were used to talk about disabled POC, I would have had no problem with it, but talking about a White woman disabled or not on Juneteenth is in my mind problematic to say the least. I think that it is important to note that no WOC in Helen Kellers lifetime with the same or differing disabilities would have had the chance to have this kind of wide spread fame and enduring memory. We know about her in large part because of her Whiteness and I think that has been forgotten in our conversations about her.

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