Juneteenth for All: A month of Intersections
Hi, everyone! This is my very first written bits over here on the Accidental Tomatoes blog. If you are as confused as I am (you probably aren’t confused; I’m perpetually perplexed), please have a listen to the podcast episode about our new teamwork together. But that’s not today’s conversation. Today I’d love to sit and chat with you about the intersections of June — PRIDE, Juneteenth, and disability.
Where to Start?
I tread lightly here, knowing that my communities and experiences overlap therein, but some of these are not my own. Their experiences matter. Their stories matter. So today I want to explore the conversation with the Accidental Tomatoes folks in a way that respects and honors, with the knowledge that sometimes my good intentions will likely not meet the reception of them.
And yet, I write because even though it likely needs another polish, we’re all in the process of evolution. And change is hard, but necessary. So lemme know in the comments how/where I and we can do better.
For now and today I’m writing because I’m continuously concerned for our Black LGBTQIA+ disabled neighbors. Their very lives are constantly at risk of death and erasure. If you know and experience this, you don’t need me to remind you.
As we begin, I have to start with Kimberlé Williams Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality and the compounding effect that systems (including our own social, religious, economic, etc.) have on our physical bodies, emotional states, and very lives. Therefore, talking about these things is so important and nuanced, especially as our neighbors and fellow kin in Christ experience a world that is literally not built for them (at least here in the U.S.) — a society where care for their lives and families and livelihoods is not a given — until demanded in acts of protest and civic engagement for governmental change.
This is why I’m holding space in my heart for our Black Queer and Disabled friends. The overlapping layers of systemic inequality and oppression mean that their lives are sacrificed and lost at an alarming rate in a system (on all fronts) that is not built for their survival, acceptance, welcome, or success.
Juneteenth and Waiting
While speaking of systems that were never built for our Kin of Color, I’m reminded of this day of waiting on June 19th as hungry hearts awaited news from General Order Number 3. For some reason, truly unknown yet speculated, the Emancipation Proclamation still had not secured the freedoms afforded to others in the land. The system had still preserved its own structure and success upon the backs of those who were not given a vote or platform upon which to proclaim their inherent worth as free and important.
Just this week, Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday in the United States, making it a day formally recognized by the U.S. government as a day of celebration, honor, and remembrance. I pray that the reality of this new federal holiday is a change in the climate – a time when we can teach our young about the history and paint a broader future and celebrate that we (as in Ubuntu: “I am, because you are”) are “Free at last, free at last, thank God Almighty we are free at last” (Lyrics from an American Spiritual).
I pray it does not serve like the whitewashed MLK, Jr. Day experience as yet another holiday when the privileged few are “free” from their institutions of work while the poor are destitute for the next meal as a result of the lost shift.
Disabilities and Interconnection
Lest we forget, there are those who not only are overlooked by the societal systems because of their race, sexuality or gender, but also for their disability…intellectual, physical, emotional, etc. The intersections of these social assumptions, expectations, and cultures creates a world in which disabled queer folks are pushed past the edges because “We just can’t make those accommodations for you,” though we’ve been living in a pandemic world of accommodations.
The systems of oppression pass them over for their race and then double discount them because their lack of “contributions” to our fast-paced society that values the work accomplished over the bodies who produce. Less production means less value. More accommodations necessary means more time, money, and labor expended before production. If they can’t produce like the rest of the crowd, we send them off somewhere where they don’t interrupt our lives and our own worth. We send them off to institutions where someone else can make decisions, care for, mistreat, and abuse those whose lives are different than those whom our culture values.
When will we value their lives, their names, their worth? When will our system change enough that we can notice and value the imago Dei in everyone?
And yet, this isn’t to make victims in need of our doting concerns. This isn’t an exercise in “Look how poor off they are. Let’s throw some money at a solution and absolve ourselves of risk, responsibility, and change.”
It’s not that we need to treat them as inspiration for whatever agenda we may possess for the time. Communities of color have experienced this and died because of this. The disability community has noticed this from the vantage point of inspiration porn for whomever deigns to notice. The LGBTQIA+ community has been on the conversion end of paternalism, recusing themselves and their spiritual and emotional health for the opinions and desires of the straight white conservatorship of this land.
There are always those out there doing the work and actively resisting their own oppression. There are shes, theys, zis, gays, and hes who have overworked their bodies for the freedoms they still can’t seem to be afforded in their own homes and souls.
And still they work. Tirelessly. Overtired. Exhausted. Out of mental energy to fight for the things which are so eagerly overlooked by our world as “social justice initiatives” or “the liberal agenda.”
When will we learn to receive the knowledge they’ve been giving for so long at the detriment of their health? When will we see that the Holy Spirit is born afresh in their lives and witnesses?
It’s long overdue.
They give of their time, talents, gifts, and service, even when no recompense is given and “[And] Still I Rise” and still they thrive when kids from the suburbs appropriate their cultures. And still they rise when their histories go unacknowledged in history classes and books. And still they rise when Marsha P. Johnson and Sylvia Rivera’s name’s and contributions to Stonewall are dismissed.
And still they rise when a young white clergy gal from Appalachia tries insufficiently to touch the tip of the oppression iceberg and write their names on the walls for remembrance.
We as a people have sacrificed too many important lives. We’ve sacrificed bodies of inherent worth and sacredness.
We’ve de-valued the contributions and advancements of others, except when it suits us best. We’ve been complicit in our actions, inactions, decisions, and words.
So today I implore us to not only consider these intersections with a heart longing to love our neighbors more fully, but to live into a more inclusive kin-dom of God.
This isn’t for the sake of inclusivity, but for the sake of them and us and the wholeness of it all. We explore these intersections so that other children of God can be valued and compensated generously in a structure and system that often welcomes their talents and gifts, but exploits their bodies, minds, and souls.
This is my Juneteenth Pride prayer, lament, and hope for the future.