Juneteenth

A poem in support of Black lives in America

Ebony skin in cotton fields
While white men made their deals
Clenching profits, raising whips
Future building with lives in ships
But the workers cut from any of it
Bent double in strain but still you spit
Red white and blue
Are the colors you drew
In black sweat
And you're not done yet
Redlining homes, miming 911 fear
Same weary textbooks year after year
Officer "neutralized", gunshot or crushed
Overlooked dreams drawn in the dust
And all because you won't admit
You stole it, the credit
For this nation's good
Stole it from those who you would
Rather just rage to themselves in the hood
Time now to give it back
The pride of America was always black

- Winter Bel

 
'Juneteenth' is a poem about the history and persistence of racism in America.

Every year in America, June 19th (known as "Juneteenth") is a national celebration of the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans. On this date in 1865, a full two and a half years after Lincoln had officially outlawed slavery, a Union army general finally got around to letting the slaves of Galveston, Texas know they were free, an event now popularly regarded as the end of slavery in America. (Strictly speaking, though, it wasn't until the ratification of the Thirteen Amendment that slavery was abolished across the nation.)

This year, amid the global outpouring of grief and anger over George Floyd's death, Winter wrote this poem to highlight the racism that began with slavery and continues to the present day as grotesque disparities in wealth, housing, healthcare, education and criminal justice between black and white Americans.

 
Want to reproduce this poem somewhere else as part of your advocacy for Black lives?

All good, but please credit Winter Bel. (Write me with any questions.)

 
Important: Now read some Black voices

Important note: I am white. This is white empathy with Black experience, which is cute 'n' all but nowhere near as rich and insightful as an actual Black voice. So please don't stop here -- seek out writers of color for the real deal.

Among those Black poets I personally have been enriched by are: Elizabeth Alexander, James Weldon Johnson, Langston Hughes, Danez Smith, and, of course, Maya Angelou.

As for prose about enslaved African-Americans, let me count the ways—to the breadth and depth and height my soul can reach—that I recommend Colson Whitehead's The Underground Railroad. (Or, for that matter, anything written by Colson Whitehead. Should that gentleman drop his shopping list? Dive for it, people. Dive.) One of the greatest English-language writers living or dead.