Juneteenth, has been celebrated by Black Americans since the late 1800s, an annual holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. I only became aware of the day last year after the deaths of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor and as the BLM movement grew. Last year dotdigital recognized the holiday and gave their employees the day off, and encouraged them to learn more about the day and what it really means. A few of us wrote a blog to document our collective learnings. In the same vein, we took a look at a year on how we may have changed and if at all the world around us has changed too.
Julia Neuhold – Product Marketing Manager
I’m a reader, and if lockdown was good for one thing, it was reading. Last year I made the pledge to actively support Black creatives, creators, businesses, etc… The big realization was: you really need to go looking for it. Because what you will be recommended on social media, on Etsy, Amazon, on YouTube, or wherever you’re looking to consume, is likely not created by or owned by a Black person. A good example is the fitness industry and those hugely popular at-home workout videos on YouTube. Halfway through lockdown (and about 1000 workout videos later), I realized how my own YouTube consumption was overwhelmingly white. And in trying to change this I got increasingly frustrated with recommendation engines: finding Black fitness bloggers, vloggers, and trainers really shouldn’t be this difficult.
But back to reading. I’ve read some incredible books this year, by incredible women, incredible women of color. My absolute favorites were both by Britt Bennett: The Vanishing Half and The Mothers. Other highlights were Luster by Raven Leilani, My Sister the Serial Killer by Oyinkan Braithwaite, Such a Fun Age by Kiley Reid, and Hood Feminism by Mikki Kendall (non-fiction).
Looking back at this year and my feelings towards it, I can’t say I’ve ever switched between anger, hope, upset, and joy so frequently and so drastically. The unfortunate reality is that not a lot has changed. Since the death of George Floyd until May 2021, 89 Black people have been killed at the hands of police in the US (note: the numbers vary here and it’s likely to be higher). Black communities have been hit disproportionally harder by COVID than other races and we’re yet to see the long-term impact this will have. Plus, the UK government failed catastrophically to report on the systemic racism in their own ranks, and crimes linked to race and religion are on the rise all over the world.
But let’s also recognize some other developments. Juneteenth is now an official US holiday, more companies are openly pledging to combat racial inequality, and conversations around racism are held more publicly than I’ve ever seen before. And yes, footballers playing in the EUROS are still kneeling, for Colin Kapernick and against racism. All this to say, the fight continues. It’s far from over, but I will continue to show up for it, educate myself and unlearn my internalized racism so I can actively contribute to this fight.
Tam Bond – Delivery Operations Manager
Over the last year, one of the biggest things that has changed is how much my friends and I talk about race.
Previously racism and racial injustice weren’t something we mentioned often, and I’m disappointed about what it took to make it important to us. We have to take accountability for that and recognize it as part of the problem.
These days we’re far more comfortable being intersectional and including race when we’re discussing class, gender identity, and sexual orientation issues (we’re a nauseatingly leftist bunch!) as well as talking specifically about issues of race. We always have the caveat that it’s not our own lived experience and we should be listening more than we’re talking, but we’re no longer opting out of the conversation.
I’m hoping that this makes our friendship group more welcoming and kinder – especially when things eventually open up, and we re-enter larger social events. It’s also influenced our politics and activism, our spending habits, and how we view the media. We’re a work in progress, and we want to be safe people, foster inclusive vibes, and be bold allies against racial inequality.
Tim Langford – VP Operations
Gavin invited me/ us to contribute again. Goodness, what a year in so many ways.
The initiative on June 19th, 2020, and the wave of protests from around then did initiate ongoing changes for me (as a middle-aged, middle-class white man) that are ongoing, and I’m grateful for that.
As indicated in my article last year, I feel the importance of those reflections and new ways of seeing can be lessened if they are made too public, especially in order to show something to others, so I’ll keep most of them away from this post.
I do feel however that it’s worth saying what I see about the way things are happening again – I talked about the danger of anti-racism becoming a ‘religion’ and it seems to me this ‘religion’ has become more entrenched in the last 12 months (as has the anti-woke ‘religion’), with the country more divided than it was even a year ago on this and other issues.
I told my strongly catholic brother 4 years ago that I saw in him an ‘unconscious, condescending sense of superiority from his religion. It was a good conversation where a deeper opening happened between us and I don’t feel that in him now. That phrase hit the spot for me since then of describing what makes polarized beliefs of all sorts including much of religion (in my opinion) tend to be more a problem than a solution.
I’ve seen in the last year how I have had and can have this attitude of unconscious superiority in certain areas – it’s been a real eye-opener and I do strive more than ever to see things from different sides, to try and find a rational and a balanced view underneath the increasingly divisive judgemental debates about racism and much more we see in the media and social media.
I think as human-kind we are at our best when we really try to calmly see beyond our initial gut reactions and ‘seek first to understand’ others’ lives and values.
Gavin Laugenie – Head of Strategy & Insight
Exhausting. This past year has been exhausting, and overwhelming.
Juneteenth, one year on. I wasn’t sure what I should write here, but as always I thought just be honest. It really has been exhausting.
Watching the news, reading books, scrolling through countless posts on social media has been a lot. I’ve never felt so much pressure to be a sounding board or an authority on a subject matter that I honestly don’t have the answer to.
The last year made it glaringly obvious to me that I compensate, and accept a lot of things because I’m on autopilot. A year on and but we’re still not where we need to be. There have been little victories we can be proud of. Juneteenth a day that wasn’t always recognized universally is now a lot more widely know, and employers in the States now recognize Juneteenth as a new federal holiday. Some cities unveiled statues honoring George Floyd, whose killing sparked a much larger movement worldwide for more racial justice. But being in the States it all feels so far away from my own doorstep
The world of Football has summed up the last year it all up for me pretty well. Usually the one time I can switch off and just enjoy myself watching my favorite team and players run about kicking a ball, how can racism cast its ugly shadow here? While England players unite to represent their country no matter their color, background, or religion, they have decided to take a knee to show solidarity and backing for the cause to kick, racism out. But even that is faced with opposition. I’m amazed at how much hatred must be inside of you to be lucky enough to attend a game in the middle of a pandemic to cheer your team on and boo just when they need you to get behind them the most. I just don’t get it.
With that said Juneteenth is a day to celebrate and I intend to do that even when I feel overwhelmed. The day is something worth celebrating and continuing to fight for.
Ash George – Senior Software Engineer
Last year, I spent Juneteenth reading Reni Eddo-Lodge’s “Why I’m No Longer Talking to White People About Race”. The intersectional feminism – and intersectionality as a general concept – presented in the book has broadened the way I think about many societal issues, including the climate crisis.
I should admit to the privilege of being able to silo the issue of the climate and ecological emergency. I shouldn’t be surprised that this planetary issue also concerns itself with, and is concerned by, race and equality; the climate warrior is anti-racist.
This Juneteenth, I spent some time connecting those dots; of figuring out why it is that effects of global heating, pollution, and the retreat of Nature fall so heavily on racial-ethnic minorities.
The answer I found was that capitalism – now and before – treats Black and Indigenous lives like externalities. The white supremacist system that extracts value from the Earth, generally speaking, makes little-to-no effort to account for the loss of (or harm to) these lives. There are real costs to these capitalist activities, but they are imposed without agreement.
This is something I know and hear screaming from the world’s media, but I don’t feel it in my bones as a white man. It’s not my town that has been exposed to environmental hazards from polluting industries; it’s disproportionately on Black neighborhoods in the US. It’s not my community that is systematically dehumanized; it’s the Amazon and its millions of Indigenous people pillaged by the extractive economy.
Of course, these ingrained systems of racial and economic exploitation hurt us all. But they hurt Black and Indigenous people much more than they hurt white people. To fight against this system as a white person means acting to liberate racial-ethnic minorities and to also act in one’s own interest to create a world without exploitation.
In a racist society run on the basis of profits, businesses will have their needs prioritized over underrepresented people; they do, after all, dominate our political system. So we should listen to those underrepresented people, listen to how they’re affected by these processes, understand the problems, and strive for solutions. Then we must act on those solutions.
As individuals, we can do this by making informed consumer choices, favoring sustainable goods and services that will often benefit racial-ethnic minorities through the above mechanisms. As a business, there is also much we can do to start incorporating the aforementioned externalities into our own accounting. As both individuals and a business, we can lobby for fairer economic practices and call out discrimination when we see it.
We should challenge these systems of dominance lest they push us all over the brink.
Beatrice Ellefsen – Head of Customer Success – APAC
Once again, this year I took the opportunity to discuss Juneteenth with my friends. However, this year I’ve actually not written about anything we spoke about (the continued Aboriginal deaths in custody, if and how it’s possible to help promote Aboriginal oral traditions without telling stories that aren’t ours to tell, the importance of law-writing to remove any cultural bias and systemic issues that come from this, the welcome increase in BIPOC perspectives in our media, police targeting of certain communities, and more) but rather took a focus on the importance of dates and of continuing to have those conversations at scale, and ultimately taking appropriate action as a nation to heal, and bring about equality.
I am thrilled that Juneteenth has been recognized as an official holiday in the States. I understand it has been a day of celebration, reflection, action, and more, for many Americans for a long time, but being made an official holiday brings it to the attention of the entire nation, and indeed the world. First, it is making people ask, what is this day, and why are we celebrating it, and that leads to an education that some might be missing out on. It also draws comparison to the end of slavery in the rest of the world, and I’ve heard people asking, why America, why doesn’t every country celebrate this in accordance with their own anti-slavery laws? As a British immigrant to Australia, I am still learning every day more about the local history of this country, what happened during colonization, what current issues BIPOC are experiencing, and how I can help take action.
In Australia, there are two dates that give me similar opportunities to focus, reflect, and act. One is Australia Day, the day where we celebrate the federation of the country. However, the date for this recognition is not actually the date of federation, but rather is the same day when early colonials first landed. It is also commonly called Invasion Day, or Day of Mourning, as this was the start of the colonialization which tore many Indigenous families apart. There have been numerous petitions to change the date, but none successful so far. This means that a day designed to unite the country instead divides it.
The second, is “Sorry Day”, a day named in 1998 for remembering and commemorating the mistreatment of indigenous peoples, in particular in regards to the Stolen Generations, where aboriginal children were stolen from their parents, to be brought up and “civilized” by the white colonizers. This in part led to the erosion of what is recognized to be the oldest culture on earth, as many communities lost not only their children but also their rich tradition of story-telling which is where this vast history had been recorded. This year, the focus for Sorry Day was on shifting the message from words to action; something many allies myself included, often struggle with taking the next steps on.
I believe that the more exposure these dates and BIPOC history has, (not just the colonial version most learn in school) and the more conversations they start, the better educated the nations to become as a whole, and we can better align on how best to support our own local communities. If you’re interested to find out more, I can suggest getting involved with NAIDOC week, National Aborigines and Islanders Day Observance Committee, the focus this year is on “Heal Country”.