At the intersection of Juneteenth, Gentrification, & Pride Weekend… Head on Collision ahead!

( Note: This article was originally published on my blog. You can access it and other info about me and my offerings, in various forms, on my website: www.oritvibes.com )

This past Saturday (7/18/16) I was planning to spend this day of rest, by carrying out mitzvah in the form of supporting BLACK BUSINESSES & re-invigorating my own personal Self-Determination; whilst delightfully basking in some collective BLACKNESS, in all its nuance and beauty… It was Juneteenth Celebration Weekend, and I was so excited that I was going to be able to spend some time taking in all the sights, tastes, ambience, and sounds — Particularly the drums… African drumming, hmmm… Something my soul was yearning to take in more than anything… Perhaps my heart murmur could be shocked into steady, by hearing the master “heartbeat cadence.” I needed this time, my soul needed the refreshing. For those who don’t know, here is a brief history of what Juneteenth is from junteenth.com:

“Juneteenth is the oldest known celebration commemorating the ending of slavery in the United States. Dating back to 1865, it was on June 19th that the Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, landed at Galveston, Texas with news that the war had ended and that the enslaved were now free. Note that this was two and a half years after President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation — which had become official January 1, 1863. The Emancipation Proclamation had little impact on the Texans due to the minimal number of Union troops to enforce the new Executive Order. However, with the surrender of General Lee in April of 1865, and the arrival of General Granger’s regiment, the forces were finally strong enough to influence and overcome the resistance.”

As time has progressed, Juneteenth has turned into a 3 day festival around the 19th of June, always the weekend closest to that date, that not only marks this important history and the disparity therein; it has come to be a time of great celebration of African American Culture. It happens all over the country, not just in Texas, and it has evolved into a time of sharing with one another, teaching about the various cultures of the Continent of Africa from which we originate, and having a deliberate time of solemn joy in our own carved out sacred space… A space where we not only belong, but where we get much needed respite from the daily trauma of having to adjust, in order to survive, white supremacy.

My city, Columbus, Ohio, has in recent times been known to have the 3rd largest Juneteenth Celebration in Amerikkka. It has had it shares of ups and downs throughout the years… So many forces & red tapes trying to prevent its progress and actualization… Several years back, someone shot a gun and the entire event had to be cancelled… Yet as resilient as our stories, our history as BLACK/AFRICAN… Columbus has always been able to pull off Juneteenth every year; marking our way.

One of the forces that has been a major issue, and enemy of our Juneteenth Celebration has come from a place I did not expect… The Columbus Pride Commission. Pride, for those who may not know is a celebration for the LGBT Community… The very abridged history of how came to evolve is as follows:

“In June of 1970, the nation’s first parade commemorated the one-year anniversary of the Stonewall riots — the nearly week-long uprising between New York City youth and police officers following a raid of Stonewall Inn. Stonewall was a popular gay bar located on Greenwich Village’s Christopher Street, and the uprising helped bring the LGBT civil rights movement into the national spotlight. A year later, activists celebrated the uprising with the “Christopher Street Gay Liberation Day” march.” ~PBS

An important factor to note that isn’t in the above quote is that the righteous rebellion of Stonewall against the homophobic police was mostly led by BLACK & Non-BLACK People of Color (NBPOC), many of whom were Trans.

In recent times, the Month of June has been designated as Pride Month… Many events to celebrate and bring awareness happen during this month. Cities that will have Pride Week Celebrations, do so usually revolving around the big parade. This is great for this community… I support it. I do not, however, support how the Columbus Pride Commission… Made up of all white mostly males, has tried to come for Juneteenth for the last several years… This is not okay… But because of so many circumstances that I will delve into as we continue on, they got their way this year…

Columbus, Ohio is known as one of Amerikkka’s most “gay friendly” cities… It probably is to the white LGBT people who have been able to partake in and be one of the main gentrifiers of the downtown Columbus area; creating a temporal atmosphere that aids in forgetting that my city is mostly made up of BLACK People… The gentrification in downtown Columbus is overwhelming and sad… You see nothing but well off white people who have moved downtown, and homeless citizens who are trying to stay warm or cool(depending on the season) until the shelter opens up at night… You see, all these businesses between the area of the convention center & 5th avenue(at High St.), cater to the desires of upper echelon white people. There are maybe 1 or 2 businesses in that area that cater to ethnic diversity, or are owned by non-gentrifiers… The new reality of Columbus.

So… What about my BLACK LGBT fam out there? How are they faring in all of this? Are they benefitting… Is this city as ‘friendly” to them as white LGBT? I say that it isn’t at all, and even though I am not “inside the community”, I can see even from where I stand, that our BLACK LGBT fam have to deal with a whole other world of systematic oppression within the LGBT Community, where they, again, are oppressed in their BLACKNESS… The sad thing is, the BLACK Community is so homophobic, we aren’t providing BLACK LGBT the space and respect to thrive, the proper safe haven from systematic racism… This must change!

I’ve been told for years by people that I know who help organize Juneteenth in Columbus, that the Columbus Pride Commission wanted the downtown park space that Juneteenth now occupied. Juneteenth moved locations for security reasons a few years back… From a park in the city, to the downtown area. The Pride Week festivities also suddenly moved to the week and weekend surrounding Juneteenth. This would make Juneteenth and Pride right in each others vicinity at the same time. Other cities who have Pride Week Festivities don’t do this…They usually go the week before or after out of a respect for Juneteenth. Juneteenth is at a specific time, and has been celebrated since the 1800’s…This is not a small or unimportant event. Here in Columbus, the Pride Commission, who have been expressed to me as very racist types, were felt/thought to do the moving of Pride Weekend out of spite… Bad blood between them and the Juneteenth organizers. I knew this for a while, but never paid much attention until I saw how all of these factors were working together this year to totally wipe Juneteenth out… Now I could see it all so clear, and it was enraging.

So let’s go back to the day I was going to engage at the Juneteenth 2016 Festival… It was to be a 3-day festival, as I stated previous, that started on Friday. So on Saturday, I knew they would have the drumming & this is what my heart was longing for most of all… I trekked out early that day to the downtown area, and was met by an absolute traffic mess… Juneteenth was supposed to begin at noon that day, and all the major streets to get to the area was blocked. It was 11:45 am when I got to the area, and I was uber confused as to how cops could have everything blocked off. I was beginning to be frustrated as hell, and as I continued to drive in circles, I saw some folks cheering and what seemed to be a parade. It didn’t click with me right away that this was Pride Parade.

As I was going in circles, being kept from the area I was supposed to go, I saw some BLACK Folk, and asked them what was going on and how was I supposed to get to Juneteenth. They commented how crazy it was that every street was blocked the way it was, and we both lamented about how they do not consider us (BLACK People) for our events. At this point I was really pissed. So I finally parked in a neighborhood & walked to the Genoa Park area. I was still confused AF because I didn’t see anything that “spoke” of Juneteenth, nor did I see many BLACK People out and about.

I began to walk, and as I came up to the area, the same area Juneteenth was supposed to be, I saw people dancing to house music. I spotted a BLACK guy, very nice, and asked him what was going on. He let me know that what I was experiencing was Pride. It was now past noon and Pride had totally taken over the Genoa Park area. I asked him if he knew anything about Juneteenth, but he was from out of town and didn’t know. I thanked him and started to walk back to my car.

On my way back, I saw a Black Elder…She was in a wheel chair and waiting for her dog to relieve itself. We began to converse, and when I asked her about Juneteenth, she said, “Baby, they cancelled Juneteenth!” — PAUSE — I was so shocked… She was like, “Yeah, my son happened to see a short clip they said about it on the news.” I guess they had just cancelled the event two days prior to its commencement. I don’t watch mainstream media, so I am not surprised I didn’t know, but this elder said many didn’t know, and how wrong it was on how they did everything. Also, there was no word on the Juneteenth website about the cancellation…SMH.

So, I continued talking with this elder, and she explained that the police stated that they didn’t have any officers sign up to work security, so they( the cops) cancelled it. This particular cop speaking, disparaged & talked down so badly on Juneteenth saying that he wouldn’t want to work it ether, because who knows if they would get paid. — PAUSE — This oink(cop) then also said, from what I was told, that the police would rather focus on Pride anyway… With the tragic terrorist attack that had just occurred days earlier in Orlando, this made a lot of non-BLACK people feel this “decision” was justified; failing to see the injustice in it because it was happening to Black People.

Let me just say, that how the cops cancelled Juneteenth, and the reasoning they gave to justify it; complete and utter bullshit! A huge event like Juneteenth would have been cancelled lonnnng ago without the proper clearance from the city & the cops themselves signing off on the event.

Years ago, I use to work for the City of Columbus… When people came in to initiate clearance for festivals/events, I would map out to see if their event was possible, and then if it was, I’d grant them a permit that had to be signed by the oinks and brought back to me to be finalized. Juneteenth would not be able to even claim space without being cleared by cops, but now they are feeding the public fuckery by saying no one wanted to work this festival… Two days before? BULLSHIT!

Let me offer some more explanation… The reason I think the oinks canceled Juneteenth is two-fold. The first is the Pride Commissioners wanted the Juneteenth space, plain and simple…This has never been a secret. They also plan Pride Week around the Juneteenth weekend, and have been smug about doing it on purpose to Juneteenth organizers. Pride Commission is well funded… They have the means to pay cops extra to get what they want… Money talks! The heart wrenching events of the Orlando Terrorist Attack, would be the cops cover to show preferential treatment, and to get back at BLACK People simultaneously… But why do they want to get back at BLACK PEOPLE you ask? The answer is in the second part of the two-fold explanation…

The second reason cops was glad to cancel Juneteenth is because they wanted to get back at the BLACK Community. On 6/6/16, 2 plain clothes oinks killed #HenryGreen. He was legally armed and walking down the street minding his own business. Witnesses say his legal gun( we live in an open carry state & he had his permit) wasn’t even visible. He wouldn’t stop for plain clothes cops, who never identified themselves, so they killed him dead. The people have been recently mourning and demanding justice against the cops & department who did this… Cancelling Juneteenth was also a form of retaliation and adherence to their fear. They didn’t want to be around those who represent the one they unjustly executed.

These two reasons created a perfect storm for the cancelation of Juneteenth 2016… BLACK PEOPLE do not matter in Amerikkka…We are never considered, and white folks have no problem doing us wrong, because they do not see us as human…That’s the plain truth.

After talking to this very nice elder about how BLACK People are treated, and how crazy this whole situation was, I went to my car, and I was fuming. I was really disappointed by not only the cancelation of Juneteenth, but the arrogance and evil of the cops… Not only do they do us wrong, they revel in it.

At this point I began to drive out to another festival I heard was going on… It was an arts festival in a suburb of Columbus called Worthington. I was thinking that maybe I would spot a BLACK Artisan of some sort… Maybe…Hopefully? As I drove past the festival sight, I looked for any sign of any person of color… I didn’t see anyone. I just didn’t want to get out of the car… I just didn’t feel like dealing… I have days like this…You know how it is when you are going to be the only BLACK Person, and everyone will stare at you, wondering how you crept into the solemnity of their suburb… Some days I just don’t feel like being a freedom fighter; just being honest. So, I drove off… Not knowing if I’d head home or what, but then, I had the unction to go back to the Pride festivities… So I went back to experience… To see… To witness.

I dropped my car off at a safe location at High & 8th and proceeded down High Street. High street, for those who don’t know, is the main thoroughfare in downtown Columbus… Everything from The Ohio State University to Nationwide Arena are on High Street. I began walking south on High… Far enough away to take in the atmosphere of the entire area. I wanted to see and observe everything. I saw everyone out and about… All the businesses all down High Street had welcoming motifs for Pride; every business draped with LGBT flags and decor. I thought to myself, wow, they didn’t even consider Juneteenth at all…They were only preparing for Pride… The bigger money maker, because lawdT knows BLACK PEOPLE hate to spend money(sarcasm).

As I continued on, I noticed that most of those walking the streets were white, a few Latinx ( not many)… I saw some BLACK LGBT, but they seemed very out of place… I was very out of place in the mostly BLACK City of Columbus, that has been gentrified so badly downtown. At his moment, BLACK Folks were almost totally erased from the landscape… That’s how sparse Black Faces were…The BLACK Folk I saw who weren’t one in a group with a bunch of white folks seemed longing… Each one smiled or said hello to me, or complemented me in some way. I could tell they felt uber alone in this space that should have been for them too… It made me feel really sad.

I felt strong anti-Blackness as I continued walking down the street… Like it was a Spiritual thing… Very strong. This anti-Blackness was also in the white faces of many of those there to experience Pride… As I passed folks sitting on outside patios or at open bars… I was given… You know, just that nasty look white folks give you when they think you don’t belong… I felt that gaze perpetually, and looked it straight in the eyes sometimes, which made them of course turn away.

As fate would have it, I happened upon some of the Columbus Pride Commissioners (They had t-shirts with their designation)… I just gazed at them, and they just looked at me and kind of whispered… It was as if they could sense my disdain for them, and I could feel their disdain for me. I looked to see if any BLACK or POC had these shirts on… I kept a look out the entire time I was on the strip. I only saw white men… Not even any white woman commissioner walking around. In my knowing that this is the very commission that has been fighting Juneteenth for space every year; my mind kept defaulting back to this… It was so unnecessary, and there didn’t need to be such enmity and disregard… Just horrible human behavior.

I get that the Orlando Terrorist Attack had just happened, and I am very sad people lost their lives like this… It’s heart-wrenching. My sadness for them laying parallel to the racists whites in the LGBT community in Columbus, and trying to understand how that works? I mean, white LGBT should be a lil’ more “woke” because they are used to discrimination, but that isn’t how it works… Especially if I am witnessing how they can not only push out Juneteenth without feeling any remorse, but how they could take priority in a space meant for all LGBT, by whitewashing over BLACK & NBPOC LGBT in the midst of this celebration. I’m sure the BLACK & NBPOC had events they put on for themselves, to celebrate themselves as an off set of the main celebration, but this shouldn’t have to always be… Especially since Stonewall was lead by BLACK & NBPOC… Our people who are part of the LGBT Community should not be de-centered in this celebration… But alas, whiteness.

I am an outsider… A BLACK Wombman who is not part of the LGBT Community. I am only speaking this because it was my experience, but am in no way centering myself in their narrative. I wish only to bring attention to how these intersections collide, and tell my people, my beautiful BLACK LGBT people, that I see you and I see that we have to do better by you… Because white supremacy is not something anyone should have to fight alone.

I love ALL of my people, and just from observations as a BLACK Wombman, I have concerns that BLACK LGBT do not have the support they need… I really am not here for this shit… & it makes me realize that the homophobia in our own community & the racism in the LGBT community, means BLACK LGBT folks don’t really have a safe haven at all… THIS MUST CHANGE!

Black People, my people, my beautifully and culturally nuanced people, my bottomless BLACKNESS people… We have got to do better! White supremacy is everywhere…EVERYWHERE… There is a hierarchy, where NBPOC fare better than us, and will join white supremacy if given the chance in most cases…This makes alliances unsuitable most of the time… If they are not combatting anti-BLACKNESS in their own communities, how can they be our ally and we theirs?

So our problem BLACK PEOPLE is we re-create hierarchies of oppression within our communities… I know that white supremacy made us sick like this; we have to be the ones to heal ourselves… Colorism, respectability politics, misogynoir, homophobia, religious prejudice… All of these things need to be called out, dealt with strategically, so that we can begin to heal in real, lasting ways… The womanist healer that I am realizes this MUST come to fruition, or we will be lost as a people, indefinitely…

Cause’ real talk, we all need each other… BLACK PEOPLE we need each other… We have an entire system with countless willing co-conspirators…

ORIT © 2016

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