Ahmed Flex Omar

Today is Juneteenth, a day which commemorates the formal end of slavery in the United States, a day in which we celebrate freedom. But I do not feel free. True, I am free of shackles, but I look around and find that my culture, my history, and my selfhood remain in bondage.

I’ve been told I am a lot of different things during the past few weeks: angry, emotional, reactive, confrontational…the list goes on. For the most part, these observations come from friends, acquaintances, and colleagues who have love and concern in their hearts, but who do not share my cultural perspective as a Black man in America.

These remarks, while well intentioned, reflect classical microaggressions based in culturally ingrained ideas about Black men in Western culture. These microaggressions are just one reminder that racism is alive and well (and always has been) in American culture.

White supremacy and racism are reproduced subtly and quietly in every facet of our society, from television and pop culture, to athletics, to the very ways in which knowledge is produced and controlled in the United States. The result of this is that racism has not died — it has become covert, it has become polite.

In this culture of polite racism, Black culture, aesthetics, ingenuity, and creativity are admired and appropriated, while Black people continue to be seen as a threat. In this culture of polite racism, Black athletes are celebrated when they win championships, and vilified when they protest inequality. In this culture of polite racism white people and non-Black people of color curate social media campaigns of “anti-racist” content, but indulge blissfully in media and pop culture that victimizes and exploits Black people.

Racism is insidious, and unlearning racism is hard work. But it is necessary work if we are to heal the deep and historic wounds in our society. These wounds are generations old and their origin spans the geography of the Earth, as does their continued impact today. Thus, in order to heal, we need to respect and understand not only the current state of racism, but its global and historic legacy as well. We can not spend any more time trying to cover up racism, or fix racism — we need to dismantle it and build something new.

Consider this an invitation. In the coming weeks and months, I’ll be teaming up with some of the most inspirational Black folks in my community to share perspectives on how racism and white supremacy have infiltrated and grown in various arenas of American culture, and how Black histories, perspectives, and knowledge have been stifled or erased in the process.

These conversations won’t be easy, and they won’t be comforting, but they will be honest. In this moment, when Black people are being asked to give so much emotional energy to defending our right to exist, and to educating, and to organizing, what I can offer is my story. I can offer my truth and invite others to learn and reflect with me. I hope you will accept the invitation.

Finally, on this Juneteenth, my mind returns to a moment in which I felt free. I am standing in a courtyard at the Whitney Plantation,outside of New Orleans, a place where Black men, women, and children were bought, sold, and exploited as property for centuries. The plantation has since been repurposed as a museum, which shares the stories and histories of the enslaved peoples who once inhabited it.

As I stand there reflecting, I am filled with frustration, and sadness, but also with a bittersweet gladness that these stories have been recovered, and displayed proudly. This gesture does not undo suffering, nor does it erase the deep wounds I and my Black brothers and sisters bear, but it provides a source of healing. Afterall, the healing has to start somewhere, and that’s something we can all work towards.

If you would like to honor and support Black Communities this Juneteenth, you can make a contribution to the following funds:

The Equal Justice Initiative

NAACP Legal Defense

The Whitney Plantation

This story was originally published June 19th, 2020 by MALA Co-Founder Ahmed Flex Omar