On Juneteenth I Want to Be a Happy Black Woman

Written by Tammy Johnson

June 18, 2020

On Juneteenth we remember how news of Emancipation did not reach our people in Galveston, TX until 2 1/2 years after it happened. It took 2 1/2 years for our people to find out. The story of Juneteenth is especially important now, because too many of us are still waiting to be free.

In this historic moment of 2020 we cannot wait to be free.

It’s important for us to push for policy changes and for education on anti-Blackness, structural racism, and colorblindness. But what’s even more important, especially for Black people, is to live and be free right now, in this moment.

Bob Marley sings, “Emancipate yourselves from mental slavery.” These words speak to my own purpose: to be a happy Black woman as I live my life right now. To live my life with a sense of liberty is an act of resistance in itself. And it’s especially important today.

Yes, we must demand, fight for, and attain our freedom through organizing and policy change. But that work will, and has, come up short because we haven’t freed ourselves. The reason there’s reform instead of revolution is oftentimes because we haven’t emancipated ourselves from mental slavery.

If we can’t envision a world without a police department we’re still in bondage. Mental slavery still has us.

If we can’t envision a world where people care for each other… can’t envision the idea of someone sitting in their car with a medical emergency and others inquiring to care rather than to punish… can’t imagine living in a world where Black people can go to the park and look at birds… can’t imagine a world where people can be in their own home playing video games without intrusion of the heavy hand of brutality from our own government… can’t…

If we can’t envision these things then we haven’t freed ourselves.

As activists and advocates we think a lot about freeing our communities, freeing people we work on behalf of. But often we haven’t done our own liberatory work. So I’m asking what that liberatory work looks like, not tomorrow, not 5 or 10 years from now, but today.

For me what that looks like is rest. It looks like the ability to say yes and to say no, without hesitation. It looks like fully engaging in things that I love such as art and dancing. It looks like having genuine real friendships and relationships, not just with friends and family, but with the people I’m hip-to-hip with in the struggle.

It means reimagining my city of Oakland, California, envisioning a strong community of Black folks who live without the pressure of policing, who are able to access vital health care and education, where children play in the park, where barbequeing in a park is not a protest.

This is part of my life’s work, to be free so we can get freer. If we haven’t done our work for ourselves, we can’t do that for others. It won’t work.

That’s what I’m thinking about today: How can I be free so that others can be free with me?

Because I can’t party all by myself.

Tammy Johnson

Tammy Johnson is very clear. Her life’s purpose is to be a happy Black woman. Some days that shows up as a shimmy in the middle of a workshop on racial equity, and on others it is simply a pause for breath. Johnson is a dancer, producer, culture keeper, writer, equity consultant and godmother extraordinaire. Her kinfolk in Tennessee taught her early on how to be a love-warrior as they fought for their right to just be as Black people. Later as a community organizer in Milwaukee, Wisconsin Johnson directed living wage, welfare rights, public education and election campaigns. She has partnered with World Trust and Art / Work Practice, and spent a decade at Race Forward advancing racial justice at as a national organizer, trainer, writer, policy analyst and public speaker. Johnson co-produced the television special Colorlines: Race and Economic Recovery with LinkTV, and has written for the Christian Science Monitor, The Huffington Post, and Colorlines.com. As an independent consultant she has successfully brought somatics and artistic wisdom to the fore with groups like The Laundry Mat Project and the Young Women’s Freedom Center. The Oakland, California based Johnson stays true to her path by embracing work moves us all closer to world of justice and healing, and most importantly, work that gives her joy. Visit her website at https://www.tjuniverse.com/

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