On Juneteenth, Think About Black Americans

·6 min read
Juneteenth March
Juneteenth March

Views expressed in The Advocate’s opinion articles are those of the writers and do not necessarily represent the views of The Advocate or our parent company.

I am a Tulsa native and grew up on the west side of Tulsa. I spent some time away in Fort Smith, Ark., to take a break from my busy life back in 2017. When I returned to Tulsa in 2019, I realized there was not a Black queer organization to support our community, so I got busy with creating that space.

My goal is to make Black Queer Tulsa not just accessible to Tulsa but to the whole state of Oklahoma. When I was young, I didn't have the correct environment to grow in, and there wasn’t anything out there where I could try to enjoy my experience as a Black gay man.

As a result, I have spent a lot of my life running from myself to meet the social standards of a heteronormative and white society. For many years I was lost because there wasn’t anywhere to go in Tulsa if you were Black and queer. Not to mention, those two marks against you in the conservative South can be crushing.

This weekend we are celebrating Juneteenth, and that day has always been important in the Black community. It was June 19, 1865, when General Order Number 3 was signed by Union Army General Gordon Granger that freed slaves in Texas. History tells us that our people were free that day, but it would take over 100 years for America to begin granting civil rights to Black Americans.

Juneteenth is the longest-running African American holiday, and now it's a federal holiday as of last year when President Joe Biden signed the proclamation. It’s great that more people are now aware of this day, but it doesn’t mean — and not by a long shot — that problems and pain don’t still exist.

Tulsa became a focal point of Juneteenth when former President Donald Trump scheduled one of his troubled rallies on that day in Tulsa while he was running for reelection in 2020. After everything transpired in 2020 it was as if the history of what happened in Tulsa over 100 years ago became front-page news as people protested the rally on what is also known as Emancipation Day. By daring to come to Tulsa in June, he awakened America to the dark history of the city.

There was no emancipation day for the Black community in Tulsa on May 31 and June 1, 1921, when a white mob killed hundreds of Black people, right here in my community. North Tulsa was burned down. What was then the most affluent Black community (most of it was referred to as Black Wall Street) in America killed and left thousands of people homeless. If you live in Tulsa, it’s hard not to be reminded of all that horror over 100 years ago. And if you live anywhere else, you don’t have to be reminded about what occurred in Tulsa. You know from your own experiences of how the problems and the pain of being Black in America still exist.

The Buffalo mass shooting was horrific, and it was just the latest example of how the Black community is threatened. Black people are still being subjected to violence at the hands of white nationalists. While we might want to think that a lot has changed since the Tulsa massacre, think again. Things are just hidden until you go digging.

Now just imagine if you're Black and queer. One week it’s Black Americans being murdered in Buffalo, and the pain that we have been experiencing with our trans brothers and sisters being murdered. To our friends getting pulled over and worried about their life. No matter where you look, you are surrounded by threats.

We still deal with the negatives of what it’s like to be Black in a white world and/or to be queer in a straight society. Each day, my community prays for protection when we step out our doors and confront the dangers.

We fight two battles, our queerness and the color of our skin. And that is super frustrating. It’s very hard to carry those burdens on our backs every damn day. That’s why Black Queer Tulsa was founded, to help those who must straddle two marginalized groups have a place to feel safe and loved.

And there’s another hindrance to our unfettered freedom. Many of us are just fed up with having to grapple with white privilege. Let me explain what that’s like, and if you’re not Black, what that means. When having a conversation with someone who isn't Black, you must constantly listen with intention. You want to make sure the person is not being rude or saying something that is offensive. For a while, I believed I wouldn’t ever have to worry about being treated unfairly or being talked to in a different way due to the color of my skin.

When I became an adult, I quickly realized reality. Think about it. Many times, I didn’t feel like I fit in the world as a Black gay man — trying to fit into circles that wanted me to change who I am. Now I know that isn't going to work for anyone.

It was very hard — still is. And it’s very frustrating. I, like everyone else who is Black and queer, have no choice but to push forward: Yet you must stay alert and keep in mind that not all people are on your side. You need to have a strong inner circle. People you know are on your side.

I’m grateful that Juneteenth is recognized as a holiday. It’s making more people aware of Black history. Also, isn’t it great for many to have the day off? Especially during the summertime, just like they do for other celebrations. However, my guess is that not too many people in white society will think about the plight of Black people, and that’s not how federal holidays were intended.

On Memorial Day, we honor those who served. On Martin Luther King Jr. Day, we honor his fight for civil rights. On Presidents Day. we acknowledge our presidents, originally honoring George Washington. On Labor Day, we honor the American workforce. On July 4, we celebrate America's birth.

On Juneteenth, let’s take a moment to not just celebrate but try to understand Black America, and if you’re black and queer, show off! This is a time for you to shine and be recognized for your Black queer struggle! By doing so, you will make more people understand our problems and the continued struggle for freedom for all of us as a Black community, regardless of our sexuality or gender.

Daniel McHenry is the founder of Black Queer Tulsa.