I am a white person with long ancestral lines in the deep south. Though I haven’t done the genealogical work to confirm it, I’m 100% certain that I have ancestors who owned slaves here in the United States. I’m thinking about that on Juneteenth and pondering what I might owe. I do believe I owe something even though my ancestors were mostly poor or middle class and had no wealth to pass to me.
I don’t owe anything backward. I can’t make up for the past, particularly not events which happened before I was born. Instead I owe forward. I owe to the people of color who live in the world around me today and all the ones my life may touch in the future. I am responsible to use the privilege that I have, some of which comes to me by racist policies and systems, to make the world more fair.
Juneteenth is a celebration of freedom. It is a moment to reflect on how systems keep on rolling along unless people come along and spread the news “oh by the way, you’re free.” It is a moment for me to recommit to taking anti-racist actions in my life to change the world for the better. That is what I owe.