By: Alyson Pollak, Co-Founder, DEI Consultants, LLC
At any given moment, all around the world, nations are grappling with their history. For better or worse, the lens through which we view these events depends on who we are, how we were affected by them, and what we intend to do to ensure a better future. Steps have been taken (some symbolic, some practical) yet somehow the human race still shies away from the negative events that shape our present world. How do you make peace with the fact that you have benefited from or suffered because of, something a person you never knew did?
The week of May 27-June 3 marked the 2020 National Reconciliation Week in Australia, marking two significant milestones in Australia’s history in terms of reconciliation efforts with Aboriginal people. South Africa recognizes The Day of Reconciliation annually on 16 December to commemorate the end of apartheid. In the United States of America, holidays are being reexamined and the focus shifted. Columbus Day was shifted to Indigenous Peoples Day and support is building for Alaska Day to become Reconciliation Day.
Juneteenth is recognized in the U.S. because it was the day that slaves in Texas were finally told they were free. Slave owners managed to hide this information and defy the Emancipation Proclamation for over two years. When the Union Army arrived in Galveston to begin enforcing the law, slave owners killed many of their slaves rather than let them go free. Other slaves had nowhere to go, and ended up working for their former masters in conditions no better than slavery, falling victim to prison labor schemes or debt peonage like sharecropping . Consciously or not, that tradition continues to this day, through hiring practices, wage disparity, home loan opportunities, and more.
Aboriginal actor Ernie Dingo said "Reconciliation [week] is not for Aboriginal people. Reconcile the injustices that your forefathers have done, sit down, think about it, talk about it, get it out of the way and we'll acknowledge your apology and move on."
Let Juneteenth be a time of reflection. Recognize our nation’s history, accepting whatever part our ancestors may have played, and reflect on how we can begin to repair the damage caused.
Remember to consider how your words and actions can be a building block, whether at work or in your personal life. Make every effort to structure your life in a way that promotes inclusion and equity for all.