Justifying Juneteenth

My experience at a protest on Juneteenth

Junior+Margaret+Mutoke+stands+in+front+of+the+confederate+statue+that+stands+in+downtown+Texarkana.+Crowds+of+people+gathered+at+the+statue+in+June+of+2020+to+protest+its+removal.+

Photo by Peyton Sims

Junior Margaret Mutoke stands in front of the confederate statue that stands in downtown Texarkana. Crowds of people gathered at the statue in June of 2020 to protest its removal.

Story by Margaret Mutoke, staff writer

It was a very hot day, cameras surrounded my face while I spoke to the masses of people surrounding me. My heart was beating so fast. I was stammering so much. I was so sweaty from the hot Texas heat. My hands wouldn’t stop shaking. I felt like there was a large rock on my chest. It was so scary to look at racism in the eyes. 

It was Juneteenth, the day of liberation from the tragedy that is slavery. It was a pretty good day up until then. I had gotten my first pair of Doc Martens and I decided to wear them to the protest. I had gotten ready and put on my BLM shirt, but no one could prepare me for the emotions I felt that day. 

As soon as I arrived at the statue, I felt a rush of adrenaline. On the right side were the people I knew the people I had protested with since May. Those were the warm familiar faces who had expressed their frustrations with me, some who knew the feeling of my struggle, and others who saw my struggle and fought for me.

On the left were many people who perhaps didn’t care for anyone’s struggle. Who were selfish, ignorant and didn’t wear masks. Then I saw something that made the rage in my system overflow. I am not an angry person, I rarely get upset in public. 

It was a simple setup of a few stuffed animal coins on the right and a single monkey with a noose on the left. A single protester on my right, Aylin Sozen, expressed her frustration with the unbelievable dehumanization of the setup. And the whole crowd circled around us. My heart pounded, but I felt this rage that had built up for so long.

I felt the rage of the slurs, the microaggressions, the rage of being seen as an animal for all these years rise in my soul. So many All Lives Matter signs surround me and the protesters. The chaos soon broke when I decided to speak. 

“You are all liars!” I yelled. 

It was so frustrating. Everyone looked at me. It was like the world stopped to listen to me. 

“You say that all lives matter, but applaud the mistreatment of immigrants in this country, you say all lives matter, but condone the murders of innocent minorities.” I took a breath. “You are not supporting All Lives Matter.”

I try to speak again but a male voice, from the left side, shouts “Go back to where you came from if you don’t like it here!” 

“As if your ancestors aren’t immigrants too,” I rebuttal. “A part of my ancestors were here, tens of thousands of years before yours came and my ancestors built this country from chains, so please, if you could do your research properly first,” I continued.

Many people gathered around me and echoed what I said. 

Cameras zoomed in on my face, flashes of shutters were all I could hear around me. So many angry people surrounded me and my heart was pounding. I couldn’t stay quiet. All these words came from my mouth.

I was so nervous because I am usually not a person to speak in front of a bunch of people. And for the first time, I felt a lot better.

Another person from the left exploded into anger saying horrible and ignorant things. I don’t know why, but something in me told me to go speak with her. 

I walked over to her on the sidewalk and sat and spoke with her. She wasn’t a bad person — she just didn’t know the extent of everything. She didn’t know anything about systematic racism; until we talked for about thirty minutes. She cried.

She said she didn’t know how bad it was until a teenager had to sit down and talk to her about racism. She never knew about reservation schools, the water crisis, how difficult immigration is, or even systemic racism. I am glad she actually listened.

Things got worse eventually to where people started arguing. It was so overwhelming to see everything going on. My mom saw this and wanted to take me home. 

As soon as we got home, I laid down and sobbed. I was so tired of constantly having to defend myself against racism. I wondered why it made sense for people just to hate someone over the amount of a chemical in someone’s skin. I am really tired of fighting. But I just might have to stay tired my whole life.