Today two US holidays coincide: Juneteenth — long a commemoration of the 19th-century emancipation of enslaved African Americans that was not made an official US federal holiday until last year in 2021 — and Father’s Day — a more recent celebration started in the early 20th century, though recognized as a US federal holiday in 1972, almost 50 years earlier than Juneteenth. As a white father, I’m struck by the discordant histories of these two holidays: one steeped in generations of authentic cultural celebration to mark the halting, imperfect, still-incomplete journey to equality and justice for Black people in the USA; another that seems as much contrived to create artificial commercial opportunities as it does to celebrate fatherhood, which is itself another imperfect human practice. Fatherhood can be such a wonderful thing for both fathers and children, but all too often it is a relationship structured by the ugly power dynamics of patriarchy, marked by broken relationships, emotional distance, and psychological, physical, and sexual abuse.
And yet on this conflicted day, I’m truly proud to be a father. The two women who call me “dad” are among the finest people I know. Sometimes I can see hints of my influence in the complexities of their personalities, practices and pathways, but I also see so much more in them: great things that have just as likely come to them against or despite my influence, and so much more, that frankly, has nothing to do with me, that guy who just happens to be their father. One of the things I love about them most is that they appreciate me as a male parent, but without losing their unwavering critique and opposition to the patriarchy that structures their lives so strongly — and mine too, giving me lots of privilege, but also a knot of identity that I keep trying to work out, that I keep working to try out.
Trying to be a good father is uncomfortable — but highly rewarding — work. Trying to be a white man allied against both structural and everyday racism and for equality and justice is also uncomfortable but highly rewarding work. My identity lies at the intersection of so many privileged positions — white, male, settler, cishet, wealthy (by global standards), able, educated, and more — putting me on a throne of privilege that makes it really hard to see beyond my lofty view. A lot of the work I try to do focuses on finding and listening to other points of view so I’m not continually blinded by what Will Stencil called “social position bias” in a recent Twitter thread on wokeness. A huge reward I find in my own awakening is that in working toward the liberation of others, I find myself liberated too. In fighting the patriarchy, I find what I can be as man expands and is enriched. Racism doesn’t have the same dramatic effects on me that it does on people of color, but racism makes me less than I could be too, and in working against racism, I too become more free. My motivation is to make change for other people, but change for others has the wonderful additional effect of changing me.
But I don’t think it’s enough to just broaden my views, or spout them off, which may do little more than make me feel good and signal my supposed virtue. So what else? On this Father’s Day, on this Juneteenth, I’m reviewing what more tangible actions I’m taking to go beyond my own personal fulfillment and try to contribute to the far more difficult and important work others are doing to counter the patriarchy and build equality and justice.
In politics, I’m continuing my public support for progressive voices both locally and nationally. Locally, my support goes to candidates like Portland, Oregon city commissioner Jo Ann Hardesty, who will be in a runoff in Nov 2022 to keep her seat, Alanna (AJ) McCreary, who unfortunately lost her bid in May 2022 for another Portland city commissioner seat, and Jamie McLeod-Skinner, who is the Democratic nominee for the US house of representatives for Oregon’s new fifth congressional district. Nationally, my support goes to candidates like Stacey Abrams — not just in her race for governor of Georgia, but also in her work for voting rights through organizations like Fair Fight. I don’t support Hardesty, McCreary, McLeod-Skinner, and Abrams just because they aren’t like me — they also work for the same progressive goals I support. But I do support more people who don’t share my privileged position taking public office. Just as my own social position bias makes it hard for me to understand important, different ways of seeing and different solutions, the political structures of Portland, Oregon, Georgia, and the USA have deep social position biases that make it very hard for historically marginalized folks to get elected and bring their voices, viewpoints, and solutions to us all.
In funding, I’m contributing to local organizations that I’ve found to be doing good work locally in key areas, like Outside the Frame, which trains “homeless and marginalized youth to be directors of their own films and lives”, the Western River Conservancy, which “buys land along the West’s finest rivers and streams to conserve habitat for fish and wildlife, protect key sources of cold water and provide public access for all to enjoy”, Family Forward Oregon, which is building “an intersectional movement centered on care to fight for economic and reproductive justice for all mamas and caregivers in Oregon”, and the Rural Organizing Project, “a state-wide organization that supports a multi-issue, rural-centered, grassroots base in Oregon”. I’d love for you to join my family in supporting these organizations, and/or to find similar opportunities in your own region to contribute to people doing good works.
Personally, I’m devoting my career to where I think my experience and skills can make the biggest difference: working to promote better sharing to open knowledge and culture for all at Creative Commons.
Join me in donating to support CC’s many projects, from opening research and data on climate change and biodiversity, to opening collections of cultural heritage institutions so more people can benefit from a shared global cultural commons, to sustaining and augmenting the communities and infrastructure of the open commons, including legal tools, training and education, and policy advocacy.
May your Father’s Day and Juneteenth be happy and reflective. Now I’m off to eat dinner with those two people who call me “dad” at one of Portland’s finest Black-owned food carts: Southern Kitchen.