Opinion: Juneteenth, Juneau, Jerry Jones and the worth of Black bodies

Anti-racist work is ours.

  • Sunday, June 28, 2020 8:00am
  • Opinion

Two hundred and twenty-five million dollars — the purchasing cost of Bravo Eugenia, the yacht ported in Juneau this weekend. Owner Jerry Jones also owns the Dallas Cowboys, the world’s largest sport franchise. When I learned who owned it I texted my friend, a Dallas Cowboy fan. I learned that Jones remains mute regarding Black Lives Matter, George Floyd’s murder and protests against systemic racism. I learned that fans await his leadership.

My friend played college football, served in the Army, worked locally in violence prevention and now works in a labor-intensive position. He is a Black man. One can easily notice his strength, his size, and the force he is capable of. We, white people in particular, often only notice or value the strength of Black bodies. We built this nation on stolen lands using stolen, enslaved bodies. We win wars and feed our children with Black bodies. We survive off Black bodies. We entertain ourselves, profit from, and afford academic institutions from Black bodies. Jones himself is worth $8.2 billion thanks to Black bodies. The U.S.’ wealth, our “freedom,” our entertainment is rooted in systemic and institutional separation of Black bodies from their humanity.

My friend’s body is guided by the brilliance of his brain; moved by the enormity of his heart. I can speak to him as a teammate in the office, a mentor for kids in our community, and as a friend. This man lights up a room. His kindness is magnetic. He taught me self-defense while his own safety remains unprotected. Elementary school girls hung from his body, demanding his attention while he moved between coaching running exercises and facilitating lessons on healthy relationships and community. He commanded the respect from elementary school boys for local culture. He checks in routinely on his friends. And yet, I have witnessed how, as a white woman, he was often ignored but when I said the same thing I somehow had more authority. I have witnessed his fear to openly embody his human emotions, like anger, when he is unseen or unheard.


On Friday, June 19 — a day of celebration for the U.S.A.’s Black community — a group of brave female Black leaders organized to collect donations; thousands of pounds of basic goods under the premise that those who can give, should give. On a day dedicated to celebrate the final announcement of freedom from enslavement in this country, these women stayed up until 1:30 a.m. packing 325 care packages, to honor the 325 Black Juneau residents. On Saturday, the Black female leaders led a team of folks committed to know better and do better throughout town to drop off these care packages and hand out other essential items such as hand sanitizer, women’s products, and baby products.

At the end of the day, 325 families (regardless of race) were seen and received basic care, kids colored in their new art books, people learned about Juneteenth and filled out voter registration forms, and volunteers were fed. These brave Black women then held space for reflection. They nourished our bodies and souls in spite of their exhaustion. It was on this day that Bravo Eugenia ported in Juneau.

On the longest day of the year, I felt this intense juxtaposition of economic wealth vs. spiritual wealth in Juneau. White people in Juneau, we are the problem of racism. Anti-racist work is ours. We are given the solutions time and time again.

Are you paying attention? Are you willing to give up your comfort? Are you willing to be humbled, wrong, imperfect, and feel lonely during this transition? Are you able to open your vision and understanding of this world? How will you help build up our community? Wealth without universal humanity is no longer viable. Health is wealth.

Some helpful questions to move us forward are: Where do I spend my money? Where do I get my information from? Who do I spend my time with? What positions of power do I hold and how can I use them for equity and equality? How deeply do I listen? What is my commitment to anti-racist work in this community?

• Britt Tonnessen is a Juneau resident. Columns, My Turns and Letters to the Editor represent the view of the author, not the view of the Juneau Empire. Have something to say? Here’s how to submit a My Turn or letter.

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