Juneteenth 2021 in Provincetown felt like a promise. For the first time, possibly ever, the BIPOC (Black, Indigenous, and People of Color) and queer communities both here and in Fire Island, NY, formally joined forces in solidarity to celebrate the emanicaption of slaves in the United States. Led by a coalition of organizations brought together by The Black and Brown Equity Coalition (BABEC) and Gays Against Guns, the day’s events saw an incredibly diverse, intergenerational, and inspiring alliance of people come together to recognize the importance of the holiday, and to discuss openly the obstacles we still face as a community in the effort to be a welcoming, safe, and hospitable place for Black folx and other people of color.
A promise is a pact made from one party to another, ensuring future action with only the flimsiest of assurances: words. Provincetown is a community that, according to US Census data, is over 91% white. This is almost 20 percentage points above the total US population, and points to a disparity that must, after all, come from somewhere. No place in America is “naturally” white. We, my fellow white folx reading, should feel empowered to question this disparity, to talk about it openly, and decide how we react to it. It’s not a matter of recognizing a holiday that Black folx have been celebrating for over 150 years just fine without us, but of showing up again and again, and making consequential, actionable decisions that benefit folx other than ourselves.
In my experience in Provincetown, I am greeted consistently with a romantic, idealized conception of a place of tolerance and acceptance – where people who’ve found hostility and rejection elsewhere can come to create, love, and live freely. I’ve experienced that world myself as a queer person who never quite felt like they fit in. But there, next to the Pilgrim Monument on Juneteenth, we heard testimonies from our Black and Indigenous community members of how this dreamy charter has indeed, not been their experience. How it takes bravery and strength to simply frolic down Commercial Street or trek out to Herring Cove and be. The words of Lamb Rahming, a representative of Men of Melanin Magic, a Boston-based organization responsible for the new Men of Color weekend in Ptown, were especially evocative of this reality, and an excellent reminder that the majority doesn’t get to declare that a place is void of racism, or ableism, or transphobia, or any other form of discrimination, no matter if that majority itself is comprised of a disproportionately large amount of marginalized people. Our queerness does not negate our privilege.
When I think of Provincetown’s next generation, I think of it much like how I do the next generation of our nation – queerer, blacker, browner, and more equitable. The creation of an office of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion in our local government was certainly a step in the right direction, but it cannot be a scapegoat for our own inaction as individuals. I love this town with all my heart. I want it to be the dream many of us talk about it being – one that is so necessary and vital to our country. It will take work to live up to that promise. Here’s to finding joy in keeping it.
Jeff Petriello is a member of PLOVR, the Provincetown League of Visionary Revolutionaries, and invites you to join at https://ptownplovr.wixsite.com, where you can help organize the next round of Community Conversations on Race.