Juneteenth, celebrated on the 19th of June, commemorates the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas FINALLY learned they were free. Presumably, they were the last ones to learn of their freedom in the aftermath of the Civil War, a full three years after the Emancipation Proclamation. Celebrated by African Americans for 155 years, the holiday is finally getting the “mainstream” attention and respect it so richly deserves in the wake of worldwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism. Major companies now offer paid time off to their employees to celebrate. Virtual and socially distant parties have been planned all over the country. And there’s even a call for an international celebration where NO ONE spends a single dime.
Full disclosure: I was a full-grown adult when I learned about Juneteenth. I never learned about it at the PWI schools I attended; and my family, which is largely in Michigan where I was raised, didn’t celebrate it. Even after I learned about it, I never really “celebrated” it. My friends didn’t plan cookouts or parties around the holiday. I never bought or received a Juneteenth card. Other than a few social media posts, I never personally celebrated the holiday.
But, for me, all that changes this year. Why? Because as “down” and “woke” as I profess to be, I finally get it. Juneteenth starkly reminds us of a simple truth: none of us are free until ALL of us are free. Chattel slavery in the United States did not really end until the enslaved souls in Galveston, Texas were finally freed.
I get it now.
Here in the United States of America, that self-proclaimed bastion of liberty, justice, and equality, we’re in the midst of a reckoning with our white supremacist beginnings that’s been centuries in the making. As I write these words, cities, towns and communities clamor to remove the racist symbols and statues that dot our landscape. After three straight weeks of protests, people demand greater accountability from not only the police, but from institutions and individuals (see all the “Karens” and “Chads” loosing their jobs over racist behavior). On the surface, we have much to celebrate.
However, Black folks partying on June 19th doesn’t mean we’ve forgotten all that still needs to be done to dismantle the structures and institutions that uphold patriarchal white supremacy in this country. In what’s likely the most important election of our lifetimes, voter suppression efforts threaten our ability to exercise our hard-won right to vote. Anti-Black violence and hate crimes run as rampant as ever. Black unemployment continues to rise, while Black wealth continues to drop. And COVID-19 still threatens us all.
But we’re going to celebrate Juneteenth anyway, because we’re still here, and we’re still fighting. We’ve reached a critical moment in our history, as a nation and as a people. Whether we’re marching, donating, teaching, or organizing, we’re working hard to ensure that America lives up to it’s promises to all of her citizens. And for that reason alone, we deserve to celebrate.
I may be late to the party, but I plan to celebrate Juneteenth 2020 with bells on. Well, maybe not bells. More like with a mask on and from the safety of my socially distant home. But I will celebrate.
Because NONE of us are free until ALL of us are free.
Happy Juneteenth, everyone! Stay safe and healthy.
#Juneteenth2020 #BlackLivesMatter #AskJanice