Yesterday President Biden signed into law that Juneteenth would be observed as a Federal Holiday. It’s kind of amazing how much I’ve learned over the last 2 years about the struggles hoisted upon black people in the USA from it’s inception to today. I did go to school here – and took many a history course – but slavery, the time after slavery, all those things were taught as stuff that happened to black people… and never really about the sources of those ideas and systems in place that enabled those things to happen. Shifting my perspective off the people themselves to the attitudes, beliefs, power, circumstances, and structures that allowed it to happen has blown my mind – because many of those things, even if they are lessened or in a different form, are still in place. For example, African Americans, on paper, were given the right to vote in 1870 but not in practice. African Americans were still denied the right to vote by state constitutions and laws, poll taxes, literacy tests, the “grandfather clause,” and outright intimidation. It took nearly ONE HUNDRED years later to get Voting Rights Act of 1965 passed. Even now, the environment around voting is actively being pushed towards making it harder to vote for certain populations – and for reasons it doesn’t take a genius to read from the landscape. These effects are long-reaching socially, economically and generationally – as were all the effects of voting restriction in this country’s history.
This awareness has led me to become much more involved in local and federal level political direction. I’m also learning to read more of the history of the US written by the people who lived it and written by the historians that study it. Books written not *about* the systems but from *within* the systems also provide a new lens to see things – and has brought additional clarity. Maybe it just removed some of the rose tinting. In any case, I have experienced plenty of the idea that things are better than they were before so no change is needed now. It’s the battle cry of all personas who are perfectly happy to sacrifice others’ progress to maintain standards they’re comfortable with. There is so much of that.
But, I’ve also seem amazing resilience – belief and work towards the core goals despite any setbacks at the fringes and it’s been refreshing, empowering, and honestly magnetic.
Anyway, I want to celebrate Juneteenth because it is representative of the things that are ultimately building this country up to be greater:
- Inclusivity of different groups experiences. This holiday is an independence day for one sort of people – enslaved black people . It’s different from July 4th – Independence day – which was independence only for American whites from their British oppressors and freed not a single enslaved person in America.
- Representative of the fact that all is not accomplished at once. Enclaved people were technically free after the Civil war but it took two years for it to reach Galveston. There were even more cities that got the news later, and slaves that were freed on a much longer timeline. Juneteenth was an important moment in time but not the first nor the last of the Black journey in America. This is still true today. We have punctuated celebrations – but there is work yet to be done.
It helps me reflect on my cultural heritage – the emancipation of my people from the British whites – and how that was a much different journey due to a different kind of colonialism – but one that still required ousting power from those who had no place wielding it – and doing it unapologetically. Similar stories worldwide help us all reflect on what it means to truly strive for equality – in both presence, access, and attitudes towards each of us.
Last but not least, I have a series recommendation to help expand how African Americans both experienced America through generations – but how they influenced it too – specifically through food. It’s called High on the Hog: How African American Cuisine Transformed America, on Netflix.
Hope everyone had a reflective Juneteenth – and celebrated the wins in our history, both on Juneteenth and after.