All my life, being Black, specifically African American (ADOS), the reality of being enslaved in America and being mistreated after the Civil War, has been my centering narrative about America. It was/is a source of pride to be a “survivor.” That’s my family’s message about being an African-American, it means we come from folks who “survived.” Black folks survived: the middle passage, enslavement (with all the abuse, rape, and separation of the family), Jim Crow, and every other obstacle throw at us by White Supremacy and racism designed into every aspect of America.
In addition to surviving horrific obstacles, I am part of a culture, African Americans who managed to create, build, love, laugh, and, in some cases, achieve unimaginable success in America. Despite America; not because of America. Black folks have a tradition of turning negatives into positives. Turning negatives into positives is how we survived. Juneteenth is an example of the African American tradition of turning something horrible (being enslaved for an extra 3 years after legal emancipation!) into something positive: a celebration in honor of the day the enslaved folks in Texas finally received their “freedom.” Juneteenth is not, for most Black folks anyways, a day that we believe we “got freedom.” Most Black Americans understand that we are a long way from actual freedom and equality in America.
Juneteenth is a day of celebrating our survival. Juneteenth is a day of celebrating and honoring our ancestors and hope in the chance of being free in America, however short-lived, that led those Black folks in Galveston, Texas, to throw a party on June 19th, 186(?7); instead of throwing bricks and fire, and burning the damn plantation and evil folks who kept them enslaved 3 extra years.
Basically, there will be various and conflicting feelings from African Americans about all Americans “celebrating Juneteenth.” It has long been our celebration, and we understood the duplicity and coded messaging of calling Juneteenth our “Freedom Day.” African Americans’ fight for freedom is ongoing, and likely will be a fight for the lifetimes of Black folks alive today.” Hearing other people, particularly WDOS (White descendants of slavers) and other White folks, who participate, benefit, and fight against the freedoms that Blacks are fighting for today (the freedom to vote; the freedom to an equitable education; the freedom to survive encounters with police officers) say, “Happy Freedom Day” is, well weird, and very complicated.
Honestly, this national holiday and acceptance of Juneteenth came so quickly! Black folks didn’t really have time to plan or discuss what this holiday was and how we wanted our ancestors honored by others. Further complicating things, is that we know the government is happy to “celebrate” this new national holiday of Juneteenth, not because the government wanted to honor those enslaved, but rather because, this time last year, George Floyd’s murder happened weeks before Juneteenth. Because of the awful murder, there were mass riots, marches, and demands for police accountability were exploding across the country. The American government wanted a quick way to show solidarity in the fight for freedom for Blacks from police brutality and murder, so they showed up to Juneteenth celebrations with posters. Instead of focusing on George Floyd and Breonna Taylor, Juneteenth became an easy distraction and pivot; they allowed White folks, especially the White folks who were taking to the streets for the first time, in solidarity against police brutality. Instead of marching and being hosed with gas and water (like in Portland), White folks concerned with racism could come to celebrate Juneteenth and then go home feeling good that they “ helped in the fight for Black freedom and did something about racism” because they showed up to Juneteenth events.
This is all really complicated
.Basically, Juneteenth is a celebratory day, and we are happy to see others celebrating! It’s just not “freedom day” for Black folks. Black folks are still fighting and dying for full freedom and equality in America for every Black American. I don’t know if there is a Holocaust freedom day celebration or a celebration of the day Native Americans were “freed” from some part of their oppression and genocide in America. But if there is, I’m sure the “celebration” would be complicated; especially complicated if those responsible and their descendants were present at these celebrations.
Basically, give us Black folks some grace and space if we are weird and not at all in agreement about the “right way to celebrate Juneteenth” today. Freedom for Black Americans is complicated.
Okay, I’m going to get my Juneteenth shirts, flags, and posters and get ready to celebrate the many fights and this huge battle victory in the war for our freedom!