Learning From and Leaning Into Juneteenth

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“At the moment is Juneteenth. If I had anti-racist training, I might know extra about what that really means.”

So learn the signal that my middle-school aged little one held two years in the past throughout a city rally for anti-racist education that came about on Juneteenth that 12 months. The poster was my try at a cleverly rendered jab condemning the lack of racial justice-oriented curriculum in our native faculties. In lots of communities, 2020 marked the very first time that white folks started to care about Juneteenth in a mainstream manner.

To say now that it was a fraught 12 months is, after all, an understatement.

These Juneteenth celebrations came about three months into the start of the COVID-19 pandemic and some weeks after the broadly circulated video-recorded homicide of George Floyd. They punctuated the deaths of Breonna Taylor and Ahmaud Arbery.

Following Floyd’s homicide, a wave of racial justice-oriented statements and initiatives flooded the private and non-private sectors all through the USA. For firms, schools and universities, this resulted in a so-called “racial reckoning” that, for probably the most half, merely translated into issuing assertion after assertion. For media shops, this meant publishing reading lists and blog posts rife with anti-racist knowledge and coronating specialists on racism primarily based on how many books they sold. For governing our bodies, Juneteenth introduced a chance to do one thing by lastly recognizing what, for a lot of African People, had lengthy been a vacation marking the importance of freedom. A 12 months later in 2021, a bill passed to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

What Juneteenth has reaffirmed for me is the significance of centering Black pleasure, folks, activists, creatives, work, artwork, freedom and all Black every little thing greater than ever.

However two years later, I’m nonetheless left uneasy by the emergence of those celebrations and query how a lot fruit they’ve yielded. Or, to riff off of Frederick Douglass’ iconic speech interrogating the Fourth of July’s which means for Black folks in bondage, I’m nonetheless left wondering: What does Juneteenth imply to me, to you, to us in the present day?

The actual fact is that the Juneteenth frenzy by no means sat effectively with me. As quickly as the general public celebrations started to unfurl, I had reservations and critiques. I feared that these grand gestures of solidarity and statements of dedication had been not more than vacuous, hole symbols meant to indicate that white folks lastly bought it, no matter whether or not or not motion would observe. From my vantage level, these statements and celebrations seemed extra like shallow advantage signaling than a deeply rooted, strong dedication to transformational change. One instance that emblematizes Juneteenth gone incorrect is the Walmart fiasco that surfaced earlier this 12 months. Right here we’ve Juneteenth, one other alternative to revenue off of Blackness with out investing in dismantling anti-Blackness.

Having not too long ago written a e book about my discomfort with how celebrations of Martin Luther King fall into a well-recognized reductive sample, I acknowledged similarities in these Juneteenth celebrations that troubled me. I feared that identical to Martin Luther King Day and Black Historical past Month, Juneteenth would develop into the following compulsory sign of wokeness with out work. As a agency believer that wokeness with out works is lifeless, or as somebody who feels strongly that statements have to be guided by motion and assets, the hole coronation of a newly important Black vacation pissed off me with out finish.

It additionally troubled me as a result of for generations, Black communities have been observing and celebrating Juneteenth with out widespread acknowledgement. Which begs the query for whom does Juneteenth matter and the way will we interpret this newly minted significance?  

Juneteenth commemorates when the final enslaved folks in the USA acquired the information of emancipation on June 19, 1865. Though the Emancipation Proclamation was signed in 1862, information of it didn’t attain Texas till three years later. Whereas the information of freedom reached this closing group of enslaved folks on that day, freedom itself was ever elusive.

To be clear, that Juneteenth is a sacred celebration of the top of slavery shouldn’t be misplaced on me. I’m not an African American Texan for whom this custom dates again to the nineteenth century. As a toddler of Haitian immigrants who understands that there’s all the time a cost to Black freedom, I can not assist however ponder what it means to have fun Black freedom within the midst of a lot unfreedom round us all around the world.

I feared that identical to Martin Luther King Day and Black Historical past Month, Juneteenth would develop into the following compulsory sign of wokeness with out work.

A Juneteenth Block Social gathering at on June 19, 2021, in West Hollywood, California. (Emma McIntyre / Getty Photos)

This 12 months our city has its first community-wide celebration of Juneteenth. Our college curriculum continues to be not anti-racist. In truth an area election introduced into nice reduction simply how appalling the values of antiracism, fairness and racial justice are to some people in our town. 

And but.

And but my objections to the rampant co-optation and capitalist leveraging of Juneteenth ought to certainly not overshadow a recognition of how lovely and sacred this vacation has been for African People for one and a half centuries. Lengthy earlier than the Walmart tried to make a Juneteenth ice cream and Target celebrated the holiday, or different firms determined to acknowledge Juneteenth, Black folks on this nation had been joyfully and jubilantly celebrating today in our personal manner. As a feminist scholar, I uplift and marvel at Black women’s pivotal role in Juneteenth celebration which jogs my memory that Black girls have all the time been architects of freedom.  

What Juneteenth has reaffirmed for me is the significance of centering Black pleasure, folks, activists, creatives, work, artwork, freedom and all Black every little thing greater than ever. Quite than deal with the newfound discovery of Juneteenth by some, I’m specializing in what the vacation has meant to the folks for whom it means probably the most. That’s why this 12 months, slightly than lament how Juneteenth is being co-opted, I’m standing in solidarity with my African American siblings, particularly Black Texans, to have fun with unbridled pleasure.

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