On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed orders making “Juneteenth” the twelfth federal legal holiday. But what is it? Juneteenth is a date to commemorate the emancipation of the last enslaved African Americans. The emancipation proclamation was signed in 1863 by Abraham Lincoln, which freed the slaves in confederate states. However, in this case, good news traveled slowly, and history tells us that confederate soldiers did not surrender until April 1865, and the last enslaved people did not receive news of freedom until June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas.
Black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth annually on June 19 in various parts of the United States since 1866. Isn’t it ironic that it’s taken 156 years to be recognized by the government? Therein lies the problem. America has a way of commercializing marginalized groups’ cultural and/or religious celebrations without fully accepting or affording true equality to those same people. Let’s take Cinco de Mayo for example; this day commemorates the anniversary of Mexico’s victory over the Second French Empire at the Battle of Puebla in 1862. How many of your friends participate in bar crawls, tacos and tequila, etc. on May 5 of every year but don’t have any Mexican friends, don’t study Mexican culture outside of food and cocktails, and don’t know specifically why Cinco de Mayo is celebrated? Now I’m not saying acknowledging other cultural celebrations is wrong, but what I am saying is participating in the activities mentioned above in place of acknowledgment is not ok.
This brings me back to celebrating Juneteenth. I’m not one to talk politics, so this isn’t about that but how the commercialization of minority cultural and religious celebrations is consistently and unapologetically tone-deaf by the masses. I don’t speak for all Black Americans. Still, I think it’s safe to say many of us feel some kind of way about the pandering of this new holiday over actually passing legislation that addresses real concerns in the Black community.
We’ve already seen offensive attempts at inclusion and failed marketing strategies from national and local retailers and organizations. The micro aggressions are loud, from “Juneteenth ice cream” to Watermelon salad. I enjoy celebrating Juneteenth and am happy that it is now a federal holiday, but to those for whom the celebrations don’t apply, if these days aren’t accompanied with the intent for individuals to at minimum educate themselves, then what’s the point? The government has now just made common a day that many African-Americans for generations have celebrated with tradition, storytelling, and unity, and might I add, without permission.
Nevertheless, for those of you that have the day off, I hope you enjoy the Juneteenth federal holiday by spending time with friends, family, and loved ones, but remember to take a moment to pay homage to the last of the enslaved Black Americans to earn their freedom. If you’re not a minority, take a moment to research a little Black History today, not only about Juneteenth but African-American culture in general, and share positivity stories with your children. If we’re all in this together, it’s up to us to bridge the historical gaps and break the chains of oppression. It may look different, but Black people in America and the world at large are still fighting for civil liberties and equality, as well as the basic human rights that should be but are often not afforded to us as “free” Americans. So until then, I suppose African-Americans have been freeish since June 19, 1865.