The Necessity of Juneteenth

Juneteenth, a day celebrating the emancipation of Black people who had been enslaved in the United States, is now a federal holiday. A bill designating the day has passed House and Senate, and President Joe Biden has signed it into law. I think this is a good thing. Slavery and the racism that drove it comprise a nasty bit of American history with repercussions that carry on to this day, and I think the annual reminder will be good for this country. It will keep people focused on anti-racism work, because racism is alive and still flourishing in this country and needs to be fought from the top down, not the bottom up. The top–our government, our institutions, and leadership in our financial, health, housing, employment, and educational systems–is where the power is.

Yet I see people complaining about the day being made a federal holiday, and 14 Representatives in Congress voted against it. I have the same response for them that I had for those who complained when Martin Luther King, Jr. Day was made a federal holiday: You’ve gotta be some special kind of racist to complain about a day off for this. Even if you are retired or you work in an industry like hospitality that doesn’t necessarily follow a federal schedule, you still have to be a special kind of racist to complain about other people having a day off, or about an opportunity to earn holiday pay, for this. Special and spiteful. The thing is, being upset, angry, or bitter about it isn’t going to detract from anyone else’s recognition of the holiday any more than my rancorous feelings toward the way Thanksgiving is celebrated in this country with slaughter, Black Friday consumerism, and racist depictions of Native Americans–will keep people from celebrating that particular day.

Kindly do not ask me what the modern repercussions are of slavery are. I can sit here all day and write a tome that covers it from white privilege to structural and institutional racism, a tome born of countless hours of educating myself. It is one of those topics for which the best way to learn is to put effort into engaging with it yourself and sitting with your own thoughts, intentions, behavior, and personal history. I can’t do that work for you.

Also not for nothing, and call me both leery and weary of internet “discussions,” but generally when people ask others in public spaces such as this one to explain what privilege and structural and institutional racism are, they are really not seeking to learn. Instead, they usually already have their minds made up, are not open to learning, and are really just looking for a debate or a fight.

The bottom line is that as with anything else in life, if your mind and heart are open, you truly want to learn something, and you sincerely seek to understand, you’ll make the time to learn it yourself. You’ll put your own preconceived notions aside and you’ll consider that your own thoughts and feelings shouldn’t be the center of your education when that education is about someone else’s pain and not yours. You’ll confront the possibility that you not only may be ignorant, but actually wrong, and that your thoughts and behaviors both past and present have contributed to harming others. As a White woman, I can tell you that it may very well be difficult, uncomfortable, and even mortifying to sit with it, but that’s how you grow. All you need to do is start with a simple Google search for “educate yourself on racism,” and hundreds, if not thousands, of resources will be right there at your fingertips.

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