• Carmen Milligan


President Biden signed a bill that quickly became law in the form of a new federal holiday this week: Juneteenth. June 19th, 1865, marks the day that Union troops marched into Galveston, Texas and enforced the Emancipation Proclamation, signed into law in 1862. Those states that had seceded from the Union had to be forced to follow the law, and Galveston was ground zero for making sure southern states towed the line. It is seen to be the beginning of a quick downfall of southern rebellion in regards to slavery.

I watched a Black*ish espisode a few years ago that highlighted this day, and it was very good. Honestly, that was the first I had ever heard of this important day.

But is it important?

Candace Owens thinks that it is yet another way to separate black people from America, and that everyone should just celebrate July 4th as "Independence Day". But July 4th was NOT independence day, unless you were a white man in America. Only white men could own property, be heirs, vote, hold public office. Owens says that this holiday is a way that Democrats are trying to repackage segregation in America. I would argue that America IS still segregated, and continues to be unequal in a myriad of ways, for a myriad of people. Juneteenth is an open and clear statement that America realizes that July 4th did NOT mean independence for all Americans. That there is another day that recognizes when a huge number of Americans finally gained their freedom.

But there is something else that I don't understand. Many black people are very angry about Juneteenth. As a white woman, I want to be educated about this feeling. I recently joined Clubhouse, and I went into a few chat rooms last night where Juneteenth was the topic. Some of the anger points were:

  • Why do blacks get a day in the middle of Gay Pride Month?

  • Why is Black History Month in February, the shortest month of the year?

  • Why is there a law celebrating freedom for those very citizens still hunted and killed by police?

  • This is just a way for whites to feel better about their past.

  • Why is this a holiday when a number of states have banned the teaching of Critical Race Theory in public schools?

  • Why are bills not being passed that actually help black people, like the John Lewis Voting Rights Act or the Emmett Till Antilynching Act?

All of these are valid point, except maybe the one about blacks getting a short month and gays getting a long one. And I think that, for the most part, this is a huge step in politicians being able to allay their guilt of blocking real and effective legislation. This holiday is for show.

But can't we make it more than that? Can't we take this day, set aside to celebrate black freedom, to illustrate just how far we have yet to go? Can't we have picnics, parades, and celebrations, but also marches, peaceful demonstrations, and (probably most important of all) continued education on just how unequal things in America still are? I'm talking grassroots here. 2021 is the first time that many Americans have heard about Juneteenth. Instead of condemning it, black people could embrace it as a springboard for even more education and change.

As a white person, I can honestly say that most of us aren't against you. We are just truly ignorant of what you are going through. There needs to be more "Uncomfortable Conversations with a Black Man". There needs to be more challenge to federal and state statues and monuments, replacing them with diverse and important people of America's past. There needs to be pressure to place more diverse people in national, state, and local government. And I am not talking about placing someone in a position just because they are black or brown or female. I am talking about actively rejecting that color has any impact at all in the placement of qualified people, and not all qualified people are white. There needs to be more representation on the big and small screens of people of color. There needs to be a push to have ALL of America represented in ALL areas, whether it is in the boardroom, classroom, or exam room. And whites need to actively start standing with people of color when there is an issue. ALL Americans should be incensed that unarmed black kids are being shot in the back by police officers, that fully-complying black men are still harassed by white police officers to the point of being scared to get out of their vehicle, and that these officers are still being put on "administrative leave" during investigations (as a taxpayer, this should make you livid).

When life hands you lemons, the old saying is to make lemonade. Well, there are other options. Make a lemon drop martini and celebrate. Make a lemon scone and feed the hungry. Plant the lemon seed and teach others how to fend for themselves. When we are given a new federal holiday to celebrate the true beginning of emancipation, turn it into something that works for you, as well as others. Start a new movement that will make history in a GOOD way. And count me in to be right beside you, taking your lead, and working with you to try to enact steps forward.

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