Juneteenth — Another Point Of View

While I have applauded the passage and presidential signing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act and have chalked up most of the objections to both ignorance and racism, I did come across one thought-provoking OpEd.  This piece by a professor at Morehouse College, a historically Black liberal arts college in Atlanta, Georgia, makes some very valid points.  Professor Robert A. Brown is not against the Juneteenth holiday, but reminds us that declaring it a federal holiday is not the end goal, that there is much work to be done in this country yet before Blacks have true freedom and equality.  The phrase, ‘Talk is cheap, actions speak louder than words’ comes to mind as I read his words and ponder what he says …


Juneteenth As A National Holiday Is Symbolism Without Progress

June 19, 2021  6:00 AM ET

ROBERT A. BROWN

This week, President Biden signed into law the “Juneteenth National Independence Day.”

It is honoring the work of Black Americans, including people such as 94-year-old Civil Rights Activist Opal Lee, who had long advocated for the celebration that started in Galveston to be made a federal holiday.

Juneteenth celebrates the date when Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas, on June 19th, 1865, bringing news that the Emancipation Proclamation had freed the enslaved population living in the Confederacy, albeit two years prior.

Yet the reaction amongst many African Americans, myself included, has been muted.

There is a growing discontent in the African American community with symbolic gestures that are presented as progress without any accompanying economic or structural change.

The vestiges of a shameful past continue

Though Juneteenth is a celebration of the people who endured slavery, the vestiges of slavery and the Jim Crow segregation designed to preserve it continue to this day.

As law professor Michelle Alexander notes, “There are more African American men in prison or jail, on probation or parole than were enslaved in 1850.”

The average white household holds almost 7 times more than the wealth of a Black household. Perhaps more concerning, education does little to close the Black-white wealth gap as white families headed by those without a college degree have more wealth than Black families headed by those with a graduate or professional degree.

And yet, in the face of these stark disparities, lawmakers have been more willing to engage in performative symbolism than passing laws to make substantive change.

We have seen federal lawmakers take a knee, draped in kente cloth, but we have seen no substantive change about reforming police brutality that inspired Colin Kaepernick’s initial protest.

Lift Every Voice and Sing” is sung across the country, while legislation for reparations for the horrors of slavery languish. Sports arenas and streets have the words “Black Lives Matter” emblazoned for all to see, and yet police reform and anti-lynching laws that were some of the initial goals of the Black Lives Matter movement remain unpassed.

What is needed are substantive steps

There are substantive steps that federal lawmakers could take to honor the historic debt owed to the descendants of the enslaved in addition to a federal holiday.

House Resolution 40 has called for a committee to study reparations. If advanced, it could ultimately begin a national discussion about cash reparations at the federal level.

Substantive reform to end the immunity police who brutalize our citizens should be enacted, as well as a reversal of the decades-long militarization of the police.

Historically Black colleges and universities, most of which were founded around the end of slavery, should receive substantial increases in federal funding.

In many ways, the history of Juneteenth and the end of U.S. slavery mirrors the uneven pace of progress for African Americans during the following 150 years.

I have celebrated Juneteenth at festivals that honor the culture and community of the descendants of those who had been enslaved. Those celebrations always featured a community singing of “Lift Every Voice and Sing,” just like members of Congress did upon the signing of the Juneteenth holiday into law.

This year, while I’ll sing about being “full of the faith that the dark past has taught us,” like many African Americans, I’ll be mindful that, as the song says, we must continue to fight on “till victory is won.”

35 thoughts on “Juneteenth — Another Point Of View

  1. Pingback: The Meerkat Muse - 30/6/21 - Meerkat Musings

  2. #3. I’m sure wine in moderation helps, for me it’s the regular sojourns into the world of my books; life isn’t simpler, but the solutions are more….robust.
    # 4 Evolve or end up as a smear in the fossil record.
    # 1 Check this out for reasons why there is wacky-doodle behaviour (or conspiracy theory) and how things like was Trump slither out of the swamp of Human Folly.
    https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Herd_mentality

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  3. Pingback: Action, not Words – Coalition of the Brave

    • I fully agree! But … how can you change what is in a person’s mind and heart? You can make it illegal to discriminate on any basis, but only through education and upbringing can we change the way people think. And that, my friend, seems a monumental task.

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          • I remember a BBC documentary back in the 1970s where in one state they were trying an experiment with young white middle class delinquents.
            They were lectured one on one by cons serving long time. Most of the conversations were guys trying to make them see the errors of their ways. One though was a very big, angry African American con who was warning some whimpy little pest that if he found this kid was still acting this way when he came out, there would be a butt kicking, the kid didn’t look cocky anymore….
            Getting the hard-core ones some one on one treatment might make them see the error of their ways. There again tough indoctrination might work.
            These people are a menace and should not be allowed to hide behind the Free Speech they would take off others in a blink.

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              • A fair proportion yes. There are always those who need the ‘big smack in the mouth’ treatment to get the message into their thick heads…and some you can’t cure….so they get not to have freedom.
                Harsh?
                Yes?
                I never said I had perfect humane solutions; just as flawed as the rest only my intolerance is of Intolerance.

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                • There are no perfect solutions to anything, my friend, only some that are better, more fair to more people, than others. Like you, I have zero tolerance for bigotry and also for stupidity, both of which are in abundance these days.

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                    • If we know this it does help, albeit in what some might see as a sardonic or fatalistic way:
                      1. It nullifies the fear of conspiracies run by some alleged shadowy illuminate as it lights up the inherent incompetency and shallow selfishness prevalent in strands of Humanity, so such ‘hidden’ conspiracies cannot prevail as someone will sell someone else out as soon as possible to suit their own purposes.
                      2. Expect the worst and plan for something better.
                      3 ‘It happens’ (the polite version), always have a survival or coping mechanism.
                      4. Somewhere down the road Evolution will put an end to our nonsense or give some of us a break to improve.
                      5. Every big mouth who acts like a shmuck gets recorded in history as a shmuck and there’s nothing their ghost can do about it.

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                    • #2 is excellent advice! And there is a bit of consolation in #5 … I’ve long taken some pleasure in knowing how history is likely to view the former guy. But about #3 … coping mechanism … wine? And #4 … evolution, or perhaps climate change! Which leaves your first point, and while it is logical, the fact is that people are still falling for the conspiracies in large numbers every day! I think they’re bored and need something to spice up their little lives!

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  4. Everything here spoken can be said about the treatment of Red humans in Canada, and peoples of other colours in every colonial nation on Earth. Indigenous people may not all have been enslaved, but the laws that were written as much as took away our freedoms. Some of these laws may have been repealed, but laws cannot change the way white people treat us, look at us, or are violent towards us.
    As for reparations, the Canafian government gave millions away to affected individuals, but very few of these people were helped to be allowed to live better lives. And, it caused so much resentment in certain white populations violence increased after the funds were delivered. Reparations do not help.
    It is only through acceptance and understanding that spiritual reparations can be made. Our people are only now beginning to take back the spirit that Residential Schools and other acts robbed them of.
    Like the Professor said, we still have a long way to go.
    Symbolic gestures will not change the realities of racism!

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    • All that you say is true, my friend. Yes, there is a long way to go and much to be done … one must start somewhere. But, until people are educated in such a way that teaches them humanity toward all, teaches them that the colour of one’s skin is not a reasonable basis on which to judge a person, then all the laws in the world will not end racism and other -isms.

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  5. Hello Jill. I know and agree much more needs to be done. However as a gay man who has seen the way my people have been treated go from the Anita Bryant stage to the ability to marry and generable acceptance of the population I have to say symbols matter. Right now there is a big discussion about large corporations that celebrate pride month while still giving money to Republicans. But I can remember a time when it was a big fight to get large corporations to even hint at inclusion, much put out rainbow colored products with same sex commercials. Times are changing and it takes work. That work sadly is not ever really done. Racism permeates every structure of our society and the sudden political scramble against CRT proves that. The fact that so much effort is put into stopping of the teaching of the honest history of our country proves the racism point. I love the symbolism of Juneteenth because at least it is forcing a discussion of the history it commemorates. I hope each year that discussion get deeper and wider. Hugs

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    • You’re right, Scottie. Racism is rampant in this country, but equally so is homophobia, or anti-LGBTQ sentiment, and to a slightly lesser extent, misogyny. Isn’t it a damn shame that in this, the 21st century, people have not yet learned to accept others for who they are, but still judge on such things as skin colour, religion, sexual orientation, gender, ethnicity, etc.? I long for a better world, I CRAVE a world where people treat others as equals. Sadly, in the last few years I’ve come to the conclusion that such a world can never exist among humans. Humans seem to have a fatal flaw and also seem determined to destroy themselves and the rest of life on this planet, either by disregarding the environment or by man-made contraptions such as nuclear weapons. Perhaps it’s what we deserve. Sigh. Hugs, my dear friend.

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  6. Jill, this is well done. The reference to “symbolic gestures” is profound. Taking this one step further, we cannot allow the whitewashing of history expunging discussion of Tulsa, Wilmington, Jim Crow, Emmett Till, Birmingham bombing, Strange Fruit, Freedom Riders, Pettus Bridge in Selma, George Floyd et al, etc. and then be happy with just a symbolic gesture. Keith

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    • I thought so too … thoughtful and thought-provoking. I ABSOLUTELY agree with you about the whitewashing of history. To forget is to condemn future generations to repeat the atrocities. All those things you mention and more are as much a part of our history as any other event(s) and we must not forget … ever!

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