Honoring the History of Juneteenth

June 16, 2023

By Chaim Harrison

Juneteenth was never something taught to me in school. I instead learned that one day slavery was abolished and that was the end of it. It was treated unceremoniously, as if the collective consciousness of our nation simply changed and enslaved Black Americans became free. 

The first time I ever heard the word Juneteenth was when I watched a Chappelle’s Show episode in 2004 (long before Dave Chappelle established himself as an unabashed transphobe) during a sketch in which Black people received reparations for slavery. I was never taught that there was a specific day that marked a significant change for our country; a day commemorating when Black folks got to experience a sliver of a sliver of the freedom and recognition that white Americans have always historically received.

And yet, despite this holiday becoming more popular and observed over the past few years, I still can’t help but think about the ways in which Black people continue to be disenfranchised, oppressed, and even killed because of who we are today. We’re still overly-incarcerated and policed, including those of us who are unarmed and just trying to get home. We’re still gerrymandered and have countless obstacles put in our way when it comes to voting rights. Our needs are far from being met; our lived experiences are still ignored. I can’t even count how many times I’ve scrolled through Facebook and seen “laugh” reacts to posts about Black-led events. The simple truth is that we still have yet to find true freedom in this white-dominated society.

I believe that the history of Juneteenth needs to be honored by everyone, especially non-Black folks. We need everyone regardless of race or ethnicity to commit themselves to Black liberation if we want our society to be truly free. We need allies with more positional power to demand equity in the face of blatant (and subtle) systemic racism. I want this day to be a reminder of not just our past, but of our present and future, and we need everyone to raise their voices and ensure that Black Americans will no longer have to worry that they’ll get pulled over by the wrong cop, that their voting rights will be infringed upon, that their deaths at the hands of white supremacists will be met with true justice.

To all my non-Black readers, I ask you: How are you going to observe Juneteenth this year? How will you confront your own privilege and use it as a force for good? What will you teach your children? How will you confront people engaging in racist (even “casually” racist) behavior against Black folks? If you have to stop and think about these answers, good; I want you to consider your place in society compared to those of us who are Black and do everything in your power to create lasting change. To all my Black readers, I hope that this holiday provides you with a chance to honor an important moment of our history with joy and celebration. I hope that, no matter how you choose to observe the day, you find a sense of peace and the energy to advance Black rights and elevate our stories every other day of the year. I pray that this Juneteenth will be a day of justice, of collaborative work for true equality, and a catalyst for a society that is truly anti-racist.

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