Well, here we are again: 2022 we made it y’all! It’s been an interesting couple of years with the global pandemic and restrictions. Many of us have spent the past few years indoors and we’ve had more time, it seems, to process some of the greater social and systemic issues that have become part of the national zeitgeist.
Two years ago I was asked to write a guest blog post about Juneteenth in the wake of the George Floyd protests. This year I am happy to write as a member of the staff here at DesignHammer, who is honoring the day with a staff holiday.
Sadly our society continues to deal with the same underlying cultural issues, from the recent racially motivated Buffalo shooting to the Uvalde school shooting that begged questions of mental health and gun control legislation and education. Clearly, we are still struggling with issues related to race, and communicating with communities of color.
That said, let’s start at the beginning.
What is Juneteenth? Why does it matter?
On June 19th, 1865 Union Army General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, TX to issue General Order no. 3 informing the enslaved people of Texas of their emancipated status. This came some 900 odd days after the issuance of the emancipation proclamation by President Lincoln on January 1, 1863. Others have gone into more detail but essentially this day marks what we consider to be the de jure end of chattel slavery in the United States. I say de jure because you may have heard of 2022 crime thriller Alice which is a dramatized version of the true story of Mae Louise Miller. It’s crazy to think that arguably slavery was still going on concurrently with the greater fight for Civil Rights.
This year is the first full year that Juneteenth will be recognized as a Federal Holiday, as it was signed into law on June 17th, 2021, a day before its first official observance. Many people are still unsure how to appropriately observe the holiday. As a celebration Juneteenth has ebbed and flowed in popularity, with this most recent resurgence coming at a time when many people understandably are asking the questions: what can we do, how do we honor this day, should we even be celebrating if we don’t identify as part of the Black community or aren’t descended from those who were enslaved?
Who Is Juneteenth for?
Juneteenth is for everyone. Whether you’ve known about it and grew up celebrating it or you’re just learning about it now that it’s a federally recognized holiday. No matter your race, creed, color, or whether you have ancestors who were enslaved in the United States or not, this holiday is still for you. Personally, I think it’s important to consider that Juneteenth falls right inside the Honor America Days period from Flag Day on June 14th through the 4th of July holiday when we celebrate our Nation’s Independence.
I’d argue that a day celebrating the first time ALL Americans were technically free is a crucial element to honoring America and what it is we stand for as a country. We’ve come a long way, and still have a long way to go but we can honor the milestones we’ve taken on the road to freedom and equality for all. The bill that made this day official was even called The Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. On this day, no one in our country was legally a slave; that is important.
What you can do to celebrate?
This part in particular is a difficult question. I’ve had many conversations with members of the community who aren’t familiar with Juneteenth as a holiday, or who worry about the possibility that celebrating Juneteenth will seem performative and disingenuous on their part. Whatever your experience or cultural background here are some suggestions:
- Many companies are trying to engage with Juneteenth and their employees by offering different types of programming. Tech companies, in particular, have been embracing things like offering activities that commemorate the holiday, or alternatives to a day off by sponsoring forums on racial and social injustice issues, and inequality. Attend any of the numerous local events in your community. Our home, Durham, NC is celebrating Juneteenth in a variety of awesome ways. Enjoy them, engage with others enjoying them, and take this time to not just celebrate but also to learn and engage in conversations that may be difficult or uncomfortable. If our goal as a society is to learn and grow then we have to be mindful but still have difficult discussions.
- Ask about or share experiences that you may have had with injustices, racial, social, or otherwise but be careful not to center yourself in the discussion. We’ve all had different experiences, and they’re all valid, but it’s difficult to learn if the first goal is to place yourself at the center of the discussion.
It’s ok to have questions but also understand that not everyone has answers, a lot of people didn’t learn about Juneteenth in school, and, especially when talking to your coworkers of color or minorities in general, it is not their job to do the emotional lifting for you.
I’ve been asked, well why isn’t this holiday a cause for heartbreak and confusion in the Black community; why is it a celebration? The answer is simple: these things aren’t mutually exclusive. We can celebrate, laugh, and cry over the same things especially when the issue is this complex. In fact we often do. That’s something to consider whenever you’re having a complex conversation with any other human on pretty much any issue.
Tl;dr: The Redux (Too long; didn't read)
Langston Hughes wrote his famous book-length poem Montage of a Dream Deferred during the run-up to the Civil Rights movement. Arguably the most famous line in the novel comes when Hughes asks pointedly:
“What happens to a dream deferred? Does it dry up like a raisin in the sun?”
An array of possibilities and potential meanings are posed but I like to think that perhaps the answer lies in the first poem of the volume, Dream Boogie:
“Ain’t you heard
The boogie-woogie rumble
Of a dream deferred?”
It’s ripe with hope, as though no dream is ever truly deferred. I posit that all dreams live on inside us and that if we can dream it we can achieve it. Whether it’s a lofty goal like world peace or something as seemingly pedestrian as asking questions about why people who look different from you, are from different cultural backgrounds, or just have an upbringing unlike your own celebrate the things they do. Join me in that celebration. Have good food and drinks with people you love; celebrate how far we’ve come as a society; have conversations about how we can go even further in the future and make tomorrow even better than today or yesterday. Happy Juneteenth y’all! Go enjoy it!