Today is Juneteenth. My family celebrated this holiday together throughout my childhood, and we (my siblings and I) were required to be part of the program, not just in attendance. I was always curious why something so integral to American history and my family’s life, went largely unnoticed outside of the Black community. We are expected to participate fully in American life as assimilated citizens, but our experiences have been an addendum to the American experience — set apart from, instead of integrated into, the larger historical narrative. As we grapple with the complex racial history of our nation, context matters. Reconciliation starts with acknowledgment and education. Acknowledgment that not every community in this country has had the same experience in America, and education on why that is. For African Americans, nearly every quintessential American experience is accompanied by an asterisk.
The U.S. celebration of Independence Day has an asterisk. I love the fireworks, I enjoy the cookouts, I participate in the parades, I revere the pluckiness of our founding fathers and the colonies to stand up to King George, but I know that this beloved holiday, this memorialization of our freedom from the British Monarchy, is not fully applicable to me, it comes with the asterisk: not my ancestors. My great-great-grandparents were not free for nearly 100 more years, and even then, it was only the beginning of an uphill battle toward equal rights.
We love to hold up our veterans as a group we honor. Support of our veterans is one of the last non-partisan issues. This too is mired in a complicated past. My Great Uncle served in the military, his reception home was not the same as those he served with. Black veterans did not enjoy the same warm welcome, benefits, and support, it was a bitter reminder that though they were willing to die to protect the freedoms of their countrymen, their skin color made them unsafe from the very citizens they fought to protect. The Nazis even used the treatment of African Americans in their home country as a propaganda tool to incite desertion. The ticker-tape parades that greeted their returning brothers in arms, were not meant for them.
Today, I would encourage you to help remove the asterisk that Juneteenth is a “Black holiday.” It should be celebrated by ALL Americans. If you agree, take a small action: sign the petition to make Juneteenth a Nationally recognized Federal holiday.
*The celebration by the Black Community commemorating the day on June 19, 1865, that the last of the enslaved Africans in the U.S. were finally informed of their emancipation, two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation had passed.