Well, it’s the day after Congress did what I thought was impossible – the House and the Senate came together and voted to approve a Federal holiday to commemorate Juneteenth. The Senate voted unanimously in favor of it, which surprised me. Surprised is an understatement – I was in disbelief for quite a while about that, and had begun celebrating before the House vote had even been tallied.
I’m glad the bill passed. I felt like there needed to be a win, there needed to be agreement on something that was not about contentious policy issues, or trillions of dollars to bolster up people who have been knocked down by COVID, or infrastructure. This felt a bit lighter, a bit less threatening. So, yay us!
Yes, yay us. Not because I agreed with creating the holiday, and not only because it feels like a subtle high-five for race relations. It seems exciting because at least one GOP Senator withdrew his objections and changed his mind about blocking the bill, so the Senate vote was unecpectedly unanimous. To me, this is worthy of note, because if they can do it this time, they can do it for other issues. If one Senator can changes his mind, others can do it. He’s still alive, as far as I can see, so changing your mind and giving ground on an issue proves to be non-lethal.
This was about creating a Federal holiday, having a national observance of June 19th, the day the Emancipation Proclamation was fully implemented. All enslaved people were free. Well, sort of. Idealists probably thought a massive exodus of African-Americans from plantations would have been underway the next day, but that really wasn’t the case.
Where were these people supposed to go? They had no money, very few tangible assets. Everything they’d need to physically survive was largely the property of the plantation owner. They were not trained to do anything but domestic service and farm labor. They were illiterate since it had been against the law to provide educational instruction to the enslaved. More importantly, the attitudes and biases of the dominant culture had not changed, and once not under the umbrella of a landowner, they were even more vulnerable to hate crimes, denial of services and lodging, denial of access to food and water in some cases. How were they supposed to be successful at living, or contributing to society?
Some of the plantation workers chose to stay exactly where they were once advised they could leave. Perhaps there was intimidation and scary stories from the plantation owners, or maybe they had no real idea of what liberation could mean. They had no idea how big the world really was, or what they could gain. It was safer to stay in some cases.
After it was legal for Blacks to leave the plantations and lands they had served while enslaved, they saw the rise of extremist groups like the KKK. The slave codes and capturing run-away plantation property had ended. But it was perfectly acceptable for whites to stop Blacks on suspicion of theft, rape, murder. Terror became a way of life for the recently liberated people, especially if they had chosen to relocate.
The Emancipation Proclamation was not a light switch that suddenly brought about immediate equity for Blacks. Blacks did not have citizenship, so they essentially had no basic human rights. It wasn’t until passage of the 13th Amendment to the Constitution that citizenship was granted. Until then, Blacks were in a no-man’s land of this new frontier in America’s history.
It’s not that progress has not been achieved, but oppression and resistance to that progress has also ramped up. After the Civil War ended, lynching became somewhat the weapon of choice against the imaginary army of blood thirsty and depraved Africans intent on raping and killing whites, especially white women. Many whites felt compelled to arm themselves, and banded together for protection. Citizen militias and violent ad-hoc mobs sprang up everywhere, the KKK being only one of many. This was the energy that fueled the race massacres, like Tulsa and Rosewood along with “routine” lynchings throughout the country.
Those extreme displays don’t seem to be happening any longer, or maybe they do. A group of night riders (the police department) broke into Breonna Taylor’s apartment, destroying everything in their path. She was killed by gunfire as she slept. This was a botched police action, with a search and seize warrant for Taylor’s apartment, based on suspicion of drug dealing. Because a judge agreed with the police that knocking to announce their arrival would less the chance of finding evidence in the residence, it was legal to break into the apartment with a battering ram, guns drawn, with no explanation.
It was merciful that Breonna Taylor was asleep when police broke into her residence. She never saw it coming. In all other respects, though, such an action brings up memories of vigilante groups like the KKK breaking into many a residence just like that. Does this happen to white residents? Of course it does, but not nearly so often.
A “citizen’s watch” accosted Ahmaud Arbery as he jogged and looked into a house under construction in Georgia. He “didn’t belong” there, and self-appointed watchers claimed to be carrying out a citizen’s arrest, even though they had not witnessed Arbery doing anything wrong. They attempted to wrestle him to the ground, but he understandabyl fought back, and in the tussle they shot him. He died in the street at their feet.
Trayvon Martin was killed walking through a Florida subdivision. The private security watchman believed Martin did not belong there, and admitted he was suspicious of the teenager who had done nothing wrong. Trayvon Martin lost his life that night because the watchman shot him, on suspicion of wrongdoing. He didn’t feel that an unfamiliar Black teenager belonged there, and was up to no good.
The list could go on for pages, but the point is that since Africans came to America, they have been suspect. They are up to no good, their intention is always to harm white people, rape the women, kill the children and the hard working property owner. Public behavior over the years since slavery was outlawed has reflected that sentiment, with stand your ground laws, resurgence of private militias, and acquisition of weapons in record numbers. In that respect, progress seems very subjective.
When I look at things like parents of Black sons giving them instructions on what to do when – not if, but when – they are stopped by the police. Again, it seems that Blacks are suspect in interactions with law enforcement whether or not there has been any wrongdoing; they just don’t “belong” in certain places. If there is wrongdoing, the immediate punishment does not fit the crime. Numerous unarmed Black men and women have been killed by police for “resisting” arrest, for not following legal commands of officers. But I wasn’t there, and neither were you, so we have only the officer’s accounting. However it happens, no unarmed person should be subject to an immediate death sentence for selling illegal cigarettes or running away to avoid arrest, or sleeping.
None of this will change with passage of the Juneteenth legislation. None of the extreme biases and distrust of dominant culture against Black-African Americans and other people of color will not suddenly be vanish. Right now, gun sales are incredibly high, and some are making their own “ghost” guns. Private militias train in the hills of many states, preparing for a civil war they believe is inevitable. Many of them believe the civil war will be a race war; even Charles Manson was attempting to bring that to fruition.
So, yes I’m happy that Juneteenth is now a Federal holiday. If nothing else, it’s a day off for Federal employees and other industries who rely on Federal operations. The Federal Reserve will likely follow suit, followed by private businesses that depend on banks for daily operations. So, it’s a big deal, and I believe it’s ultimately a good thing. But there are a few loose ends that need tying.
My biggest fear is the resistance. My fear is ALWAYS the resistance; are we prepared for that? Once again, the period following the Emancipation Proclamation saw the birth of the KKK. After Reconstruction following the Civil War, numerous commemorative monuments honoring Confederate Army war heroes were erected in public squares all over the country. This was not merely commemoration; it was a subtle message to Blacks that old times were not forgotten, so look away…look away, Dixieland.
After the election of the first Black President of the United States, there remains an onslaught of voter suppression tactics, and his tenure was marred by Congressional gridlock. He faced more opposition than any President we’ve seen in recent history. During his first State of the Union, a member of Congress shouted out “LIAR!” during his address. This was such a heinous act of disrespect that it jarred me; I can still hear it echoing in my ears. The current President is also being subjected to some of the same opposition and resistance from Congress, and resisters have frequently questioned his mental acuity, made fun of his stuttering, accused him of lowering the standards of White House employment when he insisted on hiring Blacks and People of Color for posts in his administration.
This is the resistance. The self-justified attitude that says protection from Blacks is necessary at all times, and by any means necessary. We speak of polarization of the country, but that’s true but it’s not only about politics. It’s about how different our perspectives on the same information, the same data, the same reality have become so divergent between racial populations.
When O.J. Simpson was found not guilty of murdering his wife, cheers erupted from the Black community. Shouts of “Finally!” and “Damned right!” rose up. There was a sentiment that at last, a Black person had been given a fair shot at justice, especially a Black man accused of harming a white woman
Most white people were dismayed by the verdict, and believed Simpson was not only guilty but he had gotten away with murder. They felt the legal system had failed, and there would be no justice for his dead wife and her family. In some cases, there was rage and bitterness and even violence as a result of the verdict.
The other somewhat messy issue of the Juneteenth Act is the common name that’s being passed around for this new holiday. June 19th is not “National Independence Day”. National independence has always been celebrated on July 4th, and naming Juneteenth in this way is confusing and largely inaccurate. June 19th is Juneteenth, and it should remain titled accordingly. I might be able to settle for something like “Emancipation Day”, but why not leave the descriptive name that clearly states what the date signifies. Why fix something that’s not broken?
Lastly, it will be interesting to see how other governmental agencies pony up on the new holiday. Some cities, towns, even states already have Juneteenth celebrations, with and without days off for municipal and state workers. As I mentioned previously, it will be interesting to see if the Federal Reserve follows and declares it a holiday, which would close national banks, and some major corporations. Corporations hate giving days off for just about anything, but maybe it could be a floating holiday or something (god forbid employees should get an extra day off during the year).
So, this is not the end of something, it’s the beginning of quite a bit more. We have to keep our eyes on the ultimate prize of equity and I am hoping it’s the beginning of productive dialogue about things like anti-Black prejudice and oppression, reparations, equity, and true facts about what it’s like to live Black in this country. If we’re ever going to have anything even approaching unity, everyone needs to be seen and to see others as full human beings. Politicizing race has to stop, because it doesn’t help anyone but politicians who profit from keeping us divided. Keeping the division going is why there is such an issue with Critical Race Theory. It’s a paper tiger, but it keeps people riled up and keeps the lies alive.
On June 19th, I’ll probably be reflective, maybe have a decent meal. Unless the weather is bad, I would do well to have a nice meditative walk with the dog. I will begin looking toward June 21st, which is the longest day of the year, and turn my energy outward a bit. I’ll want to get a good feel for the energy around me on the 21st. It’s been feeling very tentative lately, somewhat hesitant. I suppose we are so used to being in relative isolation that we literally don’t know how to act with other people in our space. We’ll figure it out.
We’ll figure out quit a lot of things as we progress to the second half of the annual wheel. There was an old saying – when you’re down on the wheel of life, there’s only one way to go: up. So, I welcome “up” energy, although I have to realize that going up sometimes means an uphill climb. That’s mostly OK as long as the motion is constant. Nobody does too well being stuck, least of well me.
Run. Run very fast. Don’t look back.