Sooo, today I did something new, I wished the first several people that I saw out in public, “Happy Juneteenth!”
The thing is, I live in Oregon and the first several folx that I saw were actually all white. And not a single person who verbally responded said ‘Happy Juneteenth’ back to me. They seemed to be either confused, uncomfortable, unsure of how to respond or completely unaware about what Juneteenth was. The main responses I got were, “You too!“ and “Thank you!”
It was actually kind of funny, even hilarious as I reflect on it now. I really wish that I had video recorded the interactions.
Many white people seem far removed from Juneteenth and/or they think it’s a Black thing—which it is, but it’s also very much an American issue. After all, who started slavery in the US anyway? This is not to point fingers or to blame the obvious culprits of white supremacy, but rather to say, this is OUR story… American history.
Juneteenth celebrates the day that ALL enslaved people in the US were set (so-called) free. This victory is not just important to the descendants of enslaved people, it’s important to our entire nation, or at least in my dreams they are. But that not today’s reality as so many are still unaware of what Juneteenth is.
There was a time that I didn’t know what Juneteenth was as it was never, ever... nevah-evah-evah taught at nair one of my schools! Except of course, Howard University but it’s never too late to learn and increase one’s awareness of our true US history.
Here’s an example of the lack of awareness about Juneteenth. Today, in an interaction I had with an older, white friend of mine, she asked, “Is this [Juneteenth] an important day for you?”
My response was, “Yes! And it’s an important day for our country and all who truly believe in equality and freedom for all.”
She then said, “Yay for our Black people! Standing up and celebrating!” But I really wish that her response had been, ”Yay for our Black people, and for our country! This is a small step towards liberty and justice for all and deserves to be celebrates by all.” Or something that says she gets that Juneteenth, slavery, etc. a ‘we and US’ issue not a ‘you and them’ issue.
Just as Emma Lazarus stated in the ‘Epistle to the Hebrews’ in 1883,
“Until we are all free, we are none of us free.”
So, while this day is indeed about Black freedom in America, an ideal that we are still fighting and striving to attain, it’s also equally about liberty for all and a celebration of that freedom. And my leader, President Joe Biden just signed a law, making Juneteenth a National Holiday!
Watch video of my shero leader and fellow HU sister, Vice President Kamala Harris speaking about Juneteenth here.
So, listen here white folks, it’s okay to say, “Happy Juneteenth!” just as many African-descent folx say, "Happy Fourth" knowing full well that most of their ancestors were enslaved during the Declaration of Independence on July 4, 1776. It's also worth noting that there were countless African-decent men who served their country in the armed forces, even while they were enslaved.
While we celebrate Juneteenth, (which I celebrate all the way up to the 4th of July since there's always gonna be fireworks), let's not forget that there's still tons of work to be done in the freedom and unification of our country (and world). Especially with abolishing legalized slavery (see the Thirteenth Amendment) and disparities caused by white supremacy.
You can also celebrate Juneteenth by supporting a Black-owned business or by donating to a Black family, charity or small business. Feel free to start with me by making a donation on my website at AngelaBraxtonJohnson.com. (Click 'donate' button on the top right corner of site and/or check out my products and services.)
Angela Braxton-Johnson is a middle/high school teacher and tutor who shares liberally with her students. She's also a professional life coach and published author.
Copyright June 2021 Angela Braxton-Johnson