How Should We Celebrate Juneteenth?

Ok, so we’ve got an official holiday for the day that many (black folk) have already been acknowledging, if not celebrating. That’s right, Juneteenth, a holiday commemorating the emancipation of those who had been enslaved in the United States is the longest running African-American holiday (originating in 1866 in Galveston, Texas).

And although it is marked as June 19th, today (June 20th) is its day of observance.

It became official last year, when President Joe Biden signed the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act and has since been met with jeers as well as cheers throughout the Black community. On one side, people were elated that the United States would finally give notice to the independence (emancipation) of slaves, just as it does itself on July 4th. On the other side, it was a “too little, too late” or “that’s not enough, what about…?”, echoed by many.

I guess that’s what happens when a race of people have been struggling and longing for justice and racial/economic equality, seemingly without any ground made, for what has been far too long.

One frustrating reason is because last year, the formality of this day/Act came on the heels of the then-new #StopAsianHate movement, on which, congress quickly pounced. Not that said movement didn’t deserve attention, because it most certainly did. Bigotry, racial harassment and hate crimes are evil and pointless. The problem was (and still is) that African Americans have been screaming for change for so long in a myriad of areas. One prime example being the need for an Anti-Lynching Law. It boggles the mind how such a horrific practice can go unaddressed and unabated for so many years. And to be perfectly honest, without any acceptable excuse.

How hard is it to put in effect? Jeez!

Well, you get my point, hopefully. But let’s talk about Juneteenth and how we’re actually celebrating it.

So far, I’ve seen the paraphernalia which includes the wide variety of T-shirts, pants, hats and miscellaneous household miniature statues and trinkets. Read about dance parties, heard a few event-appropriate songs, drove by several cookouts and have seen the cakes in the bakery.

Then there have been the ill-timed and poorly planned attempts by various companies in their efforts to capitalize on the day. Like Ikea, whose Juneteenth menu reportedly included watermelon, fried chicken, mac ‘n cheese, potato salad, collard greens and candied yams (met with immediate public outrage). Walmart had to pull its Juneteenth-themed ice cream, having slapped a Juneteenth logo on certain flavors, which was seen as “disrespectful” and “greedy” by many. Then the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis had to issue a public apology for its “Juneteenth Jamboree” after a photo of their “Juneteenth Watermelon Salad” was posted on the internet.

Makes you wonder who these people have working in their R&D departments and why no one stood up and said, “Uhhh, this is not a good idea…”. How do you not recognize a negative stereotype and how it can and will be perceived?

Diversity, anyone?

Anyway, circling back.

So how exactly DO we celebrate Juneteenth?

There really is no correct answer because no matter how you slice it, it will go commercial. Christmas went from remembering the birth of Christ to Black Friday and other rock bottom sale events that began earlier (and earlier) over the years after Thanksgiving. In fact, the entire shopping extravaganza moved up over time, now beginning DURING Halloween season.

Some companies will provide paid time off, while others will make it optional, allowing you to use your PTO/vacation days.

There will be parties, there will be parades, there will be concerts, there will be marathon movie festivals on network television and streaming services.

There will also be ill-advised exploitation of stereotypes, so look for the chicken and watermelon.

There will be those who protest the entire affair (many of whom would prefer the entire African Diaspora in America return to their countries of origin – despite the fact that we, our fathers and their fathers were born here and helped build this country).

Me? Although we are collectively celebrating our freedom, I am spending the day honoring the millions of nameless Africans who survived the horrific Middle Passage, abducted from a life a family & freedom, thrust into a life of servitude, separation and brutality, stripped of their identity.

If not for them, I would not even be here.

I will also remember the coordinators and participants of the Underground Railroad and those who struggled to find a safe and decent living during the Reconstruction Era and beyond.  Those who faced harm and ultimately, death – fighting for access to proper education, the voting booths and equal employment.

I will remember that my own freedom, my rights and my so-called equality came at a cost. Paid in bravery, tears, blood and sacrifice of life. That it should not and will not be taken lightly.

Juneteenth means more to me than being set free. It includes what it took to be set on the path on which I currently walk…

…head held high and proud.

Happy Juneteenth.

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