Juneteenth and Reconciliation
Rev. Dr. Shawn Moore
Diversity and Inclusion Chair for ICF MN Board
So, it’s official - June 19th is now a federal holiday. Most are calling it Freedom Day; I’ve always called it Juneteenth. What does that mean to America? Better yet, what does that mean to you? I won’t go into the history of Juneteenth; you can do that by Googling. I want to talk a little about how I see Juneteenth becoming commercialized, and what this holiday could means for racial harmony in this country. First, I’d like to say that it appears to have taken only three days for Freedom Day to become a federal holiday. I heard about it on Wednesday night, the House and Senate passed the bill, and it went to President Biden’s desk to be signed. By 6:00 p.m. Thursday evening it was done. We now have a new federal holiday. Just as fast as a cherry bomb firework going off it was done! June 19th has become our newest federal holiday to be recognized annually – a day where we can reflect on FREEDOM and celebrate with Juneteenth festivities.
On the surface this appears to be a good thing, right? However, the issue for some, including me, is two-fold: 1) The amount of stuff being sold within hours of the signing! T-shirts, hoodies, blankets, and flags being sold all over Facebook, and the thing that made it strange was the use of all white faces to sell the items; and 2) What about Critical Race Theory? How can you have a Juneteenth without Critical Race Theory? That’s like collard greens without hot sauce, that’s like mac without cheese. Based upon my educated understanding of Critical Race Theory (CRT), it is simply an academic understanding of how race impacts all aspects of a society. To say we can have Juneteenth, but not CRT seems weird to me, and it is also condescending. To say that CRT separates people and creates divisions within society by dealing with issues that already separate people because of racism, while being okay with Juneteenth because it will bring people together tp celebrate the freeing of slaves who were subjected to slavery because of racism, doesn’t make sense to me. I might be missing something here, but maybe it has more to do with those Juneteenth t-shirts, hoodies, blankets, and flags being sold. Maybe it has more to do with Cervezas and Burritos, than the real meaning of Cinco De Mayo? And is it more about our enjoyment of Hmong eggrolls than it is the significance of the Hmong New Year?
Basically, folks in North America would prefer to sing, dance, and engage in fun activities than deal with the “Why.” See, I believe Juneteenth is the What and How. It has become a tradition to pass along the 3-F’s of food, festival, and fabric to the next generation of black folks, but the “why” is the painful part. It’s the part about slave trips, whips, masters, cotton fields, lynching, eventually freedom, and then celebrations. Why must drive What and How. Critical Race Theory is the engine that moves the vehicle called Juneteenth forward. By highlighting Juneteenth and downplaying CRT at the same time tells the elders that all you want to do is play around with other folks’ cultural rites but refuse to learn why we celebrate, why we dance, and why we continue to survive. I find this to be shameful, and at the same time I ask myself:
· Is it a starting point for reconciliation?
· Could it become a starting point for reconciliation?
· Might Freedom Day present a path toward racial reconciliation?
To answer this question, one must first define what reconciliation is. I define reconciliation as the art of removing barriers that hinder authentic relationships. It is the art of building community through storytelling, restorative justice, and healing. Through this process we can co-create, develop new covenants, and use critical pedagogy to master the practices of peacekeeping. Maybe if we slow down and take another look at this new Federal holiday we might be able to create something new, and maybe, just maybe start the process of building community from a place of equity and equality. When I slow down, I realize what appeared to be a 3-day process of creating this new federal holiday took years of legislation and thousands upon thousands of signed petitions. I am reminded of the old African proverb: Sometimes we do not get to enjoy the shade of the tree that we plant, but we plant it anyway. I am reminded what has been done in haste or without thinking can and should be used to correct and inform.
Juneteenth is a federal holiday. It will never go away. We will be reminded of the joy and pain. Just like the Bill of Rights that declared: “we hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal,” we realize that how they defined “men” and “equal” did not apply to all. Just like this new federal holiday will display a dysfunctional commercialized agenda, it can be used to help us remember, teach the truth, give way to new stories, and maybe start the process toward reconciliation.
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