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How to navigate a Federal holiday that does not belong to you.

Liminal Space with Iyabo is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber. Thank you!

I am hearing a lot of questions about Juneteenth and rightfully so. This is only the second year it has been marked as a federal holiday. And lots of folks have questions. Here goes…

The basics:

It is today – June 19th every year, and this is the 2nd year it is a federal holiday. Many African Americans started informally celebrating this day as their own in the 1960s. It is also known as “Freedom Day” or “Emancipation Day.”

It marks the actual date in 1865 that Union soldiers, led by Major General Gordon Granger, arrived on foot in Galveston Texas to enforce the emancipation proclamation issued on January 1, 1863, with the message that enslaved people were free.

It marks the fact that 901 days passed before all enslaved people in these United States knew they were free.

901 days.

Why are we humans so cruel to one another?

Let that sink in, please. Be in the body of that enslaved person. Your owner knew you were free and continued to exploit your body for labor.

To African Americans, it is a celebration of resilience and the tenacity it took to be hopeful about the end of slavery and the quest for dignity as a human being.

Theoretically, slavery was abolished on January 1, 1863, when President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation proclamation, but because this did not address the issue of enslavement in territories that would become states in the future, a constitutional amendment was needed to forever abolish slavery as an institution in all U.S. states and territories.

The 13th amendment went into effect on December 18, 1865: “Neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States or any place subject to their jurisdiction.”

  1. With the Emancipation Proclamation, on January 1, 1863, slavery ended theoretically but was not enforced everywhere.

  2. On Juneteenth, June 19th, 1865, the last enslaved people received news of the end of their enslavement and walked away from slavery.

  3. With the 13th Amendment, on December 18, 1865, slavery was forever abolished in the US and on any future territories and states.

Now for the sentiment of Juneteenth.

I am 57. The year I was born, Black folks had only been free for 100 years in the US. At 57, I have come to understand that is not a very long time at all.

We also know that you cannot legislate the heart. The institution of slavery ended, but the legacy of the enslavement of Black bodies, continues to live with us until today, until right now.

Juneteenth also represents the unyielding violence of white supremacy against Black bodies. Slave holders knew of the Emancipation Proclamation, but they did not obey the law. They continued to enslave people for that next harvest, for that next dollar. This was during the civil war and the confederate states did not consider themselves subject to the law of the Union.

So here are some answers to the question some of you may be thinking but may be too afraid to ask.

Question #1 – Can I celebrate Juneteenth?

In response, I ask you, “Is enslavement your lived experience or part of your lineage?”

If you are not Black, please do not “celebrate” it. Do not wave a Black liberation flag, do not bake the red foods, and do not drink the red drinks unless you are invited to a cookout by a Black person, and you are served such delicacies.

Although Juneteenth is not just Black history, but all our history, this is a historic day that centers the liberation of people impacted by enslavement.

However, do feel free to commemorate Juneteenth.

To commemorate is to “recall and show respect,” whereas, to celebrate is to “acknowledge with a social gathering or enjoyable activity.”

I do encourage you to ask yourself some tough questions if you are white and you thought it was ok to celebrate Juneteenth?

Do we want to celebrate Juneteenth because we want to show how “woke” we are and how we are NOT like those other people, the oppressors? Do we want to distinguish our white skin from whiteness?

Or do we want to just celebrate everything willy nilly because that is what we do in America: We celebrate Cinco de mayo, St. Patrick’s Day, Halloween, 4th of July, and we buy out the Hallmark store on Mother’s Day?

I suspect that we only really celebrate many of these days because capitalism has deeply programmed us to commodify special occasions and spend money on these celebratory days instead of dealing with the gunk and hard truth behind these dates.

The reason why white people “celebrating” Juneteenth is offensive is that white people enslaved Black people. Did I need to say that?  

There is power in being robbed and still choosing to dance. ~ Amanda Gorman

Don’t dance with those that consider you their robbers. It is not respectful.

Question #2 – How do I commemorate Juneteenth respectfully?

  • If your city or town is having an open celebration, a public event, feel free to attend and respectfully look around. Be an observer. If there are vendors, sure, buy the merchandise. Understand that this event does not center your experience. It centers the experiences of others. It is not a time and place to go and “celebrate freedom” by getting drunk and dancing as if you were the one enslaved. It is a sacred time to observe and learn.

  • It is perfectly ok to be uncomfortable and awkward. Get used to it.

  • If you see a celebratory Black person, and you are in conversation, ask them with humility and curiosity what is special to them about this day and say things like “Congratulations” or “I am grateful to hear your perspective. Thank you.”

  • PLEASE do not go about saying, “I am so sorry my people enslaved your people” or “I am so sorry for what Black people went through with slavery.” It is not about you!!!

  • Go and learn something about Juneteenth and share with your family.

  • Respectfully state what you learned and what your epiphanies are about Juneteenth on social media.

  • Say or post things like:

“To those who celebrate, enjoy your celebration.”

“I am reflecting on what freedom means in this country today.”

“We all must have the same freedom.”

“Happy Juneteenth Day.”

  • Support a Black owned business.

  • Give to the NACCP.

  • Give to an HBCU – historically black college or university, especially in your city or state.

  • Give to the United Negro College Fund.

  • Educate yourself on anything related to Blackness, Anti Black racism (since there are different forms of racism) and anti-racism. Everyone can afford to do some growth and expansion in this never-ending learning.

Question #3 – Who was alive in your family on June 19th, 1865? How many generations ago was that?

I suggest having a conversation with your family and loved ones as to what that must have been like. Learn and imagine with those that had that lived experience, what that was like. Research and read.

The Library of Congress has a 1941 recording of Laura Smalley, an African American former enslaved child in Texas on Juneteenth. She says, “We did not know where to go. Mom and them didn’t know where to go. You see, after freedom broke, they just turned some of them out. They just turned us out like you turn out cattle.”

Now they were turned out and no longer enslaved but what exactly does that mean? What new rights accompanied this emancipation?

  • Were they treated as equals?

  • Could they vote?

  • Bear arms?

  • Own a business?

  • Go to school?

  • Marry someone outside their race?

  • Own land?

  • Travel freely?

  • Whistle at a white woman?

Nothing. They just were not called “slaves” anymore and now they became sharecroppers.

Over the last 157 years since Juneteenth, Black people are still fighting for our rights – voting rights, not being slaughtered on the streets by cops, the disproportionate impact of racism on Black people in particular, mass incarceration and the list is endless. Each of these issues stems from the original institution of the enslavement of Black people and its legacy.  

Question #4 – Ask yourself some really hard questions about the intertwining of Juneteenth and Capitalism.

There is a particular tone deafness about Juneteenth I want us to recognize.

Walmart, the American icon of Capitalism, has stocked up on party supplies, red foods, and red velvet and cheesecake-swirled Juneteenth ice cream on their shelves.

Walmart released an ice-cream called “Juneteenth.” Ticora Davis of the Creators Law Firm, a super smart Black lawyer, noticed the trademark symbol ™, next to the word “Juneteenth” on the ice cream container. She researched and discovered that Balchem Corp had filed a trademark attempting to gain exclusive ownership over the word “Juneteenth” in connection “with flavor enhancements to place in ice cream, baked goods, deserts, cookies, cakes, pastries and other products for retail and wholesale distribution and consumption.” 

Well, after a backlash with the Black community, Balchem Corp abandoned their application and Walmart has pulled the ice cream from their stores. I believe Balchem produces the Walmart brands of ice cream.

This is called “profiting from pain.”

In the meantime, a Black woman, Brandy Goodner, who owns We Celebrate Black, started producing Juneteenth decorations in 2020 and selling online. her sales went down by 38% for Juneteenth this year. Because Walmart, Dollar tree and Party City have commodified the Liberation of Black people. She now must put on her products “Black owned” in the hopes of raising sales.

All Black folks are asking for is to be left alone to celebrate emancipation from enslavement with dignity. No capitalistic interventions, just sheer joy that we are no longer enslaved, that white skinned people no longer own Black skinned people.  

Yet for a predominantly white owned corporation to own a trademark on the word “Juneteenth” is still a form of ownership and enslavement.

Let that sink in.

The root issue with enslavement was to profit off of Black bodies and to increase profits to the pockets of white skinned people. This profiteering is still part of the culture of this country.

I leave you with this question. Beloveds, what are the nuances between emancipation, freedom from, freedom to, and liberation?

Black people are still a long way from liberation. And that is the goal. Let us all keep working towards liberation for all.

Leave a comment. Tell me your thoughts!

Be well.

And Happy Father’s Day to those who celebrate!

Liminal Space with Iyabo is a reader-supported publication. To receive new posts and support my work, consider becoming a free or paid subscriber.

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