Happy (belated) Juneteenth

Most think that January 1, 1863 was the day the Emancipation Proclamation slavery ended in America. This was not the case. June 19, 1865 was the day the slaves of Texas heard the proclamation and slavery was finally prohibited throughout America. Juneteeth is a time to think about our ancestors and the struggles they went though. A time to reflect on how we can make the world better for those who come after us. A time to look how closely we have come to the constitutional ideal of citizenship. Emancipation and Independence Days are causes for celebration in the West Indies, but in America, a precious few outside of Texas see this as a special day.  There are a few city-wide and regional celebrations of Juneteenth, but it is barely acknowledged in a state or national basis. It saddens me that so many Americans will think this is just another day, not an iconic date known as the day America came closer to embracing citizenship for the slaves from Africa.

Last week, the Senate passed a unanimous apology for slavery. On Friday, a proclamation was read in support of Juneteenth in Congress.The Congressional Black Caucus was disappointed that a codicil was  issued as follows “nothing in this resolution authorizes or supports any claim against the United States; or serves as a settlement of any claim against the United States.” This small ceremonial bill stirred racial ire that only the anonymity of the internet can provide. These comments are similar to anti-black rants that can be found all over the web and signal how quickly some many whites resent blacks. Here are a few of my favorites:

Slavery was so long ago
It is very convenient to forget the century of Jim Crow and de facto racism that was finally outlawed in 1968. Generations of native African Americans were treated as non-citizens, unable to vote, obtain government employment or education or live where they please. Whites have had generations to obtain the American dream, we are only on our forth decade.

Everybody who did this is dead, why should I feel guilty?
Imagine are you are running in a race, and  your opponent has the newest sneakers on the market. You look down and see that you are wearing Doc Martens filled with cement. Your opponent wins the race, but no one notices the problem of your footwear. The wealth, political power and social status that was accumulated by whites during the pre-Civil Rights America is still in their hands. America has never gave slaves the fabled 40 acres and a mule. Many major corporations and financial institutions such as JPMorgan Chase and FleetBoston; insurance companies (e.g., Aetna and New York Life); railroads (Norfolk Southern, Union Pacific and CSX); tobacco companies (R.J. Reynolds, Brown & Williamson); and a textile manufacturer (WestPoint Stevens) directly profited from slave labor.  So the slaves may be gone but the wealth, social status and privilege afforded by their free labor remains.

Your fellow Africans sold you, why blame us?
Africans had slavery and Africans sold slaves.  Many of the economies on the Western coast of Africa became markets that only sold humans after centuries of exporting gold, ivory, grain. All other exports were put on the back burner in order to supply the ravenous European and American demand for African slaves. If there was no demand for slaves, Africans would have had no such market to sell thier brethren to.

You Blacks always have your hands out…..
The idea that blacks are lazy and detest hard work came from the 15th century sailor lore about the “Dark Continent.”  Many still think that they were accurate in their observations. Affirmative action is almost a thing of the past. According to the EEOC the biggest beneficiaries of affirmative action were white women. The idea that welfare is a race based entitlement program filled to the brim with lazy people of color, you should look again. Many whites tend to see color and poverty intertwined even though 20% of white families live below the poverty line. A number larger than the entire African American population.

Can’t we just forget about this, the past is the past.
I will make deal with you. African Americans will stop bringing up facts about America that make others uncomfortable, if the rest of America forgoes celebrating theFourth of July. In African American culture Independence Day and Thanksgiving are days for family reunions not for celebrating the birth of a country that did not see Africans as human.  African slavery, jim crow and de facto segregation, racist immigration policies are important parts of American history, not a collection of “stories” whose sole purpose is to upset whites and boost the self esteem of blacks. The civil rights movement did not germinate from a void in the 1960’s and those who fought before these heroes deserve their place in American history. The history of those who had to struggle to gain the citizenship rights should be a part every American history textbook.

My people suffered too!
Indentured servitude, famine, the holocaust, the Native American, Armenian, and Bosnian genocides were all periods of unique human suffering and it is cheap and tawdry to try to quantify them. Slavery is remarkable for its scope and its role in the growth of Western capitalism. It is also remarkable because the ideals the framers of the Constitution explicitly banned blacks and Native Americans from citizenship. Further legislation extended this ban to anyone who is not of color until 1953.

I hope that  in the future Juneteenth will be celebrated all over the country. If not, the failure to acknowledge the dark side of American history will always be a canker on the American soul. It may be uncomfortable for the majority of Americans but it must be done, if the idea of a “perfect union” is ever going to come to fruition.


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