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Keep Juneteenth Important–and Black

Black AF, Silver Rights

This isn’t a blog. This isn’t a cute story. This is a cultural warming…

We all need to do whatever we gotta do to keep Juneteenth Black.

I know, I know. You think I’m tripping, right? What are you talking about? Juneteenth IS Black, right? It represents the end of chattel slavery in the United States, right? It’s something we all should commemorate and celebrate, right? Yeah. That’s all true. But I need y’all to keep in mind where we live and how they do. When they can’t keep us from doing something, they dilute it to where it don’t mean nothing anyway.

First off, for decades—real talk, for about a century or so—we couldn’t really do Juneteenth. Folks would try to murk us for celebrating or for doing Black stuff; in the South, in the North, AND out West. It’s kinda hard to celebrate when you constantly running for your life, yahmean? And so yeah, Juneteenth started picking up some stream during the Civil Rights Movement. But since then, its importance has gotten bigger—or gotten smaller—based almost completely on how seriously we as Black people take our ethnicity and our culture.

See, lemme digress a little bit. Bear wit me.

American life and politics have different eras, and in those different eras, you fight with different weapons. The one constant, for Black people though, is that you will always deal with some form of the system of white oppression and normalcy–no matter the era. It’ll just take on different appearances, but it’s always the same system, dawg.

 

For example, what I call the Jet and TV Era goes from 1953 (the inauguration of President Eisenhower) to 1989 (the inauguration of the first Bush; all the movements begin and end with the inaugurations of presidents). The Civil Rights Movement, the Vietnam War, and the overall treatment and relocation of Black folk in America—as well as the cultural and ethnic understanding of who and what we are as a people and a nation—changed and evolved during that time, especially when compared with the same during the Radio and War Era (1913 to 1953), the Reform Era (1881 to 1913, or the Republican Era (1853-1881).

But that understanding kinda devolved and shrank during the faster-paced times of the Multimedia Era (1989 to 2009). One could make the argument that this time period—while being one where we made more money—was also one of the most “asleep” periods for Black America. A lot of us, the writer included, let our collective guard down toward our own ethnicity and culture. A bunch of us started feeling like we had arrived like we really all were one big melting pot. After all, we had Black shows on TV, hip-hop ruled the pop charts, and Clinton “had Negro tendencies,” as Cedric once joked, so “… that’s good enough.” OJ got acquitted. Will Smith was the biggest star in Hollywood, and Michael Jordan was the king of sports. We are good, dawg. We runnin’ this. They LOVE Black folks now, right?

And since they loved us, since we weren’t hanging from trees or seeing the Klan on our front lawns; the importance of days like Juneteenth, days set aside for Black folk; time set aside to commemorate, to celebrate, and to understand where we came from and where we are going—yeah, those days became less important to us as a collective. We basically went to sleep on our culture.

It took time maybe the last ten years of the Multimedia Era; during the end of the Clinton administration and during the second Bush administration, with the rise of the internet and the shrinking of the world; for us to begin to remember that we weren’t all on the same level. And Nah, it wasn’t just the police brutality that never quite went away. It was err-thing. The Black banks began to close, lacking support. Support for HBCUs dwindled. Black businesses and institutions like Motown, BET and Duke Hair Products were sold to white conglomerates. Katrina wiped out hundreds of Black people, with much government indifference—locally, on the state level, and federally. Billionaire Oprah Winfrey was denied entrance to Hermes. Confederate flags began to reappear all over the South.

At the same time, Blackness was downplayed and made less important. It was like the powers that be were gonna force us into mainstream America, even if we didn’t really wanna go. The things in our ethnicity and culture that supported and enforced us being Black began to disappear—sometimes, by force.

 

The Social Media Era, beginning in 2009, is what woke many of us up. Everybody could finally see for themselves what we had been talking about. And no, the problem wasn’t just the Karens of the world. Fruitvale, Trayvon, Michael Brown—we began to see that the problems we all faced in our own communities were extant nationwide; and not only did we all face similar problems, but these problems had never gone away. Militarized police departments, job, and loan denials because of our names, hair discrimination at school and in the workplace—all of a sudden, America didn’t look so happy about Black folks.

We took a good look at ourselves and saw that we had almost bought into the melting pot. We had denied ourselves our ethnicity and culture—which is something that our Jamaican or Nigerian or Brazilian cousins never did. We realized that the conditions for us stayed pretty close to what they had been from the seventies—no matter who was president or who was in control of the box office.

We woke up, dawg! Finally!!!

We took a new look at the militancy of Dr. King, rather than the whitewashing of the Dream speech. We rediscovered Malcolm and Marcus. We realized that Kwanzaa wasn’t just Black Christmas. We started looking at what it meant to be Black—not just dark in skin color, but Black. And when that happened, we reevaluated the importance of Juneteenth and embraced it for ourselves again.

Many of us started re-embracing Juneteenth and other Black days of significance far before Trump and Biden were talking about making the day a national holiday. Now that it has become nationalized, however; the more Black people collectively regain our understanding of who we truly are in this nation, and thus begin to re-embrace their own identity as Black ethnically and culturally—rather than just racially—the more Juneteenth needs to be protected from becoming Black Cinco de Mayo.

The more we move into the Social Media Era, as it has happened in each era to come before, the smaller the world gets. When the globe shrinks, people share stuff and not just photos. When folks share their culture with others, that culture runs the risk of being reduced to fun time only.

For example, St. Patrick’s Day has gone from being a cultural celebration of being Irish to a day where everybody gets drunk and wears green. Cinco De Mayo has gone from being a cultural celebration of being Mexican to a day where everybody gets drunk and eats tacos. Days like Easter and Christmas, which used to be days of holiness for that faith, have been reduced to capitalist spending extravaganzas. Ain’t nobody pondering American independence on the 4th of July; they wanna pop fireworks and eat.

 Trust me that is not what we want as a people for Juneteenth.

 

We have already seen ridiculous attempts from Wal-Mart and Dollar Tree to capitalize on the holiday, with silly red-black-and-green items on sale, appropriation ice cream, and the like. They even tried to trademark Juneteenth, damn fools. That’s the kinda garbage that we wanna avoid participating in.

The federal government made Juneteenth a national holiday—but did nothing to ease the plight of Black Americans regarding home ownership, community policing, strengthening Black banks, the school-to-prison pipeline, increasing Black investiture in the market, supporting HBCUs, or anything economically more relevant to Black Americans other than a day off to eat barbecue. Your friends who aren’t invested in Blackness will tell you that such menial attempts by the corporations are their way of participating. After all, they’ll tell you, we thought y’all wanted to be equal. That’s not what you want, and that’s NOT equality anyway. You cannot let other people tell you what Juneteenth is supposed to mean to your community.

The Jews do not care if you wear a yarmulke on Rosh Hashana. The Muslims do not care if you fast for Ramadan. These are for their ethnicity and culture, not yours. They don’t care if you give them the day off; they were gonna take it anyway. It is important to them. It is holy to them. It represents who they are. Juneteenth must always be important to us. It must be holy to us. I must represent who we are—not who corporate America wants us to be.

If you want Juneteenth to stay serious, you cannot let the other folks water down the importance. You can’t let them commercialize it to where it becomes silly. You gotta keep it important to you and to yours, and you can only do that if it means something special to your ethnicity and culture. Don’t let them do Juneteenth the way they’ve done to MLK Day.

 

Let’s keep Juneteenth holy and sacred to us, a yearly reminder of what our ancestors endured and what this nation condoned—whether we gotta go to work that day or not.

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