Juneteenth: Should I Be Celebrating?


I am in a deeply complicated space with the announcement of Juneteenth as a federal holiday. I am still processing all that is showing up. At once I am holding space for the duality of a long-overdue recognition of the freeing of enslaved people and the grief that comes with an opportunity lost to reach further than symbolic gestures.

It feels more like a commemoration than a celebration.

Without ever having to say so, the designation of Juneteenth as a holiday, models a standard. One made real by our federal government. Intentionally or not, what has been done by the stroke of a pen is to elevate at the federal level symbolism through law as the way forward.

Today we are offered a holiday. A designated bill as a peace offering? An unequally yoked exchange when one considers the countless laws and policies aimed at disenfranchising communities of color.

We need today’s laws and policies to enact change not just offer recognition. What could have been a bill addressing the many other concerns of the Black community from an Anti Black Hate Bill, police reform, voter suppression, elimination of Critical Race Theory in schools, a redress of redlining, an end to health disparities, and so on, has just fallen flat.

How much easier has it been made for companies and individuals to check off the proverbial box? Stating, “We have given you a holiday. What more could you possibly need?” This feels like the ultimate party trick; a sleight of hand that urges you to watch my left hand carefully lest you notice what is happening in the right.

What is allowing me to hold space for both grief and recognition in concert is the understanding that the clock has yet to run out. Opportunities to drive meaningful change abound if we intentionally focus on addressing the real issues at hand whether at a federal level or in our businesses and communities.

As we recognize Juneteenth, my lens has shifted to navigating how to use the symbolism of the day to reinforce and simultaneously advance policy that not only shifts the narrative but the actual conditions.

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