Sunday, June 19, 2011

Happy Juneteenth! by Alex Snider

Today many of our neighbours to the south, the US (not the people who leave their incredibly ugly rope sandals -- they are literally sandals made entirely of rope, it's like if someone was standing on a dock and their feet got tangled in a boat's tow rope and they were like, "hey, I actually really dig this look" and everyone else in the world was like, "no" -- outside their apartment) are celebrating Juneteenth

On January 1, 1863 Abraham Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation went into effect, freeing all slaves and ending slavery in America. However it wasn't until the surrender of General Lee that the Union soldiers, under the leadership of Major General Gordon Granger (side-note -- is there anyone outside of military folk or those who have connections to military folk who know anything about army hierarchy? Serious question here, am I in the minority? Should I know the difference between a lieutenant and a major?) were able to announce to the enslaved people of Galveston, Texas that they were free. 

Once in Galveston, Granger read from General Order No. 3:
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
Oh man, reading this brings tears to my eyes. I just cannot fathom the moral justifications that went into owning people. And I can't begin to understand how incredible it must have been for the people who were kept as slaves to hear that they're free. I have goosebumps! Granger read the order on June 19th, 1865, over two years after Lincoln ended slavery. And Juneteenth, Freedom Day, Emancipation Day was born.

Kinda a big deal. Like Independence Day, President's Day, Labour Day, Memorial Day but, of more consequence, I think, because I have a hard time imagining anything more important than the day celebrating the emancipation of slaves. 

Texas became the first state to declare Juneteenth an official state holiday in 1980 (!) and now 38 other states have followed suit. It's a day to commemorate not only the abolition of slavery but also to celebrate African-American culture through music, food and dress, and to share in the joy of community.

This Juneteenth, I think it is especially important to remember that in America and here in Canada, we are not even close to living in a post-race society. To remember that although race-baiting (*cough* Fox *cough* Tea Party *cough*) is alarmingly commonplace, racism can be much more insidious and systemic. Racism is stereotypes, bad and good. Racism is advertisers using white people as the norm, as the ideal. Racism is refusing to examine one's own privilege. Racism is suggesting that racism isn't that bad, that a person of colour is simple "wanting to see racism". Racism is a person of the dominant race saying that they don't see race or notice skin colour; that we're all the same. Racism is delegitimizing a person of colour's feelings, history, experience based on a privileged existence. Racism is Juneteenth not being a National fucking holiday.

I hope that we never live in a post-race society because race and the cultures that go along with race are what enrich our lives, they are what tie us to our families and community. What I want is for all races to be valued equally, for people to neither benefit solely because of their race nor face discrimination or denigration for race. Where the black president of the United States doesn't have to produce a birth certificate for the right-wing media to scrutinize.

But, I digress, have a happy June 19th, Juneteenth, Freedom Day, Emancipation day. Enjoy some good music and good food, spend time with loved ones, laugh and tell stories, and really, really, really enjoy your freedom.

No comments:

Post a Comment