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Images of Freed slaves in Galveston Texas, 1985, Juneteenth

Critical Juneteenth Theory

A Dream of Freedom Deferred

January 1st, 1863, the Emancipation proclamation declared the end of slavery within the “Rebellious States” to “Weaken the Confederacy by depriving it of its workforce and supposedly freeing 3 Million people. Unfortunately, since the South was operating as its own entity since 1861, the Confederacy, this was purely symbolic at best.

Not until the Confederacy fell and the Union Army Marched through Galveston, Texas, in the summer of 1865 were the final people enslaved in the South finally set free. This event is what Juneteenth celebrates. The liberation of slaves two years after the abolishment of Southern Slavery.

Now you might be asking, “Eric, why do you keep saying Southern Slavery?” Well, slavery still existed in the Union until the 13th amendment was ratified in December of 1965. In fact, Delaware was one of the last holdouts in the ratification of the 13th amendment.

See, there’s this idea that slavery was a Southern thing, much too evil for the noble sensibilities of the sensitive and civilized North. The idea that if your family was from the North you’ve got no connection to that darkness. Sorry buddy, slavery is as American as apple pie.

So here’s the rub. Even Juneteenth, our new national celebration of freedom, wasn’t the end of captivity for Black people in America.

It’s a testament to the fact that oppression does not dissipate on its own. Freedom, it turns out, isn’t found; it’s fought for.

So here we find ourselves in America, yet again at a crossroads, faced yet again with an option. Do we confront our country’s past, its history and use our clear 20/20 hindsight to untangle the subsequent fall out of our truly toxic decisions? Enact policies enforced by deep analysis of outcomes tied to racist directives? Or just make a big empty gesture that doesn’t matter while sweeping the important steps under the rug. Well, to avoid that we could really look at way to examine how our racial history and systems impact our society. Wait, what was that called again?

Critical Race Theory. ::thunder and lightening crash::

Critical Race Theory could be described as a framework to understand how our nation’s racist policies, ideologies, and actions have impacted Black people in this country. You need to intentionally fix what was intentionally broken by racism and the only way to do that is to analyze it critically.

And look, I’m not here to argue about if “America’s Foundation is racist.” We’re celebrating a holiday about the deferred freedom of a people enslaved by this nation and treating it as a victory.

Nah, I’m here to talk about how it’s possible to make a holiday out of the secondary liberation of people who were enslaved, ignoring additionals in Delaware, and simultaneously pass bills to block teaching HOW those actions and the subsequent regressive and overtly racist acts that FOLLOWED the end of slavery impacted us as a country. Acts like…

Share Cropping

Jim Crow

Separate But Equal

Red Lining

The War on Drugs

Defunding Schools based on “Standardized Testing”

The List Goes On.

Yeah, we see y’all and we’re not impressed. We shouldn’t be distracted by lit ass BBQ’  and half-off coupons at Bath and Bodyworks when only 1% of the hundreds of millions of dollars pledged by corporations after George Floyd’s death to combat racism has even been distributed. Singing Lift Every Voice and Sing is not police reform. Corporate leaders standing together to say “Racism gives us a rumbly in our tummy” while making no significant changes to their talent pipeline just ain't it chief.

The ideological foothold of oppression will always struggle to keep its boot on a neck. You see it in the death rattle of the radicalized American ideology that inspired insurrection. The old ways die hard. This is a nation forged in division and built on the back of deep inequity, yet double-spoke of equality in its founding documents.

I don’t believe we are in a country that can’t move forward. I do, however, think we’re fighting inertia. An object this weighed down by the scourge of inequality requires equal amounts of force to move it. But we are moving. It’s just that sometimes while standing on the back of a massive object you can’t feel that movement, like the earth whipping through space. The scale is too great to perceive. But if watch tides or look up watch the stars shift around you, you can start to make out the subtle changes.

Juneteenth reminds me not to take those changes for granted. It also reminds me to look more closely for evidence of change, not just the mention of it. I’ve learned that sometimes to be unaware of change is just as dangerous as the lack thereof. Inversely, to be unaware of one’s captivity could be a fairly frightening proposition as well.

We’re not where we were, but we’re certainly not where we need to be. Better than bad is not good. It’s just “better.” I’m thankful for histories that give us context and historians that give us insight. I’m encouraged by data that allows me to perceive progress. But I grow impatient with those that would tell us “Look how far we’ve come, why you still mad for? Why do we still fight.”

Liberation is a state of awareness. Someone can enslave you due to a lack of knowledge. Not knowing you are free is just as dangerous as not being free. And furthermore, even knowledge can’t do much without action.

Just because though laws have passed and politicians have kneeled (did we really need that). Even though freedom has been “declared,” I often find myself looking around and wondering, “has news made it to the jailers? Has someone told those enslaved?”

This is just a reminder that, on Juneteenth, we’re not celebrating the end of slavery. We are reminding ourselves of the continued fight for liberation.