All The Progress We Have Not Yet Made | 6.19.22
The Sunday Edition
Massive day today, friends, one of monumental and woefully under-appreciated importance, one that never receives the recognition it deserves in a wide majority of our population, and that’s something that simultaneously upsets me, and spurs me into some small action that wants to try to fix it, if only here, if only on this little scale. Today, is Juneteenth, and it’s a brilliant holiday for a brilliant reason, and I wanted to dive into it a bit, shine a little light where not enough light has been shone (is shone the right word, shined, whatever). Let’s get into it, and we’ll spiral out from here, I’ve no doubt.
Juneteenth, short for June Nineteenth, is a holiday in these here United States, that marks and commemorates the effective end of slavery in this country. It’s the day, the very day, that federal troops marched their shiny boots into Galveston, Texas 157 years ago, in 1865, took control of the state, and demanded and ensured that ALL enslaved peoples be freed, immediately, forever. What some people don’t know, or just never really paid attention to, is this sad fact: June 19, 1865, the day we’re celebrating today, came a heartbreaking, staggering, unbelievable TWO YEARS after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Yes, it took that long to happen, yes that’s bullshit garbage. What’s more bullshit garbage, is that while Juneteenth is the official longest running African American holiday, its status as a federal holiday never even began until, wait for it….Last year. Yeah, June 17th, 2021. See where I’m going with this?
So, back in 1865, General Lee and his racist cronies surrendered to General Grant two months before, but slavery was damn near completely unaffected in Texas. Finally, in what is one of the simplest statements that had the broadest implications, a man named General Granger (doing the Hermione name proud) stood on some dusty Texan soil and read out-loud General Orders 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.”
I presume he was the first to mime a mic drop, and I presume no one had a clue what that meant, but with that single sentence, slavery, which had been the disgusting backbone to this entire country, was eliminated.
Where things get again irritating, is that when he uttered those words, it didn’t guarantee instant freedom. Most slaveowners withheld that information, conveniently, until after the harvest season, squeezing every last illegal drop of labor from their enslaved, but still, celebrations were said to break out for those that did know pretty immediately. Come December, the 13th Amendment was created, formally abolishing slavery forever. A year later, freed people in Texas celebrated the very first “Jubilee Day” as a means to mark such a momentous occasion. Barbecues, worship services, music, and general revelry then spread from Texas to all other corners of the world through the newly freed community and those that always fought for the cause. 156 years later, we’re still celebrating, and rightfully so.
The fact that it took 155 years, yes YEARS, of said celebrating for it to be signed into law as a federal holiday, speaks volumes, and speaks even louder than the fact that it took two years from the Emancipation Proclamation to the official declaration that day by General Granger. The problem is as it was, and as it will continue to be until real change happens in this country: What we call freedom, what we’re Still calling freedom, forgets all the progress that we’ve still not yet made.
So, while the celebrations are fantastic, are well-deserved, and are worthy of every drop of our revelry, all of us who are Not members of the African American community, need to do something besides celebrating this…we need to do more. We need to do better. The problems that existed then, sadly, still exist now. The prejudice, while probably abated some, has gone nowhere. It’s seen on a daily basis on incarceration rates and the length of sentencing, it’s seen on rates of police brutality and rates of deaths at the hands of law enforcement, it’s seen in poverty rates, it’s seen most recently on death rates from COVID and in voter suppression tactics. From the top to the bottom, the racism and the prejudice, sadly, has not gone away since the very first Jubilee Day, and after the presidency we just endured here in this country, if anything, it’s gotten worse. Slavery may have been abolished, but the truth too few want to say aloud is this: The conditions that lead to it, simply have not.
Dress it how we will, call it what we want to make ourselves feel better, but fact is, we are where we were in many ways, and more than the progress we’ve made, there is the progress we haven’t. The last 10 years of politics in this country have created a tempest amongst the people that call the United States home, and that storm has caused a divide that spans further than we are collectively comfortable admitting. Somehow, one man, orange in tint and off his god damn rocker, was able to grant permission for a backslide into the racism, prejudice, and hatred, that shaped this country in its infancy. Somehow, he was the siren call that brought millions of disgustingly despicable “Americans” out of their woodwork, out of their hidey-holes that whatever progress we made before forced them into, and gave them a voice, louder, prouder, and more obnoxious than ever. We, now, are facing more atrocious legislation, more targeted abuse, more tracked cruelty, than we have in years, and somehow, they, we, are still calling it freedom, still labeling it the tenet that we think we’re founded on. False, I say, False.
In short, I am afraid for where we’re heading if this is where we are now. I am afraid for the future if those voices are allowed to grow even louder than they are now. I am afraid for a country built on the blood of slaves, when after all this time, it is failing to address and make reparations for the wrongs that began at its conception, and continue in its adolescence. I am afraid, but I am hopeful, because now, more than ever, those loud, obnoxious, hateful voices, are facing opposition that is just as loud, just as powerful, and just as motivated. There is an army of good waiting to fight all that bad, and it is filled to the brim with those willing to stand up for equality, for kindness, and for and end to the hate that shaped this place.
I speak often about how we need to fight the good fights, and today, Juneteenth, is a perfect reminder that if you’re born into a privilege that someone else is not, you are obligated, hell, I’m EXPECTING you to do something good with it. Fight for those who need help fighting, fight for those who do not enjoy the same comforts you do, fight for those still suffering from the same prejudice that began this land. While doing so, please, celebrate the progress we’ve made, but never, ever forget, all the miles we still have left to march.
Still call it freedom,
forgetting all the progress
we have not yet made.