Perspectives of a Haitian American woman on Juneteenth
This year June 19, 2020 a/k/a Juneteenth will feel extra special. Nearly two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, on June 19, 1865, in Galveston, Texas all former slaves received the news that the Civil war had ended, and that the enslaved were now free. The day marks the oldest celebration of the official ending of slavery in the United States. The Emancipation Proclamation was formally issued on January 1, 1863 so why did it take two and a half years for this very important news to reach Texas, one might ask? No one knows for sure the answer to that question, but I am sure we can all make some intelligent guesses based on the current State of affairs in the United States. When it comes to matters of race, color and civil rights, America sometimes wants to shut its ears, closed its eyes and pretend like it's business as usual and maintain the status quo for as long as possible. In 2020, in the middle of a global health pandemic, some are finally willing to open their eyes to the dangers of "white supremacy," the oppression of black and brown people, and the issues of systemic racism that has kept Blacks from truly living and existing freely in our Black bodies.
As an educated Black woman, I will admit, I never learned about Juneteenth in school. The little bit of history on slavery and the civil war that was brushed upon in school was cringe worthy, uncomfortable and taught in a way that was dehumanizing to African American children in my opinion. As an adult, I had to educate myself on a lot of things relating to American History that I never learned during my later schooling years in America--which is what we must do because knowledge is and forever will be a powerful tool for demanding and effecting change in our society. However, I am grateful to have completed my primary education in Haiti, where I learned about the Haitian Revolution from a very young age, and being proud of my ancestors who led a successful slave revolt against the French. On January 1, 1804, Haiti became the first nation in Latin America and the Caribbean to abolish slavery. It's amazing what learning about ones history and the manner in which that information is taught can effect ones self-esteem, confidence and pride. Some in the US are uncomfortable talking about America's dark past and the residual effects of slavery, the false beliefs of superiority and the denial of "white privilege" that exists in our society. I am proud to be a Black woman. Black is beautiful. Diversity is a beautiful thing. I bring a different view and perspective to the table, and I wish the world would see that as a bonus and a good thing rather than something to fear and a negative. As human beings we are more alike then we are different. Yes my skin tone may be darker than yours, but that does not make me a threat, and my skin color should not determine whether my life matters or be valued any less than the next person.
Though some Black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth for hundreds of years as a day of Freedom, in light of current events, Juneteenth is now trending. In recent weeks, the spotlight on racial profiling, police violence and killings of Black and Brown people and the thousands of people protesting and demanding Justice and an end to racism wherever it exists, in every facets of our everyday lives, has made this year Juneteenth's celebrations much more special and the very meaning of what it means to be Black and free in America is being debated. Governor Andrew M. Cuomo in New York issued an Executive Order, recognizing Juneteenth as a Holiday for State employees, and plans to advance legislation to make June 19 (Juneteenth) an official State holiday next year. A portion of the Governor's Executive Order reads as follows:
"WHEREAS, the Empire State has a tradition of acknowledging significant milestones in advancing the cause of freedom, and New Yorkers, some of whom descend directly from those brave men and women that gained freedom on that day, join in celebrating the 155th anniversary of Juneteenth, an observance that commemorates the official announcement made in the State of Texas regarding the abolition of slavery and the freeing of some quarter-million African Americans;
and WHEREAS, the observance of Juneteenth honors the history, perseverance, and achievements of African Americans, and celebrates America’s progress and continuing commitment to realizing the principles of liberty and equality upon which our nation was founded."
In addition, many companies have announced that they will recognize Juneteenth as a paid Holiday for their employees. Even if your company or State does not permit you to have the day-off as a paid Holiday, you should still find ways to acknowledge the day as a celebration of Black freedom, Black joy and Black wellness! If you are in the mood, you can also try to educate your colleagues and leaders on the significance of the day (and I get it if you choose not to either because I am sure some of us are tired of educating folks on things they should already know), but who knows maybe next year, you might be the voice who influences change at your company. If you are lucky enough to have the day off tomorrow, how do you plan on celebrating the day? I plan to use the day for rest, education, and I am also registered for two virtual events. One event is hosted by Penn State University, Dickinson School of Law, entitled "Juneteenth: A virtual Celebration of Community, Culture and Conversation." I am excited to connect with fellow alums and faculty, and it's nice to see that so much has changed from when I graduated in terms of school culture and diversity, which is another story for another day.