I’m embarrassed that when one of my good friends wished me a happy #Juneteenth yesterday, I had to ask her what it was. If you don’t know what it is: In 1865, somewhere between June 13 and 19, the slaves of Texas were emancipated. “Juneteenth” today is celebrated on the 19th of June as the day African Americans became a free people in the United States. I say “free people” with some irony and sarcasm, because anyone with the slightest bit of common sense knows that the painful legacy of treating people of color as subhuman still reverberates with very real consequences in the US today. Just look at what we are doing to the families seeking asylum at our southern border. .
My own family history on this topic is mixed: On my father’s side, I had a great x3 grandfather who was a progressive abolitionist preacher. He fled Tennessee when the locals threatened to hang him for preaching against slavery. On my mother’s side, my great x3 grandfather was a prominent Georgia judge and slave-owning plantation owner. It’s a complex heritage of both pride and shame, which might serve as one which might serve as a metaphor for the pain-ridden complexity of race in America in general.
There is so much work we have left to do. A nice starting place would be for more Americans — white Americans in particular — to acknowledge and celebrate Juneteenth. .
There’s only so much depth I can offer in a typing-with-thumbs social media post, but at least I can say this: Since my ancestors aren’t here to apologize themselves, I apologize. I apologize for the half of my heritage that built their fortunes literally on the backs of others. And I celebrate what progress we have made to rectify that. I can’t change the past but I can try to take some personal responsibility for it and try to make the future better.
Happy Juneteenth. Acknowledge it, remember to celebrate it, and remember to take responsibility instead of deferring responsibility for current problems to an invisibly distant past. .