Juneteenth Is Woke

An Emancipation Band performing at a Juneteenth event in 1900.

Today is Juneteenth. Some white people seem very upset about it being a national holiday, using the classic I’m Not a Racist line “why don’t white people have a holiday.”

Well, for starters, since Juneteenth celebrates the freeing of Black slaves in 1865, there was never a time in American history when the majority of white people in America were slaves.

This should be check and mate to such a dopey argument, but of course people who believe Juneteenth is some special treatment holiday are not necessarily people who listen to reality. Their counter to reality is yelling about “woke.”

Woke is amazing because you can declare anything that you do not like, such as same-sex marriage being legal, as Woke. Climate remediation? Woke. Child care for employees being part of the CHIPS and Science Act? Woke. Celebrating the end of a dark chapter in American history? Woke.

Declaring something as Woke is not an argument. What it is, simply put, is dishonesty.

American history can be messy. The story of this nation is complicated. We are a great country, but the legacy of slavery lives on in racism. It is nefarious and crafty. The most dishonest sides of racism can be found in the post-Reconstruction period when a narrative that Reconstruction was a failure was forged in hate and disingenuousness. Children were falsely taught that it just couldn’t work and that Black elected officials were ineffective and corrupt.

This was around the time that many of the Confederate statues were erected. Into the 20th Century, this continued, with two of the most insidious pieces of propaganda ever put to film, Birth of a Nation and Gone with the Wind. The former portrayed the Ku Klux Klan as heroes and Black politicians as childish buffoons, and the latter portrayed slave owners as heroic and slaves as happy. Not to mention Uncle Remus in Song of the South talking about the “good old days” – in a story set right after the Civil War.

With all this in mind, it is really no surprise that some of the reaction to Juneteenth is to declare it divisive or a fake holiday or whatever. We were trained as a society for decades to believe in a false narrative. We also have a certain mousey Florida governor censoring any American history that makes white students (i.e. their parents) uncomfortable. But Juneteenth is part of the complete American story.

It is a joyous moment in our history and a key step in our democracy. The Constitutional amendments that quickly followed, the 13th, 14th, and 15th also known as the Reconstruction Amendments, are still vital to our democracy. It should also be noted that these amendments would not have been possible without white Americans writing and voting for them.

It should not go without saying that Black Americans often have been vital to the effort of moving democracy forward. Figures such as Ida B. Wells, W.E.B. Dubois, Martin Luther King, Jr., Shirley Chisom, and John Lewis are not just icons of Black history, but icons in the global fight for democracy.

Juneteenth is a day for all Americans. It is a day of celebration and reflection, about where we’ve come from as a nation, and which path we will take to our future.

The last word goes to Jill Scott.