Today is Juneteenth. It's the first year Juneteenth is a national holiday, thanks to quick and somewhat surprising action by congress last week.
Many have pointed out that, as an NPR headline puts it, "Juneteenth As A National Holiday Is Symbolism Without Progress". My wife and I have often had the conversation about our local MLK Day march, where politicians who are awful human beings march as if they weren't actively working to harm African Americans. I can't think at the moment if there's a word equivalent to 'greenwashing' for this, but I can say that many people whose actions mark them as virulent racists march in MLK celebrations, and are thus in their own mind not racists. 'Some of my best friends are black' I'm sure their refrain goes.
It's hard to think about race, personally, because if I think too hard I realize how ignorant I've been for so long, and that's unpleasant. I'm not sure when I learned what Juneteenth was, but I'm quite certain it's more recently than it should be.
This is one of the interesting things about the neverending debate about history education, most recently made manifest by the politicization of ... I was going to say the politicization of Critical Race Theory, but of course that's not what has been politicized, that's just the term Republicans and right wing zealots (and their disciples) are using to talk about history education that includes anyone who isn't white. As I've gotten older, and learned more about all the things I wasn't taught, my reaction has been 'why wasn't I taught this? This should be taught in school!'. I guess other people have a different reaction? I don't know how one could learn something new, and important, which had been omitted from their education and not think 'we should teach this'.
I have mentioned that I am sympathetic to the idea that making Juneteenth a national holiday without taking any concrete action to make the situation of African Americans better is a hollow gesture. On the other hand, at the NAACP event we went to today in town, several speakers noted that it was now a national holiday, and that this was another step forward. Symbols do have power. So maybe this wasn't a completely empty move.
On the subject of symbols and Juneteenth, I recently listened to the excellent 99% Invisible episode on the red, black and green flag, created by Marcus Garvey to represent the Black nation. I was struck by the debate between Garvey and Du Bois about whether there was a path to equality for Black people in America. I wonder, if they saw the full picture of where America is today, 100 years later, would either of them change their position? Are we as far as Du Bois hoped? Are we further than Garvey thought we would get?