How to Continue the Juneteenth Journey

If Juneteenth represents freedom, then it's not just a day it's a journey.

For the first time in nearly four decades, we have a new federal holiday. On June17th, President Biden signed into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act. The law went into effect immediately and most federal employees had the day off in observance of the new holiday.

All day on Juneteenth we saw explainers, special events, quotes, and historical tidbits tossed about. For a day, everyone focused on freedom.

Now what?

Freedom is not like a light switch that turns on or off—you have freedom or you don’t. It’s more like a dimmer switch where the light of freedom can brighten or darken. On the days following Juneteenth don’t let the light of freedom grow dim.

If this new holiday is about freedom, then Juneteenth is a journey. As a nation we have to daily commit to taking strides toward freedom.

In order to continue the Juneteenth journey, concentrate on the ways Black people still are not free and take action to promote racial justice.

The suggestions that follow are organized according to the Arc of Racial Justice. It is a framework I developed that stands for Awareness, Relationships, and Commitment. We need to take action in all three areas in order to build a stable base on which to construct racial justice efforts.

Awareness

Race-based chattel slavery and the Civil War are among the most-studied subjects in the entire discipline of academic history. The problem is not finding enough resources, it is how to sort through the voluminous information that is available.

Here are a few books that will help you understand the historical context of Junteenth.

  • Incidents in the Life of a Slave Girl by Harriet Jacobs - This book, written by an enslaved Black woman named Harriet Jacobs, describes the sickening reality of her captivity. We can’t understand the elation of emancipation without understanding the suffering of slavery.

  • On Juneteenth by Annette Gordon-Reed - Pulitzer Prize-winning historian, Dr. Gordon-Reed, grew up in Texas and not only tells the history of Juneteenth but discusses her personal experiences celebrating the holiday throughout her life and long before it became a national event.

  • Frederick Douglas: Prophet of Freedom by David Blight - This deeply-researched and engaging biography delves into the life of one of the most well-known Black figures of the antebellum, Civil War, and Reconstruction eras. It’s long but you’ll learn something on every page.

  • Reconstruction: America’s Unfinished Revolution by Eric Foner - Even after the abolition of slavery, freedom has remained a fleeting concept just out of reach of reality for Black people. The movement for Black freedom and true democracy in the United States remains an “unfinished revolution.

In addition to books, visit historical sites and museums, watch documentaries, and listen to podcasts about slavery and the numerous other Black experiences in U.S. history.

If you want an entire book dedicated to answering the question, “How do we continue the journey of Juneteenth?” then look no further than How to Fight Racism.

And great news…the video study for How to Fight Racism is now included with your Amazon Prime Video subscription. So…Netflix and fight racism?

Relationships

Black people comprise just 13 percent of the overall population in the United States. While we are often segregated into certain schools and communities, many of us find ourselves in situations where we are in the racial minority. We need to intentionally cultivate relationships with those who understand our racial experiences and can affirm our humanity in the midst of a society that covertly and overtly undermines our dignity.

Start a group chat, rent a house together for a weekend getaway, go to a Black church. Get to a community of refreshing wherever you can, or build that community if it doesn’t already exist for you.

White people cannot merely rely on their One Black Friend™ for all their interracial and cross-cultural interaction. White people must cultivate networks of relationships with people who are different from them. This is not easily done in a white supremacist society that has created all kinds of barriers to deliberately segregate white people from everyone else.

In order to develop diverse relational networks you may have to move (or stay in) your neighborhood, switch where you kids attend school, get involved in community organizations and activities, and demolish negative stereotypes you may harbor about Black people and other people of color.

Commitment

Racism works not just about interpersonal attitudes but institutions that create and perpetuate apart from any individual’s specific intent. Antiracism explains the problem is not just racist people but racist policies.

The freedom Juneteenth represents can only fully be achieved when we change the laws and policies by which society operates.

We must reimagine public safety. Policing in the United States constantly targets Black people and brutalizes Black bodies. Proposals such as the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act are initial attempts to transform the way we keep people safe.

Voting rights, a massive plank in the platform of the Civil Rights movement of the 1950s an 1960s, are still being assailed. State legislatures across the country are passing laws that will make it harder, not easier, to vote, especially for poor and Black and brown people. The For the People Act (HR 1) would massively overhaul voting as it exists to expand the franchise and protect the democratic process.

The racial wealth gap exists today because, at its core, race-based chattel slavery was an economically exploitative system that forced Black people to labor while also robbing them of their wages. In order to remedy these historical and persistent wealth inequities, many people have proposed financial reparations to Black descendants of enslaved people. The Commission to Study and Develop Reparation Proposals for African Americans Act (HR 40) authorizes a study group to examine the nature of federal and state support of slavery and make recommendations for the present day. The commission itself is not reparations, but could be the next step to finally addressing this unresolved crime.

If you acknowledged Juneteenth on the exact day, good. Do so every year. But Juneteenth is both a journey and an event. Continue the journey of Juneteenth the next day, and the day after that, and keep going until all of us are free.