Juneteenth ascends in importance as a national commemoration of the emancipation of American slaves. The practices are fittingly patchwork: parades, symbolic baptisms, cookouts, reunions, nighttime vigils at churches.
Circumstances conspire to make that patchwork all the more prominent. Perhaps more than any time in the recent past, there is a contemporary uncertainty about the pillars of citizenship that have supported black aspiration in America. The promise of true ownership in society is in some places no closer than 50 years ago. In every cross-section of class and age, black people in the country appear increasingly anxious about their status.
Police have free reign to kill us. Businesses openly discriminate against us. Employers in many states choose not to hire us. Juneteenth is a celebratory holiday, but its growing prominence seems to have more to do with insecurity than with victory.
And it is with a sickening irony that on Juneteenth, Nikki Haley announces the U.S. withdrawal from the UN Human Rights Council just as the Trump Administration tears asylum-seeking families apart and locks their children in caged detention centers.
Unfortunately, this is the direction of our nation. The unimaginable becoming reality. The tragic becoming normal. The disgusting becoming unexpected. As an example, President Trump falsely tweeted that crime in Germany is on the rise, and railed against immigration policies in Europe, even as his own policies face bipartisan criticism about the separation of children from parents when stopped at American borders. This is another highly unusual political attack on the leader of an allied country. It’s also yet another Trump lie about Muslims, migrants and crime. More than just a dog whistle to white supremacists, Trump used a blowhorn calling for Merkel to be defeated.
It is said that Trump has no real ideology, which is not true—his ideology is white supremacy, in all its truculent and sanctimonious power. Trump inaugurated his campaign by casting himself as the defender of white maidenhood against Mexican “rapists” only to be later alleged by multiple accusers, and by his own proud words, to be a sexual violator himself. White supremacy has always had a perverse sexual tint. Trump’s rise was shepherded by Steve Bannon, who mocks his white male critics as “cucks” which casts white men as victims aligns with the dicta of whiteness, which seek to alchemize one’s profligate sins into virtue.
So it was with slaveholders claiming that Britain sought to make slaves of them.
So it was with marauding Klansmen organized against alleged rapes and other outrages.
So it was with a candidate who called for a foreign power to hack his opponent’s email and who now, as president, is claiming to be the victim of “the single greatest witch hunt of a politician in American history.” .
Recently Trump has leaned hard into authoritarianism, no longer content with merely hinting he wants to be a dictator. He is overtly praising murderous regimes, now demanding “his people” stand when he walks into a room, casting the free press as “enemies of the people”, and blaming his policy of imprisoning children in concentration camps on political opponents, using these kids as leverage–as hostages–so that he may erect a wall that further aligns himself with the KKK’s America First doctrine from decades ago.
If you want to know how Hitler rose to power while Germans remained silent, you’re witnessing history repeat itself.
And yet, on this Juneteenth–despite the hate and the rhetoric, despite the trials and tribulations, despite the crossroads we as a nation stand at–we will celebrate. We will fight. We will stand. Much of black American history is told in centennial terms. The civil-rights movement was sparked a century after the intransigence of enslaved people helped spark the Civil War. Fifty-three years after the Voting Rights Act, America currently stands in the middle of such a turning point. It is critical we do not allow the powers of hate to turn the clock back on progress.
We are a people of strength. Of legacy. Of builders.
We shaped the nation, first by enslavement, then from influence, then through leadership.
We have been called the harshest of names and went through the most unspeakable of horrors. We have been ridiculed by how we look, how we sing, how we live, only for those who laugh to emulate our very being.
Yet we remain proud.
For in our future is a road paved by the blood and tears of yesterday, in our hearts the song of a people, our family, that will never be forgotten.
So we march. We step. We move.