By LaKeshia N. Myers
Admittedly, I have never struggled with alcohol addiction, but I know individuals who have. When speaking to them, they all told me, “The first step is admitting you have a problem; we admit we were powerless over alcohol—that our lives had become unmanageable.” Utilizing that same logic, I am comfortable in my assessment that America has been addicted to race and its nasty byproduct, racism. But with the passage of the Juneteenth federal holiday by Congress and its enactment in law by President Joe Biden, our government has finally acknowledged this and taken the first of many necessary steps to move the needle toward equity and the erasure of “otherness.”
While some may count the measure as purely performative or symbolic, I do not. I understand the gravity of what freedom meant to my ancestors who were forced to live in bondage; and what challenges each generation born outside slavery has had to do not to merely survive, but to thrive; living in an ever-evolving country filled with policies meant to deter and deny them access to the American Dream. Today, I think of my great-great-grandmother, born in 1836, who lived to experience emancipation, and became a land owner, ensuring her progeny never had to experience the perils of sharecropping. The millions of Black Americans who did what was necessary to overcome the Black codes, peonage laws, Jim Crow, redlining and voter disenfranchisement; this is why it matters.
While Black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth for generations, its “otherness” was always evident. With July 4th being observed nationally, Black families often choose to celebrate their family reunions during the Fourth, as an alternative to American independence celebrations, as we were always painfully aware that the vast majority of our ancestors remained enslaved in 1776. But for the first time, we can celebrate and acknowledge our independence with all of the appropriate exuberance. It is also an opportunity for other ethnicities to learn the harrowing truth of Juneteenth—the crux of which was that enslaved people in Texas were held for two years following the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation due to greed and bigotry.
So, as America begins to do the real work of acknowledging its fixation with race and systemic racism, know this is most definitely the beginning. Acknowledgement is but the first step. As this country moves toward step two, they should take a note from our ancestors, as they came to believe that a power greater than ourselves could restore us to sanity. Know that lip service is no longer amenable, only equity and actualization of access to American ideals. It is time and we are watching with great expectation.