I’ve come to love Juneteenth so much that there are a few other names I keep finding myself calling it. These are:
How Nice For You Day
We Are Not Fools Day
How Far, So Far Day
Universe! Ancestors! Stop Playin’ Day!
And, the name that sums up Juneteenth for me is Sankofa Day.
It gets me especially choked up and misty-eyed.
I’m trusting that many of you will see the reasons for these other names. You might already be guessing how they arose.
First, I think of Juneteenth as “How Nice For You Day”. Because, how nice for North American history and culture to finally have an official day celebrating the end of their centuries of enslaving people. Of being enslavers. As my Mother would say: ”They had to be dragged kicking and screaming” to do it! And later, they had to be dragged kicking and screaming” to make it a US holiday.
It’s got me hearing the song “This Is America” by Childish Gambino in my mind. Because for me, Juneteenth is We Are Not Fools Day. Like a lot of people, I wasn’t originally taught that the Emancipation Proclamation freed less than half of the enslaved. It took years before I even heard of Juneteenth, or how it counted as the formal end of enslavement in America.
And then, for generations, we still had the cheating, whitewashed version of enslavement called sharecropping to deal with. Just look up Lena Baker. In 1945 a plantation owner treated her like his slave. It cost her, but she fought back, relieved him of his gun and permanently relieved him of his…privileges.
Until the 1970s, at least, some villains got away with outright slavery in places deep in the rural south.
Plus, there’s the near-slavery that migrant workers of all colours endured! Oh!… And then, there’s America’s convict-slavery loophole which permitted prison labour in chain gangs outdoors and indoors in prison factories where most of our office chairs might still be made. The intersections of poor sharecroppers, migrant workers, and prison labour — of all colours lays bare the truth that racism was always only a gimmick for controlling people and stealing their land, resources, and labour — as efficiently as possible. May others celebrate this holiday with us, reminded that freedom for everyone assures Freedom for Everyone!!!
And then, I learned about the school-to-prison pipeline! It’s as surely a slave trade route as the Trans Atlantic and Internal US slave-trade routes were. Well, now we see it. And, the more people know about this — the sooner it’ll be dismantled and abolished. So yeah, we are not fools — we see the layers of systemic racism and neo-slavery.
This is why I celebrate Juneteenth as How Far, So Far Day! Because…despite ALL of these centuries of things constructed to bring us down — and although there’s still more to deal with…it’s amazing that we kept fighting through. It is a triumph for all of Humanity. So, on Juneteenth, I celebrate how far we’ve come.
But, let me tell you about an extra special one: Universe! Ancestors! Stop Playin’ Day! Well, since Juneteenth occurs right in the midst of Pride month, it’s as if the Universe and our Ancestors are making clear and loud points to African American people. And, for me, it’s like our Ancestors and the Universe are saying:
YOU ARE going to free yourself of the mental shackles, of enslavement as well as the physical shackles!
YOU WILL re-establish and reclaim your connections to the ancestral wealth and societal brilliance of your People!” Why?
Because 1: The simple fact is that embracing Humanity’s complex range of Gender Diversity was normal in our pre-invasion civilisations. It’s like the Universe is holding us to our Ancestors’ high standards!
2: We WILL NOT leave part of our family behind because colonizers and enslavers brainwashed African people into their way of small thinking about our Alphabet Family Members. We embrace the full scope of Humanity!
And, 3: Prejudice against LGBTQIA+ people is not a traditional African Value. That means it is a revolutionary and restorative act to throw off this “phobic” part of colonial conditioning.
LGBTQIA-phobia is as wrong as colorism, both were forced on us around the world. Other invaded peoples dealt with this toxic nonsense, too.
So, on Juneteenth, I remember that saying it’s better and more normal to be cis-Straight is as Colonially Insane as saying it’s better and more normal to have Straight “good” hair.
And PLEASE! Don’t rationalize Black homophobia by saying “Well…Black men were sexually assaulted by overseers and other male criminals during enslavement to humble and control them. So we shouldn’t tolerate ANYTHING that reminds us of that — like Black men having consensual same-sex relationships.
BECAUSE! Black Women were sexually assaulted by overseers and male criminals, too! And, nobody’s saying that women must stop having consensual sexual relationships with men! Let our people go…ahead and have joyful, consensual relationships. Period. Celebrate us getting back to all of our Joy and true self-expression. Pride is part of how we get our own back.
It’s like the Universe is on our side, helping us and telling us we get to celebrate Juneteenth partying with rainbow flags waving, too; recognizing that Love is Love!
With Juneteenth during Pride, we also get to remember that African People who are proud and protective of their heritage also equally being proud and protective of our Trans, Gay, and Gender Non-Conforming Sisters, Brothers, and Siblings. Being so honours Africa and all the world’s Ancestors.
Pride with Juneteenth — a Proud Juneteenth? It also honours the impressive and indispensable contributions of Civil Rights Heroes like the Rev. Dr. Pauli Murray and Bayard Rustin. They made essential contributions to our advancement toward true freedom! Juneteenth Pride is a fine time to watch the documentary called My Name Is Pauli Murray. It’s even streaming on Prime right now. Teach about THEM to our children! They prove that our LGBTQIA+ family has an honoured role in safeguarding and defending our Communities. We knew this before colonialism and enslavement disrupted our societies.
That’s why I think the Universe and Our Ancestors showed up and showed out by placing these commemorations together.
And, you know what? For those unfamiliar with these way-makers — Pauli Murray and Bayard Rustin — we can still ask any homophobe who says they love their African American heritage if they have a problem with James Baldwin! He was LGBTQIA+, too. And, if they have a problem with Baldwin…Ask them “Whose side are you on? And, “Who are you really working for?” Even the words Pride and Juneteenth go together. Smh. Stop Playing, Universe!
All of these elements, all of these aspects of Juneteenth make it Sankofa Day. Sankofa means “It is not wrong to go back for that which you have forgotten.” That’s why a symbol of Sankofa is of a bird with its feet pointing forward and its head reaching back to grab hold of a precious egg.
Celebrating Juneteenth recalls that jubilation and relief we felt on the 19th of June 1865. It also reminds us to reach back, beyond that day — through the centuries of enslavement and how we used our resourcefulness, endurance, anger, love, and wits to survive it. And, Juneteenth takes us back even further, to the time before our societies were invaded and disrupted. Back to when our families were whole. Let us reach back to gain what can be learned from those millennia, like the pride of our societies being inclusive. The richness of our Ancestors’ lives — before the colonial invasion is precious and worth reaching back for, remembering, making present in our lives, in our futures, in our world, and absolutely in our celebrations.
Happy Juneteenth! Here’s to a joyful world of true freedom and justice for everyone, everywhere.
written by Auset O’Neal, ausetoneal.com