Growing up in central Texas, there were unfortunately not that many black people to socialize with. I think it’s unfortunate, since we now know an important part of development is being able to socialize and identify with someone that looks like you.
One of the few things I did look forward to as a little African American boy was celebrating June 19, also known as Juneteenth. Every year my siblings and I would know it was coming, we would buy new outfits, and our Mom would start taking us out to play with our cousins. Our family just seemed happy. We would go to the parade, even participate sometimes, and we would go to the park after to see who had the best floats.
I never understood the importance of it then. A lot of times, when kids learn history about black culture, they are only taught the bare minimum of what actually happened. Frederick Douglass, Harriet Tubman and Martin Luther King Jr. are the names that everyone knows leaving elementary school, but they are left with little other knowledge of significant cultural events. As I grew up, I realized that Juneteenth is actually one of the most important dates in Texas history.
On June 19, 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln had issued the Emancipation Proclamation, a Union general led troops to Galveston, Texas and announced that all slaves had been freed. Due to Texas not being a battleground and, due to its location being isolated from the rest of the country, slaves had to escape if they sought freedom before that time.
In the long history of black people being mistreated in this country, Juneteenth is a small consolation prize for fundamentally changing the lives of millions upon millions of people. I know I’m definitely romanticizing, and probably editorializing, the issue, but it’s odd to think that one or more of my ancestors was subjugated to the atrocities that slaves had to go though at the time.
When the people from Africa were brought over to the United States as slaves, their identities were stripped away. Every bit of the culture the African slaves had already adopted, which had been engrained into their DNA, was taken away. If they had tried to practice customs from their home, outrageous consequences could occur — so they had to create a new culture to survive.
I know some people might feel differently, but I’m very happy that I have the opportunities that I do now, as someone of African descent. I know that my ancestors probably came from Africa, but that’s all I know. There are services available where I can send a swab of my saliva in and receive a more detailed history about my ancestry in return. Those services also ask you to pay for a subscription and have been known to fail its African American customers.
As the world slowly begins to accept that diversity is important, I think we need to remember the things that have existed but have not been celebrated. There’s always an argument surrounding cultural appropriation of black culture, but you would be protective if someone tries to take ownership of something without understanding its significance.
Juneteenth is one of the few celebrations in American culture that celebrates an important event that happened in black culture. It’s also one of the very few things in American culture that celebrates something positive that happened to black people. That means it’s important that we remember and celebrate it for the joyous occasion it is.
Black people are faced with a lack of identity, and Juneteenth celebrations makes that pill a little easier to swallow.
Featured Illustration: Austin Banzon