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A meditation on deception.
I have been very much on the fence about writing this; I am a white woman of privilege, and there is so much that I can not possibly fathom about the black experience in my country that my inclination, always, is to not speak, and instead, to listen. But the roots of Juneteenth —- this profound holiday marking the emancipation of all slaves in Texas in 1865 —- run long and deep, and it is incumbent upon us to understand exactly why this event was celebrated when it was, and what it means now, as democracy and truth continue to unravel around us.
I am told by my Black friends and family members with whom I have discussed the origins and meaning of Juneteenth that it is far more complex than it appears to be; that the facts of the event are layered like a strudel, beyond the obvious —- the villainous, anti-human act of enslaving other humans and their treatment which virtually not one white person among us can possibly fathom in its violence, emotional and physical terrorism, and abject cruelty. I often use the word ineffable in my work: that for which there are no words.
What is known: that the events preceding June 19th, 1865 have their basis in an institutional lie so profound that it methodically and systematically hid from enslaved black people in Texas the fact of Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation two years earlier. Emancipation in Texas would come one year after the Senate passed the 13th amendment abolishing slavery, and six months after it was passed by the House on January 31, 1865.
Deception is defined as the act of causing someone to accept as true or valid what is false or invalid. Deception is defined as a hiding of the truth; a concealment for gain financial, personal, or both. In the case of Juneteenth, this is about justice delayed, and justice denied.
And it also marks one of the most heinous examples of deception ever perpetrated by a government over the lives of people --- and this feels very, very current to me.
So I am moved to write a post paying honor to Juneteenth. I am deeply conflicted about it because, on the one hand, it is a profound celebration, and while it is not my celebration directly, it celebrates truth over deception, freedom over horror so purely terrible that white people want to look away, to disavow it, to disconnect from it and our responsibility for it. And it also marks one of the most heinous examples of deception ever perpetrated by a government over the lives of people --- and this feels very, very current to me. So long as people of color face state-sanctioned deception —- gerrymandering, voter suppression, gaslighting, wage and wealth and health theft, inequity in almost every facet of life, ongoing police brutality, normalized violence and devastation —- concealment of truth continues to exist everywhere and touches every soul: those who are directly effected by it, and those who perpetrate it, knowingly or not.
On this day in 1865, the truth came to Texas: that its slaves had been freed, two years after the fact had been kept from them. On this day in 2022, Juneteenth is now a Federal holiday, and yet, only eighteen states formally recognize it. In a recent NPR report, lawmakers in Alabama, Mississippi, South Carolina, Tennessee and other states failed to advance proposals this year that would have closed state offices and given most of their public employees paid time off for the June 19 holiday.
There is so much more to be done.