Only 156 years ago, the first celebration of “Jubilee Day” by freedmen in Texas happened.
Although I was born and raised in the South, I was not as familiar with Juneteenth until I began doing research on my own during my undergraduate studies. Having lived in Georgia almost all of my life, my appreciation for this holiday increased once I realized that we were not taught the truth in school. We were taught that the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people which is untrue. President Lincoln signing that document actually did not free enslaved people in the United States. In reality, in places like Texas, which did not have a heavy presence of Union troops, business as usual continued, keeping Black people enslaved. It is still astonishing to me that there were people in this country as recently as 1863 who still thought chattel slavery was acceptable and treating Black people as property instead of people was justifiable. The first Juneteenth celebration was indeed a joyful occasion for Black enslaved people in Texas who could enjoy the fact they would no longer be treated and owned like property. That day on June 19, 1865, was cause for celebration, as newly freed slaves in Texas would no longer be subjugated and dehumanized in this country.
Sadly, although there was cause for celebration in Texas in 1865, this country-especially within the last several years- has continued to bring so many Black people sorrow, anguish, and strife. From the direct enabling and emboldening of white supremacists during the previous presidential administration, to the horrific acts of white nationalist fueled domestic terrorism, to the countless deaths of Black people at the hands of police and the heavy toll of COVID-19 on health, jobs, and survival of Black communities, many Black people are continuing to experience pain, trauma, and subjugation. It has become increasingly difficult to find an ounce of joy just by trying to live and breathe daily in this so-called land of the free. It is exhausting to feel uneasiness and to be filled daily with the fear that you or someone you know becoming the latest social media hashtag, or the victim of racial profiling, or denied an award or tenure, or even experience a violent racial microaggression in public. When you are constantly being denied your full humanity and the ability to exist just as you are, always having to look over your shoulder, waiting for the next shoe to drop, you are truly unable to experience genuine happiness in your daily life.
With the recent legislation passed declaring Juneteenth a national holiday in this country, we are grateful but understanding our work at the Kapor Center is not close to being done. As we continue to work tirelessly to democratize and reimagine computer science as well as leveling the playing field in tech, this Juneteenth does provide our organization and community time to reflect. As we celebrate Juneteenth this year at the Kapor Center and in our communities, I would urge us to use Juneteenth 2021 as a springboard to see more Black joy publicly. Black joy is a form of dissent and defiance towards a society that believes our lives do not matter. Black joy is necessary. Black joy is resistance. Black joy is needed in abundance. As Lucille Clifton wrote, “…Come celebrate with me that everyday something has tried to kill me and has failed.”
Starting this Juneteenth and going forward I want to see more:
Black people smiling
Black people laughing
Black people thriving
Black people succeeding
Black people glowing
Black people resting
Black people unfettered
Black people celebrating
Black joy is a threat to white supremacy, whiteness, and anti-Blackness. Black joy is equipped to balk at white rage and white lash about the truth of racism in this country. In a world set up to rob us of our humanity, Black joy is the ultimate rebellious act towards a society that does and has not ever truly valued and loved us.
I am grateful to my ancestors who were enslaved in New Orleans on this Juneteenth and every day. I encourage all Black people in this country to find some joy, applaud your wins, and share any jubilation publicly today and every day going forward. We deserve it.
*The Kapor Center celebrates Juneteenth in 2021 for the second year by encouraging a day of action and service to support Black businesses, communities, and families.