Let’s Close Out Our Juneteenth Weekend With A Special Episode Of ‘Black-ish’
Juneteenth is officially a federal holiday. This is a good thing, even if Republicans try to co-opt or dismiss it. Republicans make everything worse, except for “Dynasty" when Reagan-era Republicans got into slap fights each week.
Let's hope reasonable people spent June 19 reflecting on emancipation, and how words alone can't free us or even the law itself. Federal intervention is almost always necessary, so here's looking at you, Democratic-controlled Senate (more or less). Pass some voting rights legislation.
This year, Juneteenth fell on the Saturday before Father's Day, so cookouts across the nation served up red velvet cake and strawberry soda. As with most holidays, however, I preferred to celebrate at home alone on my couch. I watched the 2017 Juneteenth episode of "Black-ish," written by Peter Saji. It should become an annual viewing tradition, just like the "Great Pumpkin" or "Santa Bullies A Reindeer."
In the aftermath of a Christopher Columbus propaganda play at his kids' school, Dre (Anthony Anderson) laments that “[Juneteenth is] a 150-year-old tradition that no one's heard about, not even my black kids," because growing up Black in America means learning to glorify your historical oppressors. Our collective triumphs are considered an elective at best. Upon reflection, it's a miracle they didn't Dead Poets Society my high school English teacher, Mr. Russell, who introduced me to Ralph Ellison, Richard Wright, Alice Walker, and Langston Hughes. Reading Invisible Man and Native Son can't help but radicalize. They shatter the dominant American myth with a harsh yet poetic truth, and we'll have to fight to keep them in schools.
The most repulsive conservatives have revealed themselves with their simultaneous objection to Juneteenth and to any realistic account of American history. They claim Juneteenth is somehow divisive, a separate but equal holiday based on skin color. Why can't we all just celebrate the Fourth of July, which was the American “ideal," but the reality is that America wasn't a free nation until slavery officially ended. Besides, we don't just celebrate the day the first American colony was founded in Jamestown, Virginia.
As American poet Emma Lazarus declared, "Until we are all free, we are none of us free." From freedom to suffrage, Black Americans are the ones who've fully accomplished the country's noble aims. We're not divas, though. We weren't the last to join the party because we wanted to make a big entrance. That was a choice others made, and we shed our blood for the rights that were no less “inalienable."
There's a prescient moment in the “Black-ish" episode when Dre challenges his coworkers' resistance to a Juneteenth publicity campaign. The very topic of slavery makes his white colleagues uncomfortable, which is an interesting contrast with how comfortable white people apparently were with slavery in practice. He says, "This is what America always does. We think if we don't acknowledge something awful, it didn't happen."
At the climax of a big Hamilton-inspired number, Dre reveals a T-shirt that reads "I am my ancestors wildest dreams." Despite all the conservative hype, Black people don't hate America. We just want to improve it, like we did the cuisine. It's why old Black people don't complain that the "good old days" are gone. We've always believed that better days are ahead. Now go watch this episode and maybe pick up some James Baldwin and Angela Davis. Then you may have all the red velvet cake you'd like.
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Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes reviews for the A.V. Club and make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."