Nice Time: Juneteenth Set To Become A Federal Holiday!

Nice Time
Nice Time: Juneteenth Set To Become A Federal Holiday!

The House of Representatives is scheduled to vote Wednesday on legislation that would create a federal holiday commemorating the end of slavery in the United States. The bill establishing June 19th as Juneteenth Independence Day passed unanimously in the Senate Tuesday, presumably because no sitting Republicans are personally implicated in slavery.

Wisconsin Senator Ron Johnson blocked the bill from passing last year because he was concerned about the cost or he's just a racist piece of shit. Look, if you want to believe all that "fiscal responsibility" crap from people who regularly give tax cuts to billionaires, I won't stop you. Although, I might point and laugh. Johnson finally relented this year, for which he deserves absolutely no credit.

"It sounds like Congress wants to do it so I'm not going to stand in the way," Johnson told HuffPost. "I just think it's kind of odd that now apparently the only way to do [celebrate the end of slavery] is to give 2 million federal workers a paid day off, cost American taxpayers $600 million."

He sounds thrilled.

Look, the Fourth of July is a federal holiday, so it's only right that Juneteenth is one. If you have two daughters, you should pay for both their weddings, even if one of them is Black.

June 19, 1865, is when General Gordon Granger informed enslaved Black people in Texas that they'd actually been free since 1863. Texas was the most remote of the slave states, so it was the last place white people were told that they'd have to carry shit themselves. Black folks have celebrated this day ever since.

Texas Democratic Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee and Republican Senator John Cornyn introduced the measure during the nationwide protests after George Floyd's murder. We'd still like significant police reform legislation, please — unless that also happened two years ago and no one told us.

Cornyn tweeted: “[Juneteenth] has been a state holiday in Texas for more than 40 years. Now more than ever, we need to learn from our history and continue to form a more perfect union." He sounds like a common Barack Obama. I'd appreciate his sentiment more if Republicans in his own state hadn't just passed a bill designed to literally whitewash history. How do you honestly and accurately “learn from our history" without venturing into the forbidden realm of “critical race theory," i.e. "teaching that racism is a thing that exists"?

Juneteenth would become the 11th annual federal holiday. That's American exceptionalism for you. Developing nations like Cambodia have to settle for 18 or so. We just don't know how good we have it. Americans who don't work for the federal government like commies will enjoy the freedom of taking the day off at their employer's discretion.

Conservative Twitter was predictably awful about Juneteenth, dismissing it as a “random holiday." Daily Wire commentator Matt Walsh remarked:

After hearing about Juneteenth for the first time 14 seconds ago, it is now deeply meaningful and important to me, and I feel passionately that this day, whatever it is, ought to be celebrated not just in America but across the Earth, and the entire solar system.

You should thank me for giving some of you the chance to show off your anti-racist bonafides in the comments by bragging about how long you've know [sic] of and celebrated Juneteenth.

Walsh resents Black people enough that he doesn't mind revealing he's an idiot who doesn't know basic US history. He's conceding that American schools don't teach kids about Juneteenth, and that a national holiday marking the day slavery ended isn't “deeply meaningful or important" to him because he's not Black. That sort of punctures the color-evasive fantasy that we're all one nation and critical race theory just divides us.

You'd think free-market conservatives would adore the new Juneteenth holiday because it has so much commercial appeal: A white man delivering the good news of emancipation to grateful Black people. There was probably a cookout afterward. It's like the first Thanksgiving but without the smallpox and genocide.

And, no, racism isn't over now that we have a Juneteenth holiday. People who say that remind me of the asshole I worked with once who said that Spike Lee should stop “bitchin' about racism" because Denzel Washington and Halle Berry had both won Academy Awards in the same year.

This is a Nice Time, though, and I've been all angry and me. Let's end on a positive note. Opal Lee, 94, grew up in Texas and celebrated Juneteenth as a child. Unfortunately, one specific June 19 left a painful scar. It was 1939 and that night, 500 white rioters set fire to her family's home in a predominantly white Fort Worth neighborhood. We try to pull ourselves up by our bootstraps but racists keep setting them on fire.

"The people didn't want us. They started gathering. The paper said the police couldn't control the mob. My father came with a gun and police told them if he busted a cap they'd let the mob have us," Lee recalled. "They started throwing things at the house and when they left, they took out the furniture and burned it and burned the house."

In 2016, when Lee was almost 90, she walked from Fort Worth to Washington DC to advocate for a national Juneteenth holiday. Even after Johnson blocked the holiday last year, Lee was convinced it would happen eventually.

"My point is let's make it a holiday in my lifetime," Lee said.

Now, it will be, and Ms. Opal Lee can rest her feet if just for a moment.

[ABC7 / Salon]

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Stephen Robinson

Stephen Robinson is a writer and social kibbitzer based in Portland, Oregon. He writes make believe for Cafe Nordo, an immersive theatre space in Seattle. Once, he wrote a novel called “Mahogany Slade,” which you should read or at least buy. He's also on the board of the Portland Playhouse theatre. His son describes him as a “play typer guy."


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