Juneteenth – A relevant holiday

Written by Rashmi Ravindran

June 19th has been declared as a federal holiday in the US – a step that is being lauded by the world as historic. The day is called Juneteenth or Emancipation Day. It is to commemorate the day that the “Slaves” were set free on June 19th, 1865 after the American Civil War, through a General Order by Major General Gordon Granger in Galveston, Texas. It is indeed an important moment that needs acknowledgement and recognition. And by declaring the day as a federal holiday, the message is clear – the path ahead is inclusion.

A revolution that was reignited last year with the killing of George Floyd, followed by the “Black Lives Matter” movement is not something that can be restricted to the US or to the African American community nor to being a political statement. The issue is universal and so is the impact – something that is relevant to every society dealing with the consequences of discrimination.

Juneteenth and thereafter

What is important to remember is that the declaration on June 19th, 1865 did not change things overnight. There were indeed many who still held the black people as slaves. The slavery effectively ended only when the 13th Amendment was carried out but still the Emancipation Proclamation is the significant first step that enabled future course of action. 

Not just another holiday

Historically, Americans celebrate the day with the Parades, Performances, Cookouts, Historical readings etc. Then again, the celebrations evolved, the “purchase of land” being a significant part of it. Called as the Emancipation Park, it was a place dedicated to the celebration of Juneteenth.

The call is to not treat it like just another holiday, spent drinking or lazing off. The importance of the day is relevant even today – the systemic racism that the black people have been facing is something that will take a significant amount of conscious effort to change.

Lessons we learn from the past

While slavery – the physical act of having a human being subjugated – is a thing of the past, the world is still grappling with its long-term influence. Racism is definitely a huge component of discrimination in many parts of the world even today. We cannot wish it away – everyone needs to lead the efforts to eradicate this discrimination with the help of thought, action, and influence. And even though these are small steps, they are significant when we do it collectively. Here are some ways in which you can begin celebrating the Juneteenth –    

  • Learn more about the history – Living in today’s world where we are hurled information from everywhere, we need to invest some time to go back to some research. Learning about the past – history of the world, the various lands, its people, the events that changed the world – can be a transformational experience. Knowing what happened helps us to see things in perspective and understand how and why things are how they are. It gives us the opportunity to appreciate the growth path and be aware of the pitfalls that we need to be wary of. History teaches us important lessons – of glory and agony – so that we can make conscious choices in our present.
  • Invest time to become aware of your biases – Even without a conscious intent, we could be discriminating, hurting or excluding someone. Unconscious biases are more powerful than we think as it is not in our awareness. By understanding our own biases, we can consciously choose our words and action to be inclusive of everyone around us. It is not an overnight possibility, but it is a great way to start your journey of inclusion.
  • Choose to be inclusive – Intent is a powerful tool – even a transformational one. By consciously choosing to be inclusive, we can set forth thoughts and actions that will eventually become habits. Start with the intent to be inclusive and consciously practice this in your words, your thoughts, your expressions, and your actions. These are not for occasions – these are things you can practice in your everyday life with everyone around you.

Inclusion, as they say, is not a destination but a journey. And let us pledge to begin this journey of inclusion as we commemorate this significant day in the history of one of the most influential countries in the world.

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