The first time I heard of Juneteenth was when I got my new iPhone a couple of years ago, and the day popped up in my calendar automatically. I did not know its significance.
Last year the day registered as one of significance for me for the first time just a few weeks after the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis.
I’m not particularly “woke.” I have a Washington Redskins mini helmet on my desk in my line of sight as I write this. However, I did change the name of my men’s baseball team from the Chiefs to the Mules this summer. It seemed to me that if the name offended folks, I should probably honor that sentiment. As an added plus, I think mules are a cool mascot.
I think I have pretty good common sense. Like most Americans. I try not to be racist. I try not to stereotype. I try to treat most folks with respect and honor their individual dignity. And still I fail from time to time, like a lot of us do.
Still, I have some ambivalence about Juneteenth being made a national holiday. Don’t get me wrong, the abolition of slavery is a milestone moment in our American history. And the scourge of slavery, its aftermath, and the ongoing racial dissonance that our country faces needs to be acknowledged.
If creating a new national holiday brings us another step closer to acceptance and respect, then I am all for Juneteenth. If it gives us an opportunity to spend a summer day with family and friends around the barbecue and to think about how we treat each other in America, then sign me up. And if I have to pay my employees for an extra day off to honor the work they do, I am good with that, too.
But from my perspective, the new national holiday seems to be a bit too much virtue signaling. As if saying, “Here’s your holiday, are we good?” is the appropriate political response to the anger and resentment that has been building over the decades.
I don’t think any of us are that naive. The politicians really don’t have much faith in us, do they? From my perspective, you prove that “we are good” by making sure that everyone has a fair opportunity to vote. You do it by making sure that every person, rich or poor, pays his fair share of taxes. You do it by enforcing the laws that prohibit discrimination in employment, housing, and educational opportunity.
And that takes work. Lots of hard work. And understanding. And thoughtful debate. I think I speak for almost all of us when I say that our legislators are essentially incapable of the hard work these days. Instead, they prefer to make it better with the stroke of a pen.
It’s like taking a pill to lose weight rather than actually monitoring your diet and taking a walk every day.
So I’ll end with this: Juneteenth as a holiday that embraces summer and family is a welcome treat. Recognition of our past and what it means is really important if we are to improve in the future. But work remains. Not “woke” work. Not blame. Common sense working together remains. I hope the new holiday helps us get there.