The Juneteenth Hypocrisy

RaShya Ghee

By RaShya Ghee, Esq
Guest Column

Hypocrisy has long characterized America’s racial realities. In the 1770s, colonists demanded freedom from “enslavement” of the crown while simultaneously enslaving practically an entire race of people. In 1829, President Andrew Jackson deplored the genocide of indigenous communities while simultaneously crafting the Trail of Tears.

The Southern Manifesto, a declaration signed by over 100 white congressmen in 1956, repudiated the Supreme Court’s decision in Brown v. Board of Education as “destroying amicable relations between the white and Negro races that have been created through 90 years of patient effort by the good people of both races” and as sowing seeds of “suspicion and hatred” where there had been “friendship and understanding”.

Those 90 years had actually been characterized by some of the worst racial terrorism in the form of lynchings and some of the worst human rights violations in the history of this country with Jim Crow justice (which none of those congressmen wrote a declaration opposing). Most Black people were elated by the decision and did not share in these sentiments of Brown having destroyed amicable relations with whites. They knew that those relationships were anything but amicable.

This hypocrisy isn’t just confined, however, to the pages of history. Just this past Tuesday, on June 14, 2021, the United States Senate unanimously voted to designate Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating when the last slaves were freed in Texas, a federal holiday. Many Black Americans have celebrated Juneteenth for more than a century as it is colloquially known as “our Independence Day.” And it should be telling that our nation, premised on freedom, equality and egalitarian values, is just now ready to embrace the end of slavery as a jubilee that should be celebrated and acknowledged nationally.

Wouldn’t a nation that “fought a civil war to put the sin of slavery behind us,” as Mitch McConnell has remarked, be ready to celebrate the end of such sin in 1865 at the war’s end? Or, at the very least, 100 years later in 1965 at the height of our civil rights reckoning? We should ask ourselves where we were (are) as a nation that this didn’t happen sooner.

Just so we’re clear, making Juneteenth a federal holiday is the right move and this article is not intended to detract from that. It remains equally important, however, to examine the latent hypocrisy in supporting these symbolic gestures while simultaneously blocking any substantive measure designed to facilitate actual racial justice and equality.

Senator Thom Tillis of North Carolina, for example, is one of the signatories of the Juneteenth resolution. On the same day he tweeted that he had “co-sponsored legislation that would prohibit the use of federal funds to teach the 1619 Project in K-12 schools.”

The 1619 Project is a Pulitzer Prize winning project meant to re-orient our understanding of the impact and importance of slavery on America’s founding and development. How exactly are teachers to explain the significance of Juneteenth without being able to instruct students on why it exists in the first place?

Juneteenth isn’t just about the end of slavery. Texas was a safe haven for enslavers during the Civil War and, by executive order, the slaves there had actually been free for years before Union troops arrived and delivered the news. In other words, Texas harbored traitors who fled there to continue exploiting free labor and abusing people because they believed that the enslaved were unworthy of freedom and equality.

The 1619 Project along with Critical Race Theory have faced mounting resistance as America continues to wrestle with its racial tensions. Reminiscent of the delusional justifications offered to defend congressional opposition to Brown, the numerous congressional opponents of the 1619 Project and Critical Race Theory often cite its “divisiveness” (which presumes a present racial unity that is a fallacy at best) and support for “traditional patriotic curriculum” (which usually includes rampant inaccuracies and distortions about racial history told almost exclusively from the perspective of white people).

As disheartening and nonsensical as this opposition is, the stakes couldn’t be higher. The debate about whether or not American children will learn the truth about race and racism in America is the most important fight of this era; not elections; not court cases. Again, the most important fight of our generation is whether or not we’re going to accurately teach about American racism in schools.

As an educator and someone who teaches about racism for a living, I can say with full confidence that if the truth about race in America was taught in schools throughout the country, we’d have a much more cohesive and unified nation, significantly more racial equality, and be a more prosperous country.

Since the end of slavery when public education became ubiquitous, there has been a deliberate effort to distort what information is taught about race and it has always been from the perspective of largely uninformed whites. How did you learn about the 1850 gold rush but not about Tulsa? How were you taught that Christopher Columbus sailed the ocean blue in 1492 but weren’t taught that in 1790, before the US gave you any civil liberties, it limited the eligibility for citizenship to free white people only?

How is it that you know there was a feast between pilgrims and Indians but not that the US Supreme Court ruled that in disputes between the US government and Native Americans over land, the titles vest exclusively in European Christians (aka the Doctrine of Discovery) and that this is still good law?

No one is indoctrinating children unless by “indoctrinating” you mean “trying to teach them what actually happened so that they’re able to change course from where this nation has historically been on issues of race and make more informed decisions.”

Herein lies the hypocrisy. You cannot tout your support for symbolic gestures as evidence of your proclivities for racial equality while simultaneously working against measures primed to make said equality a reality. You cannot embrace a celebration ending slavery without making room in educational curriculum for honest discussions, from the perspectives of slaves and their descendants, about why it was a horrible institution whose ending is one of our greatest national accomplishments.

If the hypocrisy will ever be held to account, as a community we must keep our eyes on those substantive measures while affording little weight to the performative nonsense.