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Can the Black Diaspora Celebrate Juneteenth?

Today is Juneteenth. And if you’ve spent just a few moments on the internet over the past few days, you probably heard that it is now a recognized holiday in the US. Since its inception in 1886, generations of Black Americans have celebrated this day as the Black Independence Day.


For someone like me who moved to the US for university, I learned about Juneteenth as an adult. I first heard of Juneteenth in passing when taking an African American Literature class. We were actually learning more about the Emancipation Proclamation and the mention of Juneteenth was a quick add-on to clarify that freedom for some enslaved people was a delayed affair. About a year later, during my downtime catching up on some TV I’d missed out on over a few weeks, I queued up an episode of Black-ish, which covered the history of the holiday that often goes unnoticed to non-Black folks (and non-American Black folks like me) each year. These chance encounters learning about Juneteenth showed me just how much the histories of enslaved Black people in the US are minimized in order to make the tidbits we do hear about all the more palatable.


As a person who’s had their fair share of moves across countries and continents, I’m a bit of an anomaly that people can’t neatly place me in a box. As a Black woman in the US, most people presumed that I was Black American. It also didn’t help that I have a shapeshifting accent that adapts to my environment, so I wasn’t necessarily turning heads with unconventional pronunciations either. At first glance I fit the bill pretty seamlessly, but I walked into an African American Literature class not knowing much except for what I’d studied in my high school History classes. Once people started figuring out that I was an international student after all, they were immediately perplexed as to why I was even interested in learning about African American literature anyway. As someone who didn’t have personal ties to the subject matter—by being Black American, or just American—it didn’t seem like something I needed to learn about.


How then do we celebrate this freshly minted holiday of Juneteenth? There’s something to be said about the Black diaspora solidarity I have for Black Americans as I see a celebration that holds such strong cultural significance for them finally getting recognized on a nationwide scale. With how interconnected we are over the internet (shoutout to Black Twitter), I do feel the urge to celebrate too—even if I’m not in the US. We would also be remiss to celebration the freedom of enslaved Black people without acknowledging where they were forcibly taken from to begin with: Africa. The more I think about it too, Juneteenth signifies an event that reverberates through the US and across the African continent as well. As much as we’re celebrating the freedom of enslaved Black people, it specifically shows the efforts taken by white slaveowners to prolong slavery even after it was already abolished a few years prior. Similarly, the histories of enslaved Africans traded to other locations across the globe are less often heard of. We never hear the stories of those who remained but witnessed the inhumane, forceful enslavement of people they knew. We don’t consider the overarching generational trauma faced by Black people under white supremacy through colonialism and slavery.


The stories of enslaved Africans are fundamentally rooted in suppression. Half-truths, sugar-coated accounts, and surface-level descriptions of these horrific events that plague our continent’s history. If anything, Juneteenth reminds that while this recognition is truly historic, there’s still much more work to be done to uproot the tactics of white supremacy on which it was born from.

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