June 19, affectionately known in the African American community as Juneteenth, commemorates the emancipation of enslaved people in the US. The holiday was first celebrated in Texas where, on that date in 1865, slaves were declared free under the terms of the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation.
It was a signature moment in the history of freedom—it took long enough—in the land where all (men) are supposedly created equal. Still, women would have to wait more than a half century to gain the right to vote; Native Americans could not freely practice their religion until the Clinton administration—yes, the Clinton administration!); and the Supreme Court voted just this week to grant LGBTQ people equal employment protections. Ah, yes—our country has a brutal historical record when it comes to freedom.
Commemorating Juneteenth in 2020 is especially fraught with pain, sadness, division and deep irony. The pain expressed over the killing of George Floyd is profoundly felt in the African American community—what? AGAIN? How is it possible that we must endure this horror yet one more time? And then, as if to re-emphasize the role that racist police practices have had on black people, Rayshard Brooks is killed by a cop in Atlanta.
While nowhere near the casual brutality displayed in the killing of George Floyd, the fact that the African American community had to face yet another killing of an unarmed black man by a white police officer underscores the need for radical changes in policing that have reverberated in protests embraced by people of all races across this country.
President Trump’s initial decision to hold his first post-lockdown political rally in Tulsa on Junetenth (he subsequently postponed it until June 20th) shows one of two things about the President: either he is ignorant of history—both in terms of the sacredness of the date for African Americans and that Tulsa was the sight of the deadliest race riot against African Americans in the nation’s history, leading to the deaths of more than 300 black residents; or that he simply doesn’t care.
This could not be an accident.
We know the President hates to read, but surely someone could have warned him about this blind spot so he would not to fall into a political/cultural trap of his own making. Is he so tone deaf that he doesn’t understand the moment we are in? How long can he ignore the need for healing among us all and redress of wrongs perpetrated upon African Americans by racist policies of the past?
In optometric circles, 2020 refers to “perfect vision.” It seems an appropriate term for the year we are in where so much history has already happened and it is incumbent upon each of us to apply perfect vision to the signs of the times. What is the year 2020 telling us about who we are as a people? What does the future hold? What are our responsibilities as individuals to move us toward a more hopeful future, a more perfect union? It is up to each of us to pay attention so that we might gain clarity of vision about the events of the day.