Juneteenth 6/19/21

Thoughts by Richard Bleil

This is a powerful month. It has been pride month, and today, June 19 is celebrated as “Juneteenth”, which just today (as I write this) has been declared by Congress as a national holiday.

Juneteenth celebrates the day that Union soldiers freed the last slaves in Galveston, Texas in 1865. I’m not sure this is the literal group of final slaves, or a recognition. I find it curious that we don’t celebrate the signing of the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, January 1, 1863. Of course, January 1 is also New Year’s Day, but perhaps we don’t celebrate it because it also launched one of the bloodiest wars in American History when an estimated 360,000 American Troops died, taking the lives of 258,000 revolutionists to protect our nation. If this wording seems harsh, I think it should be. The reality is that the Confederate Troops were traitors fighting to keep slavery alive. That there are still people who celebrate these traitors is no different from the Republicans denying, just today, that the US Capitol was invaded by seditionists on January 6, 2021. Twenty-one Congressional Republicans, claiming to be pro-police and pro-justice, voted against awarding the Congressional Medal of Honor to the Capitol Police, including those who lost their lives protecting these Republicans and other members of Congress as well as Vice President Pence. Does it sound harsh to put it that way? It should.

A hundred and sixty years ago, the nation was a very different place. I would love to think that I would have stood against slavery then, but how can any of us honestly say that we would have? We are all influenced by societal standards, our parents, the way our schools teach us so maybe not. And yet, we all should be learning from history. By today’s standards, we should have learned that we’re stronger together than we are segregated, that treating people as less than human based on skin color, religious affiliations and other trivial matters cannot be ethically justified. But the sad reality is that too many of us still believe that we have more rights because of our skin color, our gender and the name of our God. This is evident by the plethora of voting rights restrictions designed to keep “them” away from the polls, the surge of violence against the Jewish and Asian peoples, an the denial of what happened at the Capitol.

The Emancipation Proclamation gave “freedom” to the slaves, and yet there is still no equality. In a sense, that “freedom” has been a mirage. In a very interesting move called “The Killing Box” (depending on the cut of the movie, sometimes it goes by “Grey Knight”), which must be one of my all-time favorite zombie films. In one scene, a character yells out to a group of American Soldiers, “Should the n****** be freed?” They answered, in unison, “Hell, Yes.” Immediately the other main character shouted out “Should they have the vote?” to which they responded, “NO!” Of course, this movie is a work of fiction, and yet there is no doubt in my mind that this scene is reflective of the way the soldiers actually felt back then.

There is a distinct difference between ending slavery and ensuring equality. Denying equal rights is a way to keep people on different tiers, denying true freedom to those who deserve to be free. On April 4, 1968, Martin Luther King, Jr. was assassinated for speaking out in favor of a nation that had equality for all. That fight continues today, and sadly is taking place inside Congress and state legislation. We must remain vigilant against racism and segregation, and fight until the rights of all of us, regardless of our station in life, are truly equal. Unfortunately, the reality is that this fight will likely never end.

Critical Race Theory is the academic pursuit by scholars and activists of inequality in our society and in the law. It’s not easy to examine ourselves in search of signs of inherent racism, and yet we will never advance until we learn to do so, not once or twice, but as continuously as possible. Unfortunately, such racism is so ingrained in Congress that the division between the parties allows for legislation protecting voter and other rights.

The interesting thing is that such attitudes are so deeply ingrained that it seems nearly impossible for some people to accept the reality of the situation that President Biden did, indeed, win the election, and that the election was the most secure in American history. Today, Fox News to amplify lies and outrageous claims of Trump and his followers, lies that many choose to believe regardless of how extreme the claim. It’s time to bring back some laws. There should be a requirement of a minimum number of falsehoods before a channel must lose its license or it’s use of the word “News” in the title. Conservative extremist and hate-based shows arose when the law requiring all opinions to present the alternate view was struck down. This Juneteenth, let’s remember that we still have a long (very long) way to go before we are truly equal, and truly free.

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