What, to white people, is the 19th of June?

OPINION: For uncolored folk who consider Juneteenth divisive when white holidays are enuf.

TULSA, OK - JUNE 19: A man displays a shirt celebrating the freedom of enslaved Black people during the Juneteenth celebration in the Greenwood District on June 19, 2020 in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, when a Union general read orders in Galveston, Texas stating all enslaved people in Texas were free according to federal law. (Photo by Michael B. Thomas/Getty Images)

Editor’s note: The following article is an op-ed, and the views expressed are the author’s own. Read more opinions on theGrio.  

Mrs. Sellers had the Holy Ghost.

I have never truly understood what the Holy Ghost actually is. I know that, for white Christians, it is part of the religion’s C-suite board of directors, which includes the Father and the Son. For Black people, it is something that one either has or doesn’t. All I know is that my grandmother, a devoutly religious woman, rarely spoke ill of people. Instead, she would attribute actions typically described as evil to a person’s lack of the Holy Ghost. Among me and my sisters, it became an inside joke that explained all negative behavior. If I used all of the hot water for my morning shower, it was because I didn’t have the Holy Ghost. People in the express lane with a cartful of groceries do not have the Holy Ghost. The thief who stole my sister’s beloved Trapper Keeper obviously didn’t have the Holy Ghost.

Mrs. Sellers had the Holy Ghost.

Mrs. Sellers was an elementary school teacher. An elderly woman filled with patience, tolerance and love for all mankind, I assume God was testing Mrs. Sellers’ dedication by charging her with ushering me through the fifth grade — my first year in a public school. She was the type of teacher who would kindly offer to pray for students suffering from tummy aches before releasing them to the school nurse. She broke up fights by begging the combatants to “play pretty.” And I entered Mrs. Sellers’ class raw, defiant and unfamiliar with the American education system. 

I don’t quite remember why I had to give a presentation on the same day as my class’ big Christmas party. I can’t even recall the subject matter I was supposed to address. All I remember is the title of my presentation:

“Why Christmas is a lie.”

Halfway through my detailed analysis of the holiday’s pagan origins and why the Christ child couldn’t have possibly been born on Dec. 25, Mrs. Sellers pulled me into the hallway. I distinctly remember when she squatted down to look me in the eyes, how her pantyhose crinkled at the knees. How she smelled of peppermint and White Diamonds. How soft her palms were as she caressed my hands. She didn’t try to dispute the facts I had laid out. She didn’t dismantle my assertions about the origin stories of Santa and Saturnalia. I cannot recall the details of her impromptu speech, only its thesis.

“Stop hating.”

Mrs. Sellers had been a teacher for so many years, she had also taught my mother. She lived in our neighborhood, so she was keenly aware that my family had never celebrated Jesus’ make-believe birthday. Mrs. Sellers didn’t care about any of that. For her, Christmas was not about the historicity of the Christian religion; it was a day for eating candy canes and singing about Django bells. It was about being happy. 

Then, she stood, released my hand and offered me a Christmas cookie.

An unholy ghost

These people do not have the Holy Ghost. 

What is a “race holiday”? Why would someone be upset by a day off? Who gets mad at a day of celebration? What manner of killjoy is this? The admittedly small whitelash against Juneteenth is not just another version of anti-Blackness. 

White supremacy is America’s unholiest ghost.

As illogical as racism is, I am never offended and rarely surprised by people who are willing to contort themselves into knots to embrace anti-Blackness. While America’s unique form of intolerance is as asinine as Santa’s North Pole toy manufacturing facility and as idiotic as a blue-eyed baby from Bethlehem, racial prejudice is also America’s most time-honored ritual. For white people, anti-Blackness is a mythical idea whose existence they reluctantly admit, even if they cannot touch, taste or smell it. For Black people, it is a thing that resides inside the worst of us. 

Yes, my unholy friends, Juneteenth is a “race holiday.” 

Because white supremacy is America’s oldest religious tradition, some people cannot conceive that most holidays are “race holidays.” Even though Christianity is a worldwide religion, Christmas is a celebration borne out of European tradition. Former Fox News analyst Megyn Kelly proudly declared that “Santa just is white” and “Jesus was a white man, too” because she knows that Christmas is also a “race holiday.” 

“White” is a race.

Native Americans understand that Columbus Day commemorates when white people “discovered” the new world and Thanksgiving is when white people celebrated their first harvest. Millions of Americans don’t celebrate the Fourth of July, especially those of us who descended from people who were enslaved when the founding slaveowners declared their independence from the tyrants in Great Britain. But, unlike the Black people who attend fireworks displays, the Muslims who participate in Christmas office parties and Native Americans who eat with their families on the fourth Thursday in November, people who think a day celebrating actual freedom in America is “divisive” aren’t simply traditionalists who are “stuck in their ways.”

They hate Black people. 

The idea that discussing race is “divisive” is a white supremacist narrative perpetuated by those who are disgusted that they cannot control the historical narrative. While most people in England had no involvement in colonial tax policies, they still benefitted from the revenue brought in by the American colonies. That’s why no one bristles when the American Revolution is described as a war between the American patriots and “the British.” But using the same template to describe those who enforced and perpetuated America’s race-based forced labor system makes children feel “uncomfortable.” People who support policies for affirmative action, diversity, equity or inclusion are part of the “woke mob.” But if you use the term “white people” to describe the majority that actively supported segregation, Jim Crow and the government policies that created racial inequality, you’re being “divisive.”

But this article is not a condemnation of white people, haters or white holidays. It is about Juneteenth. So let’s for a moment, examine what Juneteenth really is. 

  • Juneteenth is divisive. Juneteenth literally divides the history of America into two parts. Before Juneteenth, America’s foundational document enforced a race-based system that reduced human beings and their offspring, in perpetuity, to chattel slavery. Even if this nation’s original promise has not been fulfilled, Juneteenth was the first official step toward acknowledging that all men are created equal. 
  • And yes, Juneteenth is a “race holiday.” Juneteenth commemorates the end of a war that white people started. It celebrates the end of the forced labor system that white people created. The enslaved in Galveston, Texas, were owned by … you get it.
  • Juneteenth is an American tradition: Eleven days before the first Juneteenth celebration, the U.S. Senate passed the 14th Amendment. The amendment didn’t just grant citizenship to the formerly enslaved. For the first time in history, the Constitution contained the definition of an “American.” 

It is the most American holiday. And I know what you’re thinking.

I’m glad you asked.

The first race holiday.

“The Second Day of July, 1776 will be the most memorable Epocha, in the history of America. I am apt to believe that it will be celebrated, by succeeding Generations, as the great anniversary Festival … It ought to be solemnized with Pomp and Parade with shews, Games, Sports, Guns, Bells, Bonfires and Illuminations from one End of this continent to the other from this Time forward forever more”

John Adams

Independence Day is a lie.

The founding father (whom I assume was Stacy Adams’ brother) thought America’s birthday should be celebrated on the Second of July, the actual day America declared its independence from Great Britain. The Declaration of Independence was signed on August 2, 1776 and delivered to Great Britain in November (for some reason, they couldn’t send an email). But even if any of those things actually happened on July 4th, Independence Day still shouldn’t be considered a celebration of the birth of America.

Independence Day celebrates when America was conceived.

On July 4, 1776, America was an idea. At its conception, this brand-new nation explicitly withheld life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness from some of the men who were supposedly “created equal.” Its founding document did not establish “justice, insure domestic tranquility, provide for the common defense, promote the general welfare or secure the blessings of liberty.” 

Four score, eight years, 11 months and 15 days after the original race holiday, the newly unenslaved Americans brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in liberty and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. From those honored descendants we dedicated ourselves to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion — that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom — and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

And to celebrate this new national birthday, the freedmen created a tradition to commemorate the union they had made more perfect. 

They called it Juneteenth.

That’s why Black people have celebrated Juneteenth since 1866, four years before Christmas became a federal holiday. It predates Labor Day (1894), Memorial Day (1868), Veterans Day (1926) and yes, even Columbus Day (1892). It is ours. We are Americans. 

But fret not white people. No one is forcing you to wear a dashiki or sing Juneteenth Carol (“Knuck if you Buck” is my favorite). Juneteenth did not replace all the other “race holidays.” In fact, the antipathy towards a celebration of freedom is also a tradition. There was backlash against the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday and, in 50 years, I bet there’ll be a furious rancor when President Malia Obama signs the legislation that puts Obama Day on the federal calendar.

Hate is impervious to logic. It is hard to kill. It is extremely powerful and not easily conquered. 

Like the Holy Ghost.

Like the people who shall not perish from the Earth. 

And, for those who cannot stop hating …

Here’s a cookie.

Michael Harriot is a writer, cultural critic and championship-level Spades player. His book, Black AF History: The Unwhitewashed Story of America, will be released in September.

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