In a recent op-ed with CNN, Peniel E. Joseph, a historian who teaches social policy at the University of Texas at Austin, claimed that the newly-minted national holiday of Juneteenth was as integral an American celebration as July the 4th—the celebration of the Nation’s independence.
In an article titled “Juneteenth, as much as the fourth of July, is America’s true birthday,” Joseph made the argument that America had forgotten its true roots. Through willful ignorance and a continued narrative that turns a blind eye to the sins of the past, Joseph argues, America had carved an image for itself that stands in opposition to the actual history of the U.S. That, he says, makes Juneteenth so important.
The holiday, nationalized last year by President Biden, commemorates the trials endured by the black community in America and marks the day on which slaves in the state of Texas were emancipated by the order of Gordon Granger on June 19th, 1865.
When he initially declared the day a national holiday in June of last year, President Joe Biden called slavery a “moral stain” on the country and encouraged audiences to use the day as a way to remember of the struggle America had endured on the subject of race. Just a little before, he hadn’t even been aware of the date, but that quickly changed.
“[This is] a day of profound weight and profound power, a day in which we remember the moral stain and the terrible toll that slavery took on the country—and continues to take,” Biden had said.
President Biden says Juneteenth is "a day of profound weight and profound power, a day in which we remember the moral stain and the terrible toll that slavery took on the country—and continues to take." pic.twitter.com/94rSOkCk5u
— The Post Millennial (@TPostMillennial) June 17, 2021
“As a federal holiday, Juneteenth now offers a window for Americans into understanding how the political is also personal,” Joseph writes. “…For now, the extraordinary and continuing crisis of race and democracy in America shows no signs of abating. The histories that are being suppressed by GOP legislation are, in fact, profoundly American ones.”
A large part of Joseph’s op-ed is devoted to constructing the image that the Republican party has deliberately attempted to further things like black incarceration, the proliferation of racist ideologies, and resistance to seeing race as a matter of importance. To Joseph, it’s this disregard that requires a re-evaluation of the nation itself and its origins. He points to Youngkin as a political figure who capitalized off of unfounded fears of critical race theory and its adoption in public schools.
“In Virginia, Republican Glenn Youngkin successfully exploited the made-up controversy over so-called ‘critical race theory’ (CRT) to become governor as the state banned the teaching of parts of American history now deemed too dangerous to share with young people,” Joseph said.
This isn’t the first time authors like Joseph have used Juneteenth as a way—not only to remember—but as a way to change the memory and identity of an entire country. Just last year, pop artists like Macy Gray called for the nation to abandon the red, white, and blue in favor of an off-white flag with brown stars. It’s this kind of advocacy that calls for an overhaul of “America” itself. Tragically, it seems like an idea that Joseph has bought into through his CNN article. In comparing Juneteenth to the 4th of July Joseph confuses history with identity. And in an attempt to reshape that identity, he forgets his history.