Expert: Impact of Juneteenth holiday muted unless history, meaning understood
The federal designation of Juneteenth as a holiday is a nice commemoration but one with little impact in terms of educating most Americans, says a Virginia Tech expert.
“Juneteenth is not new. It’s not something even I would say that most Black people want to be official and be celebrated,” said Sherri Craig, an assistant professor of English who is part of the Juneteenth Scholars Program at Virginia Tech. “The same joy of celebrating Blackness, much like love for Valentine’s Day, happens every single day. Why does it now need to be a Hallmark holiday? People don’t know what it is and will not know what it is as it rolls forward and is officially recognized or pops up on your Google calendar.”
Craig shares these insights on the significance of Juneteenth to the Black community, and ideas for how all Americans, regardless of race, can recognize the holiday.
Q. What does Juneteenth mean to you?
Craig: “I grew up recognizing that this is really a reflection of Black joy and Black freedom. We take a pause and say “thank goodness, we are free. My parents used to explain it was like the Fourth of July for Black folks. You’re talking about the joy of no longer being controlled by your oppressors. Juneteenth is a wonderful celebration of Blackness and the celebration of all of the struggles and all of the amazing ways that we should be celebrating Black identity in our country.
Q. What are your thoughts on Juneteenth now being a federal holiday?
Craig: Juneteenth is not new. It’s not something even I would say that most Black people want to be official and be celebrated. We have seen corporations taking big missteps, whether it’s Walmart’s [Juneteenth] ice cream debacle, and Target, and a few other places having Juneteenth t-shirts. That’s not how it’s celebrated.
Q. How should all Americans, regardless of race, recognize Juneteenth?
Craig: If we’re taking a moment to reflect on harms and to celebrate another year of freedom, is there a moment for all to reflect on your own freedom or your own harms that you have done?
We know that spending more time with other races increases our empathy toward those races. So, is there a moment to say [to a Black friend], “I would love to celebrate Juneteenth and to recognize and reflect on this day. Can I join you?”
Also, it doesn’t have to be for everyone. It’s okay if it just gets to stay a Black holiday.
Sherri Craig is an assistant professor of English in in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Tech. Her research is multifaceted and encompasses writing across the curriculum; institutional rhetorics; Black feminist studies; critical pedagogy; mentoring; diversity, equity, inclusion, and access in the workplace; and professional writing. Read more here.
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