In my work I’ve had the honor of naturalizing people and playing a part in making them “Americans.” They take an oath to defend our country, and with hands on their hearts, they pledge allegiance to the flag with sincerity and hope for a better life in America — land of the free.
What I’ve learned is that no one cherishes freedom more than those who have not had it.
This thought came to mind today as I reflected on Juneteenth and the meaning of freedom. True freedom for this nation requires all of us to acknowledge and learn from the reality of the past, in order to create a brighter, better, and more inclusive future.
It requires us to shift our perspective to recognize and acknowledge that the enslavement of an entire portion of our population was not something that “happened” to black people. It was a choice made by a handful of white men during the lead up to the birth of this nation, and then systematically carried out by the white population for generations to come, until the notion that white was better than black was so ingrained into every aspect of our lives in this country that we no longer noticed the injustice.
It requires recognition and acknowledgment that true freedom has never actually existed for black, indigenous, or persons of color in this country, and it has come at a high cost to everyone except the white segment of our society.
I say this to encourage reflection, not to offend. But if these statements offend you or make you feel defensive, I encourage you to stop and consider why. To really look within and examine why recognizing and acknowledging that the the values, promises and principles upon which this country was built, didn’t actually result in equality and freedom for all, feels like a threat to your own freedom and existence. The look within and accept that the founding fathers’ decision to dehumanize black people and women — refusing to count them as whole human beings from the inception of this nation, created invisible shackles and chains that continue to hold down entire segments of our population to this day.
In addition to celebrating the emancipation of enslaved Americans on Juneteenth 2020, it is more important than ever to reflect on what it truly means to be free, and to commit to keep learning, acknowledging and taking actions to ensure freedom for all who call this land our home — no matter how uncomfortable you may be in the process.
As the sun sets on Juneteenth 2020, I leave you with these beautiful and impactful words by Jelani Cobb:
“Juneteenth exists as a counterpoint to the Fourth of July; the latter heralds the arrival of American ideals, the former stresses just how hard it has been to live up to them.
There’s a paradox inherent in the fact that emancipation is celebrated primarily among African-Americans, and that the celebration is rooted in a perception of slavery as something that happened to black people, rather than something that the country committed. The paradox rests on the presumption that the arrival of freedom should be greeted with gratitude, instead of with self-reflection about what allowed it to be deprived in the first place. Emancipation is a marker of progress for white Americans, not black ones.”