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Is Making Juneteenth A National Holiday Really A Win in the Fight Against Racial Injustice?

On Tuesday, the Senate unanimously passed the resolution that President Joe Biden, officially signed into law today; making Juneteenth officially a national public holiday. The holiday originated in Galveston, Texas and is meant to commemorate the date that Texas would begin to observe what Abraham Lincoln outlined in his 1863 executive order we know as the Emancipation Proclamation. Although slaves were technically freed two years prior, June 19th, 1865 was the date that Texas was informed of the end of the Civil War and that all slaves were to be treated as free men.

The bill, now law, was also introduced last year but was shot down. Wisconsin Republican Sen. Ron Johnson who blocked the bill in 2020, believed that the day off for federal employees would cost US taxpayers hundreds of millions of dollars. This week he dropped his objection; thus allowing the bill's passage in the Senate, but made the following statement:

"Although I strongly support celebrating Emancipation, I objected to the cost and lack of debate. While it still seems strange that having taxpayers provide federal employees paid time off is now required to celebrate the end of slavery, it is clear that there is no appetite in Congress to further discuss the matter."

It seems as though many citizens share a similar sentiment. As recently as May 28th, NPR reported on how teachers in Texas, Oklahoma, Idaho, North Carolina and Tennessee and more, are responding to the large influx of bills being introduced in effort to restrict the teaching of critical race theory in schools. Although the bills do not directly ban subjects such as the Tulsa race massacre, the passage of them would require teachers who discuss ugly episodes in history & controversial current events, to explore "contending perspectives without giving deference to any one perspective." One such bill, H.B. 3979, was written by Republican Steve Toth, who is extremely vocal in his belief that critical race theory is anti-white, anti-Christian and anti-American.

Although the Juneteenth holiday can be seen as a step in the right direction, educators in Texas such as Meghan Dougherty are currently under immense pressure in developing lesson plans. Dougherty stated that one of her colleagues gave students a virtual lesson on race and prejudice in U.S. society and faced email backlash once a father at home overheard a portion of it. In the email, the parent complained to administration that the teacher was accusing his child of being a racist; when actually they were having a necessary conversation about implicit bias, what implicit bias is, and how it affects them. This causes many wonder how we can be celebrating something that legally can not be fully taught, and already has not been taught in schools for decades.

Another viewpoint expressed, is by everyday minority consumers who feel as though the holiday will be used by big business marketing teams to boost sales, instead of bringing forth any sort of real change to the narrative of racial inequality.

One thing is for sure, many people are trying to be optimistic about the national observance of Juneteenth; but ultimately fear that too much rejoicing will overshadow the racial injustices that continue to plague the country from which is was built upon.

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