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The Conservative White Takeover of Juneteenth

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Before we move too far behind the first federal holiday of Juneteenth, allow me to make two points. One, this is unabashedly a good thing. Two, as I pointed out recently, this is absolutely going to be taken over by white people with their own narratives to undermine the political power of the holiday, as they have done with Martin Luther King Day. See this ridiculousness in North Carolina as an example:

Owners of the Latta Plantation in Huntersville, North Carolina faced a rude awakening this week when members of the public called out their planned Juneteenth event. Coinciding with the holiday that commemorates the end of legalized slavery in Texas on June 19, 1865, the Latta Plantation promised an event highlighting the experiences of white slaveholders and Confederate soldiers. “Come out to Historic Latta Plantation for a one-night event, Saturday, June 19, 2021,” they promised. “You will hear stories from the massa himself who is now living in the woods.” They went on to emphasize that the planned Juneteenth program would focus on “white refugees” who had been “displaced and have a story to tell as well.”

The plan to center a Juneteenth event around so-called “displaced white refugees” is deeply racist. But it’s also part of a much larger public effort to distort historical narratives and, in this case, miseducate the public about slavery in the United States.

According to a 2019 Washington Post poll, most Americans know little about slavery. On average Americans could only correctly answer two out of five basic questions about slavery. These dismal statistics are further compounded by national, state and local efforts to whitewash American history. With one foot out the door, former President Donald Trump released his Presidential Advisory 1776 Commission report downplaying slavery and even erased the presence of Native Americans.

Efforts to miseducate the public about history are intentional. They are often motivated by a desire to paint a rosier picture of the American past in order to evade accountability and redress. The Latta Plantation’s event, which promised to highlight the “feelings” of white slaveowners and Confederate soldiers, is revealingly sympathetic.

Historical memory is a war. It is always a war. It always will be a war. Winning the battle to create Juneteenth–yeah, that’s very real. It’s a victory. But then you have to keep fighting. Because the next battle in the war is to interpret Juneteenth. What do we remember on this holiday? How many of us think about workers at all on Labor Day? It’s just the end of summer and an excuse for one last getaway before school starts. There’s a deeply invested and powerful community of white folks who will use this an excuse to push their own narratives. Pushing back on that–actively fighting for historical memory–is absolutely necessary in order that we use this holiday to actually talk about slavery and freedom of Black people and the racism of white America. The entire Critical Race Theory freakout–other than just a cynical attempt to win the 2022 elections on the culture war–is about historical memory, not an obscure bit of legal academia. And if you want to say that you are just tired, what with all the battles to keep democracy going, well, this is how it works. The racists wear you down. They have all the energy in the world.

…Update: Mecklenburg County shut this site down right after this happened.

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