Are We Free Or Is It All in Our Head

Slavery artifacts
Artifacts from the museum’s collection

June 19th. Or Juneteenth. The day celebrated as the official end to slavery in the African American community. But more than 150 years after the Civil War and the end of slavery the antebellum mentality persists. We are not slaves but what made us subjects still exists. The inherent belief one group is better than the other because of appearance still exists. The inherent belief one group is designed by god to toil while another group thinks still exists. The inherent belief White is right above all else still exists.

These inherent beliefs allow laws like “Stop and Frisk” and “Stand Your Ground” to be upheld against public outcry. These inherent beliefs allow some criminals to retain their innocence while the innocent are criminalized. These inherent beliefs will have you believing the South actually won the war even though the remnants of what was a free agriculture market are still evident in areas like Julington Creek Plantation.

Juneteenth is a day to be celebrated with sheer joy. But it is also a reminder of the long struggle out of physical bondage into boxed mental bondage. The kind that turned slave codes into Black codes into Jim Crow laws into the aforementioned “Stop and Frisk” and “Stand Your Ground.” The kind of mental boxed bondage that allows one man’s greatest moment in life to be the night he was beaten out of his mind by L.A. police officers. The kind of boxed bondage where outrage is only incited by some extreme act of violence but the workplace shade and slights are just dealing with a different master on another kind of plantation.

The crazy look when a dark skinned man drives by in a nice car with untinted windows. The awe in green eyes at natural hair. The “How do you say your name?” and “Ooh that’s so ghetto. Right?” It’s the holding of tongues behind closed lips and teeth when blazoned at interviews with a “that’ll do” grunt. The suspicious glances when clad in jeans you walk into Louboutin and expect service. The “We don’t carry cash in the store” and “Put your money on the table.” The nervous laughter at a race joke, the uncomfortable silence when more than one walk by, the clutching of purses and pearls.  It’s all the things we do yet don’t say that reminds us the big house may have burned down and the quarter is debauchery on Bourbon street, but where these new appropriated places derived are from seeds of hatred sown for centuries.

Juneteenth should be a celebration as joyful as the fourth of July. Instead of barbecue soul food, instead of blue grass Hip-Hop and R&B, and instead of fireworks drums. But when the parades through the Black side of town on the other side of the railroad tracks are over and everyone returns home to their ethnic enclave — where everybody knows your name — the whispers begin about what was seen, said and heard. The looks, the stares, the OMG what are they doing over there?! The good natured gossip that can lead to false ideas and incendiary rhetoric that turn latent racists into full fledged bigots and ignite wars still celebrated while still being fought despite a bloody defeat more than a century ago.

This Juneteenth Melissa Harris Perry remembered the last two sentences of the freedom proclamation.

The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.

I remember that even though June 19, 1865 in Galveston, Texas seems forever ago, there’s no telling what will happen today June 19, 2012. It is the space of time between the moment of physical freedom and the struggle to break free mentally. The space where we question at the day’s end and all is silent…


By; Nikesha Leeper