Juneteenth / The Maafa

Here it is . . . . BAM!

When I was a child, 4 July was more or less just another day. Oh sure, Dad would break out the grill and we might have a picnic or something, but the emotion was reserved for a time a few weeks earlier on the calendar. When my Dad first told me about Juneteenth - the celebration that commemorates the announcement of the Emancipation Proclamation to the Africans enslaved in Texas - he first described it as: "that was the only day of the year your Mother and I could go to the amusement park in Tulsa when we were kids."

One day.

A year.

To a child, that was traumatic.

It was only later that I learned the larger story behind the celebration, but whenever anyone tells you that "slavery ended back in 1865", you should remind them that until 1964, most Southern states felt completely comfortable with implementing enforced segregation between the races - down to the level of ensuring that when highways got built, they ensured they were routed through black neighborhoods and around white neighborhoods (this example actually holds true for every city in the country with a significant Black population - every wondered why the route North from downtown Chicago is a winding trail, while the path South is ruler straight, six-lanes wide in each direction?).

But today - with the onset of yet another "immigration debate" - I wanted to ask myself if slavery was truly ended with the passage of the 13th, 14th and 15th amendments to the Constitution (patently not true as we required the 1964 and 1965 Acts for Civil Rights and Voting Rights), so here is the question before us: what is the difference between the Constitution's declaration of non-persons and our modern day declaration of "illegal aliens"?

Truthfully, I cannot see any difference. Yes, at the micro-level Africans were captured and then sold into slavery, transported to the other side of the world and then forced to live and work as slaves in perpetuity. That is a key difference and yes, this country has successfully made the step to a point where chattel slavery no longer exists.

But I speak of the macro level and here the similarities between what happened then and what is happening now are striking:

  • First, placement into a legal vacuum, a separate class of sub-humans.
  • Second, accusations that these "others" will corrupt the "purity" of this democracy.
  • Third, dangerous ingress into the country - before over oceans and now over deserts - where those who die during the journey are discarded as though they were trash.
  • Fourth, burdened by a proclamation that the "slave" or the "illegal alien" owes a debt to those who brought them here in bondage.
  • Fifth, described as necessary for the nation as "they do jobs that citizens will not do".
I imagine that if I sat here, I could easily double this list; furthermore, if I had the time I am sure I could produce a book-length study that parallels these two groups, but the purpose here today is to ask this: why do we continually allow ourselves to fall into these traps of fearing some mysterious other?

Finally, let me turn to The Maafa. This is a kiswahili word for "disaster" and it provides us with our own words to tell our own story. If we begin to tell our own story - to ourselves, to our children - we can begin to take control of our past, our present and our future.

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