Juneteenth, or Emancipation Day, celebrates June 19, 1865, the day when the last slaves in the United States were finally informed they were free. The road from the first Juneteenth to today wasn’t smooth or easy. Last year, I wrote a blog about the history of Juneteenth, which you can find here, but this year, I wanted to talk a bit about what we can do on Juneteenth now, in the present day, and in the future.
So, how can we celebrate Juneteenth? How do we commemorate a day fraught with so much pain and suffering? One of the best ways we can celebrate Emancipation Day is by educating ourselves about the history of our country that we didn't learn about in school. The contributions of Black people to every aspect of our nation, be it socially, culturally, philosophically, or technologically, are tremendous. Thankfully, there are lot of resources out there! Annually, New York hosts a 3-day Juneteenth summit with talent shows, health and wellness screenings, educational activities and more. This year, like last year, the summit is online, making it accessible regardless of location. Likewise, this year, the Smithsonian Museum of African American History and Culture presents programming that highlights both the history of the holiday and stories of the people who lived it.
Another way we can celebrate the holiday is by going out and supporting Black businesses. Buy a gift from a marginalized creator. Eat at a Black-owned restaurant. Many organizations maintain lists of local businesses owned by Black proprietors—here in Seattle, we have the Seattle Good Business Network, so check to see if a similar resource exists for your area! On a larger scale, the US Chamber of Commerce wrote an article featuring 8 rosters of Black businesses.
Our own industry, tabletop RPGs, has its own history of erased Black innovators, creators, and personalities. We can help reform the industry by learning about Black people in the industry and the ways they influence and shape not just the games we love, but the communities we participate in. There are a number of games and settings being made by Black creators right now. Look at them, learn about them, talk about them with your friends, engage with them, and if you're making them, keep making them! One I've been following recently is Into the Motherlands.
UNIA Flag (Pan-Africa Flag), credit Marcus Garvey and the Universal Negro Improvement Association and African Communities League, Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons
Last week, Congress moved to make Juneteenth a national holiday, something it should have been since 1865. At this point, it needs President Biden’s signature, and it is likely that in the next few days this will occur (Update: it did! Juneteenth is now a national holiday!). That’s an important thing, but it is also important to remember that we have to go beyond just performance. Our country still struggles with not just the legacy of slavery, but ongoing slavery and systemic racism in the form of our prison and economic systems. Commemorating one of the most important days in our nation’s history with a national holiday is a valuable first step in moving forward, be we can’t let it be a symbol of the defeat of racism, or let it convince us that the injustices, the horrors, inflicted on the Black community are behind us, because neither of those things are true. When the holiday is past, we should keep doing the things we did during it: keep pushing for change, keep demanding justice, keep supporting Black businesses, and keep learning.
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Community Blog: Celebrating Juneteenth 2021
Saturday, June 19, 2021