Juneteenth: George Floyd’s Critical Race Holiday

If we could somehow strip away the dubious political context in which it was birthed, Juneteenth might indeed be worthy of national commemoration. 

Slavery, while obviously not in any way unique to the United States, (it was practiced in generally far more hideous forms in the Caribbean and the Middle East, to say nothing of Africa, where it continues in many parts of that continent to this day), nonetheless represents a crime against human dignity and a stain on American history. The end of American slavery, consequently, should be  celebrated. 

But we cannot wish away politics from the inherently political task of choosing a national holiday. And therefore, it is impossible now to see Juneteenth in anything other than the political context in which it arose from obscurity (and don’t buy the media disinformation—until a few years ago, it was an obscure holiday, as we’ll see). 

Juneteenth’s emergence as an official national holiday is the result, not of a desire for unification and celebration, but of the same cynical racial division that has brought us Black Lives Matter, critical race theory, proposed shakedowns in the guise of reparations, and a host of other ills. The promotion of Juneteenth from a largely regional and informal celebration to a sacred national holiday undermines American national and racial unity—it does not encourage it. And that is the precise intention of those who foisted it on America.

It is not a coincidence that the holiday is being referred to as the “Juneteenth National Independence Day” taking place in such close proximity to America’s actual Independence Day on July 4. This makes perfect sense in the context of the Left’s incessant desire to erase America’s history—as was the aim of the cynical “1619 Project”—and replace it with a litany of attacks on America’s founding and the descendants of those who accomplished it.

The name itself is a blatant piece of historical revisionism. More than 330 million Americans of all races and backgrounds enjoy the fruit of our independence from Great Britain. That is why we all celebrate 1776 as a unifying national event.

The abolition of slavery was a great moment for America, but it was not a refounding of the country. Juneteenth didn’t even end all slavery in the United States—that was not accomplished until the end of 1865 in two Southern border states that had stayed in the Union. The use of “independence” can only be seen in the context of the desire of the radical Left to erase America’s early history and actual independence struggle and to redefine American history solely in terms of systemic racism and racial grievance. 

The emergence of Juneteenth from obscurity to become a national holiday is the culmination of the florid moral panic, in the wake of the death at the hands of police, of high-on-drugs, arrest-resisting, violent felon George Floyd, to whom the Left demands against all sanity that we pay homage as some sort of civil rights hero. 

Passed almost immediately through Congress with scarcely any official opposition or debate, the failure to prevent the addition of an official holiday to foment racial grievance to the calendar stands as a singular display of cowardice and impotence by virtually all GOP members of Congress, who are clearly too scared of being called racists by the Left to stand up even against something that obviously will be used every year from now on for racial grievance-mongering.

The Left is engaged in a blatant bait-and-switch, using the entirely worthy exoteric meaning of the day as a source of moral and material blackmail. You don’t object to celebrating the end of slavery, do you, bigot? 

Its esoteric meaning, and its actual function in our contemporary political system, are a different matter. The fact that many celebrants will not understand the esoteric meaning is a feature, not a bug, for those who wish to use Juneteenth as a political cudgel. They want average African Americans to perceive our attacks on their racial shakedown as an attack on blackness itself, though nothing could be further from the truth. In celebrating Juneteenth, the Left are trying to make you bow to their gods, and their patron saint, George Floyd.

The George Floyd Holiday

That Juneteenth has arrived as a national holiday at this particular moment is impossible to imagine without George Floyd. Larger than life statues of George Floyd were unveiled this Juneteenth in New York, New Jersey, and elsewhere “celebrating” this 21st century “saint” of wokeness. Or, as Gallup put it in their Juneteenth poll explainer, “Debate about making Juneteenth a federal holiday has been renewed in the racial reckoning that emerged after George Floyd’s death at the hands of Minneapolis police last year.” 

Context matters. To make Juneteenth a holiday in this environment is to confirm the Democrats’ and Black Lives Matters’ blatantly false narrative on crime and policing, to elevate the bogus George Floyd myth that innocent black men are being gunned down en masse by racist white policemen. GOP politicians have latched onto critical race theory as the latest bogeyman, but why even bother pretending we’re fighting critical race theory when we’re helping the Left create a federal critical race holiday, reifying unjustified contemporary black grievance, and equally unjustified anti-white vilification? Juneteenth is an enormous win for the racism-industrial complex.

Historically, America has chosen holidays that unify our nation and express its ideals.

Our original four federal holidays, ratified in 1870s, were largely religious in origin: Christmas, Thanksgiving, and New Year’s Day joined Independence Day (so central was July 4to our national identity). Over the years we added to these holidays honoring the American worker (Labor Day) and our soldiers (Veterans Day and Memorial Day). Columbus Day did not become a holiday until the 20th century, but has roots going back to the 18th century. Washington’s Birthday (still the official name for Presidents’ Day) increasingly honors all of our presidents, including the mediocre ones

These festivals were celebrated in different ways at different times in our communities and honored our religious heritage, our discovery and founding, our workers and leaders, or our soldiers who fought and died for our country. Eventually and more controversially, these were joined by Martin Luther King, Jr.’s birthday, which is as much of a celebration of the African-American community’s long journey to legal equality as it is a celebration of a single hero with profound personal flaws.

Juneteenth’s Rise From Obscurity

Juneteenth, essentially, was a local celebration. The day was little noted outside of Texas until very recently. Then came the lockdowns and media-driven hysteria in which Trump was criticized by the media and the Left for holding a rally on June 19 in Tulsa, Oklahoma (the site of an unquestionably horrific race riot, which the Left—again for political ends—has been cynically revisiting in recent months.)
In an ill-advised moment of capitulation to the Left, Trump rescheduled the rally to the following day, providing ammunition for radical opponents. “It’s actually an important event, an important time. But nobody had ever heard of it,” Trump said later about the incident with his usual bluntness—and accuracy. 

A search of Joe Biden’s Twitter archive showed no mention of Juneteenth until 2019, when he was already a candidate for president. While it is possible that this search may somehow have missed a mention, it captured over 6,000 tweets from Biden dating back some nine years, including several years in which Biden was tweeting on June 19 without ever mentioning Juneteenth.

If Biden was ignorant of Juneteenth or considered it too unimportant to mention before two years ago, he hardly would have been alone. Even after last year’s protests and Trump’s postponed rally threw Juneteenth into dramatically greater prominence, a Gallup poll releaseon the eve of it being declared a national holiday showed that 60 percent of Americans knew little to nothing about Juneteenth. Only 12 percent of Americans reported having “a lot” of knowledge about it. Twenty-eight percent had never even heard of it. Just nine percent of white and Hispanic adults (collectively almost 80 percent of Americans) said they knew a lot about it. Moreover, just seven percent of Republicans supported making Juneteenth a holiday—yet every single Republican senator voted for it. This is the anatomy of a world-historical gaslighting by the Left and an equally world-historical political failure on the Right. 

Below is a Google Trends search (essentially a recording of how often, on a relative basis, searches are done for a term over time) shows that Juneteenth barely registered in the United States until four or five years ago—and this already includes the fact that it did have prominence in Texas, where it was already a state holiday.

Even in 2002, over 135 years after the fact, only eight states had any formal recognition of Juneteenth.

 

The Left Is Using Juneteenth as a Political Weapon

Predictably, as leading Republicans lamely “celebrated” Juneteenth in much the way that a eunuch might celebrate his castration, Democrats began using the holiday to make radical demands. Unions and corporations quickly got in the act with a rash of declaring corporate holidays and demanding extra benefits in the name of Juneteenth.

Recently elected U.S. Representative Cori Bush (D-Mo.), who has quickly developed a reputation as one of the most noxious race-baiters in Congress, tweeted: “On this Juneteenth, remember that millions of incarcerated Black people are still in bondage and that the 13th Amendment still permits slavery. Our work is Black liberation in its totality”— implying, of course, that black convicted murderers, rapists, and others who are lawfully and appropriately punished, somehow are inappropriately punished and must be liberated. 

Other left-wing racist politicians had tweets and statements that were scarcely less awful. Violence and riots accompanied Juneteenth celebrations in many jurisdictions. GOP senators were booed when attending Juneteenth celebrations, doubtless surprising the vast majority of them, whose political IQs likely do not exceed room temperature.

Meanwhile, the State Department’s official site celebrated Juneteenth by tweeting out a pan-African rainbow raised fist while condemning “systemic racism” as the Black Lives Matter flag waved in the background. 

Race Hustlers Have Always Been Juneteenth’s Champions

As a localized, grassroots festive remembrance of freedom centered around the African-American community, Juneteenth was beautiful and meaningful. But the push to make it an act of national public obeisance has always been cynical. 

The father of the Juneteenth holiday in Texas was left-wing activist legislator Al Edwards, who kept after it for years before winning official recognition. Here’s how Texas Monthly (not exactly known for its conservatism) described Edwards in 1983 (three years after he had succeeded in his push to make Juneteenth a state holiday) when he headlined their list of Texas’ worst legislators: 

‘So unseemly was Edwards’ performance during the past session that it is destined to become the stuff of legend’. . . [Edwards was the] ‘The Pariah of the decade’. . . ‘If he was not trying to solicit a bribe, he acted exactly like a man who was.’. . .

According to the editors, Edwards was “indifferent to the important stuff; anything but indifferent to his own self-interest.” Of course, in subsequent years his history was sanitized—Edwards is valorized now as a “civil rights leader”—but his contemporaries in the days before political correctness had a more accurate measure of the man. 

The first proposal for a federal observance of Juneteenth was offered by U.S. Rep. Barbara-Rose Collins (D-Mich.) in 1996. She was described by a contemporary columnist as “By any measure, an embarrassment.” 

She had the third-highest absenteeism rate, missing one key vote because she was at the opening of a casino in Indiana, and another because she refused to fly coach. A high school graduate, she claimed to be a member of MENSA, the high-IQ organization, but the group had no record of her in its files.

She once filed a complaint against herself (!) with the Federal Election Commission, and was under investigation for misusing campaign, office, and scholarship funds. Five years ago, the Detroit Democrat was solidly defeated in a primary after she held a fund-raiser in a strip bar. The respected Almanac of American Politics concluded it ‘seems undeniable she was just not up to being a member of Congress.’

“I don’t like the race,” she once said bluntly of white people. 

But of course, like many corrupt and incompetent race-baiting politicians before her, she was always happy to push racial politics for her benefit. It is not a coincidence that corrupt incompetent racists were those most aggressively pushing the Juneteenth holiday. They were never civil rights activists. They were racial-grievance activists, which is another thing entirely. Ironically, their tactics often imitated those of racist white politicians in the early 20th century, who distracted from their own corruption and incompetence by blaming their constituents’ problems on African Americans.

A Possible Solution: Celebrate as if American Unity Matters

In an ideal world, the GOP would take back Congress, come to its senses, and repeal the Juneteenth national holiday, returning it to its previous status as a largely private celebration. Having already voted for it, however, this will likely prove too great a leap for most of our caucus. 

Given that, perhaps its status as a federal holiday could at least be combined with Martin Luther King Day. In the same way that we brought holidays for Washington and Lincoln’s birthdays together, we can honor both civil rights and the end of slavery with a unified holiday. 

In fact, with the advent of Juneteenth as a federal holiday the MLK holiday seems even more inappropriate in the context of our history. King—a great man in many ways, profoundly flawed in many others—had a genuine moral conscience and eloquence that must be balanced by an often naïve and jejune political stance as well as his morally disgraceful private life (particularly for a minister). On balance, surely, he was a great man, and a great American, but we have had many great Americans in our almost two and a half centuries, and he is not, especially in the post-Juneteenth world, uniquely deserving of the honor of a holiday above all other Americans from history, which is the status we accord to him now. 

If Washington and Lincoln can share their birthday holiday, King can share his holiday with a celebration of the African-Americans he helped to liberate, a process that began with Lincoln, continued on Juneteenth, and in which King played a critical role in culminating. Such a process of holiday combination would be politically challenging but is both morally and practically correct, balancing a genuine desire to celebrate African-American freedom, with a feeling that there should be one standard for American holidays and the reasons for which we celebrate them. 

At a practical political level (likely the only thing that matters to most GOP elected officials) it would reduce back to a single holiday the number of times cynical demands could be made each year by our political enemies, who use history as a cudgel to beat us into submitting to their disastrous policy preferences. 

But even if GOP elected officials are too cowardly to act, we as individuals can decline to submit to this demonstration of a holiday as moral blackmail. We cannot live in an America where we have one standard for African Americans and another standard for everyone else. That is not civil rights, it is the opposite of civil rights. It is not a celebration of the end of slavery, it is the creation of a new kind of slavery. 

We must not live by the Left’s lies. If our politicians will not lead, we must lead ourselves and hope they follow. We must be straightforward in calling the current incarnation of the national holiday of Juneteenth what it isa cynical and immoral attempt to divide Americans rather than unite them. 

We must reject, without shame, apology, or equivocation, George Floyd’s critical race holiday.

 

About Jeremy Carl

Jeremy Carl is a senior fellow at the Claremont Institute. He served as deputy assistant secretary of the interior under President Trump and lives with his family in Montana.

Photo: Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images

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