Americans are celebrating Juneteenth as a national holiday. President Joe Biden ensured it Friday when he signed legislation Congress had passed earlier.
Now, I make no big to-do over giving workers another holiday. In my opinion, Americans spend too much time in the workplace compared to workers in Europe, so they could use one more day off.
Not this day, though. While Juneteenth ought surely be a Texas remembrance, I see no reason to push it onto the national stage ahead of historical moments of far more significance.
Progressives and Democrats can disagree about its importance, but those of us who are not walking the halls of Congress must wonder how Democrats got Republicans to support this holiday. In a congressional session short on bipartisanship, both sides of the aisle agreed Juneteenth deserved its due.
The vote was 415-15.
I suspect, however, bipartisanship came with a price. The price progressives had to pay was foregoing their attempts to shore up the right of everybody to vote.
Was Juneteenth worth that much?
Just the thought that Congress wasted a day on discussing this legislation troubles me. In front of them, lawmakers on the left and right had more than voting rights to debate. Biden’s infrastructure bill remains in limbo; the fight on how to autopsy the Jan. 6 insurrection continues; and meaningful policies on policing get stalled whenever hope appears on the horizon.
The men and women who represent us on Capitol Hill have never moved like Usain Bolt. Too many of them rock and reel like a drunk on a weekend bender when they see legislation that might benefit the least of people in this republic. They are reluctant to back or spend on policies that tilt toward Blacks, poor whites and Hispanics.
For some reason those same lawmakers jumped aboard legislation that nobody called pressing. Juneteenth Freedom Day was low priority, which passed swiftly through a divided Congress.
No doubt, some horse-trading went into its passage, because Juneteenth, a wretched moment in U.S. history, was barely understood until about a decade ago, particularly among people who didn’t have deep Texas roots. It joins the other national holidays.
I see no reason for it.
To some of its Black critics — and count me among them — Juneteenth allowed America to put in mothballs classroom discussions on critical race theory. For decades, educators have wrestled over how to teach race in the classroom, and Congress made their challenge more daunting with Juneteenth.
Each year that America celebrates it, educators and families will have to explain the reason for it. White people can’t explain it today. Neither can Black folk, meaning Juneteenth is a mere tease, a hollow gesture that has dimmed the spotlight on other progressive priorities.
As a political reporter from The New York Times tweeted: its kinda amazing: Juneteenth is gonna be a federal holiday for reasons teachers won’t be allowed to explain to their students out of fear critical race theory backlash.
He is right, which is the damnable part of dissecting what led to this holiday. The euphoria over Juneteenth masks the lack of understanding of why the date should be commemorated.
I refuse to give high-fives to Congress for what it did. Instead, I ask myself: What did creating this holiday cost?
My answer: a lot.