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Juneteenth 2.0—Or Putting Black Folk Back into Their Emancipation

June 19, 2022
Christian Davenport


In analysis for Political Violence At A Glance, an IGCC-supported blog dedicated to political violence and its alternatives, Christian Davenport, the Walgreen Professor for the Study of Human Understanding at the University of Michigan, reflects on Juneteenth, and the past and present narratives that surround the holiday. 

I know you are wondering why you are seeing something that you believe is connected with African Americans outside of Black History Month. What the hell does this Juneteenth thing have to do with political conflict and violence? Well… everything actually, and, as generally characterized and understood, nothing at all.

Historically, the day had been largely ignored outside the black community where it was generally greeted with a twofold response. On the one hand, it was something that acknowledged African American emancipation from enslavement, which is as political conflict and violence as you can get. Think 12 Years a Slave meets Django Unchained Meets Roots (the TV show) meets Sankofa and then multiply it times 4 million individuals who survived and untold numbers who perished in the Middle Passage. Here, one has international subversion of governments by economic actors, forced abduction, human trafficking, mass torture, mass rape, state and non-state political domination to subjugate African Americans, state and non-state propaganda to diffuse the ideas of racial superiority and hatred, anti-enslavement mobilization and action, (internationalized) civil war, war crimes, and eventually law-making extending rights to those who had none as well as (alternatively) expanding or creating a democratic government. This is political conflict and violence at its core.

On the other hand, the day came with a little tongue in cheek because there was always this undertone regarding the fact that it took a little time for many African Americans to “know” they were free. To this, folks would ask: how the heck could someone not know they were free? How could they be so out of it? This often led to moments of sadness, embarrassment, and reflection. A different take viewed the delay as a reflection of the hypocrisy and inefficiencies of the US political system. In a sense, this revealed how inept and insincere the efforts were to facilitate black freedom.

A few years ago (on June 17, 2021) the situation changed. On this day, Juneteenth went mainstream.

Read the full blog post at Political Violence At A Glance.