Today is Juneteenth!
As I hope y'all know, Juneteenth commemorates the moment when the Union forces came to Galveston and told them that the war was over and that all the people who were enslaved were now free—Emancipation had been proclaimed two and a half years earlier, and the Confederacy had surrendered the previous April, but in Galveston, it wasn't over. Until Juneteenth.
I should write about Juneteenth every year, but often I don’t. Last year I wrote about the gap between the American Dream and the American reality. In 2015, I wrote about there being no foreigners in America. Back in 2010, I wrote about the distance between the thought and the deed. In 2005, I wrote about pride and shame.
Juneteenth, for me at any rate, is the story of gaps. This morning I was having one of my despairing moments—the increasingly frequent times of cognitive dissonance when I was aware that the world was turning to shit, but that the rising shitflood circumjacent was not yet really affecting my little comfortable experience. I did not pass by a single concentration camp on my way to work this morning, nor did I need to protect myself from the increasingly rapid climate change other than choosing a felt, rather than straw, hat on this cool, damp unseasonable day. I don’t have to vary my routine to avoid my life being endangered this week by war, terrorism (domestic or international), fascism, pollution, nationalism, or even anti-Semitism. I am not immediately threatened with losing access to health care, or even with bankruptcy, destitution and homelessness. The attacks on liberal democratic norms don’t even prevent me from participating in self-government this year.
All of those things are happening, all around, and I am choosing not to ignore them, but I could ignore them, quite easily in fact. And that worries me. A lot.
While, at the same time, there have always been disasters affecting people that other people could safely ignore. That’s why Juneteenth is a thing, isn’t it? I don’t know that the world in 2019 is turning to shit any faster or more comprehensively, by any defensible objective definition, then 1859 was, or any other year. Very few major American cities (not just counting the nearest ones to YHB) have been set on fire this summer so far; comparatively few civil wars rage through the world (not just counting my own continent); the number of people incapacitated by epidemic disease is not unusually high at the moment (even looking outside my own demographic). Still, the point is not whether the world is better or worse, or getting better faster or worse faster, than at any other time. This time is my own time, and the only one I have, and I would like the world not to turn to shit during it.
And I am, as y’all know, an optimist by nature. And maybe—probably not, but maybe—there has been some breakthrough somewhere, and we just haven’t heard about it yet. Maybe the hard work being done has already made a difference—maybe the war is already over—maybe we have already been liberated and today is the day that we find out about it.
Probably not today. Probably not this year.
Or maybe we will be the ones who win through to some incredible news that someone, somewhere will get to proclaim that news to someone who hasn’t heard it yet. It has happened before.
Tolerabimus quod tolerare debemus,