One of the many opportunities to discuss both racial bias and racial pride with Black youth is in June, as Black Americans across the country celebrate Juneteenth.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Texas announcing that “all slaves were free” in accordance with the Emancipation Proclamation. The announcement came over two years after the Executive Order issued by President Lincoln and shortly after the official end of the Civil War. While there is some debate about when to celebrate freedom from slavery, Juneteenth is considered by many to mark the active end of slavery.
“Juneteenth is a day that all people can uniquely celebrate the resilience and achievements of Black Americans.”
I can only imagine how the formerly enslaved people felt when they found out that they were free. Some may have been shocked and others may have been happy or relieved. There were likely others who were worried because they did not know any other life outside of slavery. Some documents written about the aftermath of June 19, 1865 detail how the formerly enslaved threw their garments into creeks and rivers and celebrated. Some got married, others went on searches to find their family members who had been sold, traded, or ran away. Some established schools and attempted to secure land. Learning how Black people embraced freedom from slavery may very well shape how youth understand racial pride and Black resilience. Although many would argue that June 19, 1865 was only the beginning of freedom, it was for many a time to celebrate, comfort, and reassure each other.
Farzana Saleem, PhD
Postdoctoral Research Fellow in the UCLA Department of Education and Psychiatry
Learning how Black people embraced freedom from slavery may very well shape how youth understand racial pride and Black resilience.
Today, to commemorate Juneteenth, some Black families make an annual pilgrimage to Galveston, Texas, while others choose to celebrate locally. Juneteenth is often accompanied by food, outdoor activities, prayer, or spending time with family and friends. Many consider it a time of reflection, self-improvement, and education. Naturally, it is also a time that racial socialization comes up. Juneteenth is an opportunity to talk about racial history and promote racial pride in Black youth. People may share what makes them feel proud and resilient as a Black American. It gives Black people a chance to honor, celebrate, and commemorate the achievements of Black people and the many contributions that Black Americans have made to America.
The holiday has gained wide recognition in the United States, which provides Black families access to events to celebrate their heritage and strength. In 1980, Texas became the first state to establish Juneteenth as a holiday, marking the first emancipation celebration granted official state recognition. The US Senate passed a resolution in 2018 recognizing “Juneteenth Independence Day” as a national holiday, but it has not yet been approved in the House.
Smithsonian Museums and local community centers often sponsor activities that are designed to teach history and instill pride and appreciation of Black American history. Designated celebrations like Black History Month in February and Juneteenth are salient times to engage in racial socialization because youth can attend special events that reflect their history. However, it is also important to remember that these conversations should happen as often as needed, and can still occur virtually or on the phone despite social distancing due to COVID-19.
JUNETEENTH FAMILY DISCUSSIONS
Juneteenth is a day that all people can uniquely celebrate the resilience and achievements of Black Americans. It is one of numerous opportunities to talk to Black youth about race, teach youth about their history, discuss racial discrimination, and instill pride in being Black Americans. I hope that Juneteenth is one of many times that you will celebrate Black America and help build racially conscious, curious, and resilient Black youth.
Here are a few sample questions that family members can ask young people to reflect on during Juneteenth:
- What you do think your ancestors felt after they found out they were free from slavery?
- What does that freedom, and the freedom you have, mean to you?
- How does it feel to talk about both the pride and struggle of being Black in America?
Check out the American Psychological Association RESilience initiative to get more information on how to provide racial socialization with youth based on empirical research.
*This article was adapted from a piece that Dr. Saleem wrote for the University of California Los Angeles, Center for the Study of Racism, Social Justice & Health.
Farzana Saleem, PhD
Child/ Adolescent Clinical Psychology
Dr. Farzana Saleem is a University of California Chancellor’s Postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Los Angeles California. She completed her doctorate in the Clinical-Community Psychology program at the George Washington University and completed a Child/ Adolescent Clinical Internship, with a specialization in trauma, at Children’s Hospital Los Angeles / University of Southern California. She will soon be beginning an Assistant Professor faculty position in the Graduate School of Education at Stanford University.
Farzana’s research examines the impact of racial stress on the mental health of Black and Brown children and adolescents. She uses a strengths-based lens to understand protective factors against racial discrimination. In particular, Farzana is interested in the benefits of family and school ethnic-racial socialization. She also investigates how community and school processes (e.g., cohesion, climate) influence the effects of racial discrimination. Farzana is dedicated to conducting research, providing training, and developing tools devoted to eradicating racial disparities in mental health and promoting the health and well-being of marginalized and racially diverse youth, families, and communities.