Black folks call Juneteenth the Black Fourth of July because it was the birth of our nation, a fact that King Beyoncé — the force of nature and Black woman genius I have admired as she has continued to evolve over the years — had to have known when her collaboration with Jay-Z, “Everything is Love” dropped just days before this celebration of Black freedom.
After scrambling for no good reason to get Tidal because it was quickly released on Apple Music (grrrrr) I wrote about it for Harper’s Bazaar, though because of all of the other things happening in the news cycle, the Juneteenth context fell away.
Juneteenth is the day the rest of American slaves in Texas learned about their freedom in Galveston, more than 2 years after Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation, in 1865. When I was younger, I wondered why Southerners, and increasingly, others, would celebrate a late coming into one’s freedom.
As Black bodies — children included — are literally policed by white women and others whose fragility and backwards politics have become the presiding expression of patriotism as led by our president, this year, especially, it feels important to reiterate how important images and reminders of Black freedom are. It does not always feel true, because black people keep dying. We keep turning into hashtags. We continue to have to fight from being erased from stories about what America is, what it has been and what it will become.
Juneteenth, this year, reminded me that even liberation postponed is worthy of celebration. Even if America sometimes confuses me, feels hostile toward me and people who look like me, I never tire of the Fourth of July. The universal promise of independence and freedom is infectious. Even nightmarish people can’t snatch the dream of America from me — that you can shape a life in community, even if meritocracy is not the whole truth of how one can do that, always.
The Fourth of July is one of my favorite holidays even though I detest the heat of summer (I’m a winter baby, can’t help it.) Juneteenth, and what it must have meant for our ancestors, is quickly becoming another favorite. Because in times like these, it’s harder to take freedom for granted. It’s easy to see how one day the greedy, heartless power mongers might try to just snatch that from any of us.
Here’s some of what I wrote for Harper’s. If you have some time during what I hope will be a luxurious vacation or some slow down time, I hope you’ll have a read and tell me what you think. Happy Fourth of July!
In her biography of Sojourner Truth, Nell Painter writes about the slave mentality and how it didn’t occur in a vacuum:
“Its characteristics—a lack of self-confidence, personal autonomy; and independent thought; a sense of one’s own insignificance in comparison to the importance of others; a desire to please the powerful at any cost; and finally, a ferocious anger that is often turned inward but can surge into frightening outbursts—are precisely the rants of vulnerable people who have been battered.”
Everything Is Love celebrates the hard-won absence of these qualities 153 years after the Emancipation Proclamation declared all enslaved persons free. One way of gauging how free The Carters are on Everything is Love is comparing them to Painter’s definition.