Juneteenth Is For Everyone And "Black-Ish" Tells Us Why

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Black-ish is one of the greatest primetime television shows of all time. No, it wasn’t perfect — but what show is? What made Black-ish so special was its ability to teach and convey lessons through the lens of humor and evoke self-reflection. One of those special moments was the episode Kenya Barris and the team created for Juneteenth. Although the last and final episode aired earlier this year in April, the lessons from the show still live on.

Black-ish cast on bikes in promo

Okay, did you know the Black-ish Juneteenth episode was a musical?

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And it was a pretty dope one! Sure, it had moments of random singing that sometimes annoyed people, but it also had the help of Aloe Blacc and The Roots. Each song had pointed lessons and gave exclusive commentary about the real history of the United States and its foundation. Plus, those songs were low-key bops.

The opening scene really set the tone.

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Season 4, Episode 1 begins with the Johnson family attending Jack and Diane’s school play on Columbus Day. As per usual, there are many inconsistencies around the history and events concerning Christopher Columbus. Growing increasingly frustrated by the minute, the usually overdramatic Andre “Dre” Johnson had a legit point. If Columbus’ sketch history can be celebrated, then the importance of Juneteenth definitely deserves some love.

Also, Grandma Ruby had butterscotch candy as a snack, and the nostalgia hit my soul. Whose Black grandma didn’t have random butterscotch candy always available?!

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Andre goes into immediate action.

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Common for Black-ish, “Dre” gave most of his Black history and cultural lessons from the meeting room desk of his company, Stevens & Lido. I consistently questioned how much actual work got done in that place. Regardless, Dre and Aloe Blacc are together thinking of ways to celebrate and acknowledge the history of Juneteenth. One coworker overheard the conversation, and it got really good.

Slavery was real, and its effects are lasting.

The opening song talks about the terror of slavery and its disregard for humanity. And even when enslaved people were “freed” by the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863 — the Civil War continued until 1865. Enslaved people in Galveston didn’t get the news until about two and a half years later, on June 19, hence Juneteenth.

History shouldn’t be uncomfortable.

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People usually have a hard time reckoning with a history that does not portray them in the best light, which is doubly true for many white people. Once Dre got the party going with the Juneteenth facts, the room became tense. I was watching the show like, “Wait. Don’t crawl back now. Lean into this feeling.”

MLK Day is great, but it does not end there.

Casual photo of Martin Luther King, Jr. throwing his hands up

Black folk didn’t get a check.

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For those in the back who may not get it, enslaved people were not paid for their labor and were often beaten and consistently subjected to less than reproachable living conditions. Being credited for building the White House, prominent college and university campuses, establishing significant infrastructure across the land, and inventing a whole load of processes, goods, and services that help to function from day to day — Black people built this country.

But, slavery was a long time ago. Everyone is free now!

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You can’t believe that. It didn’t even feel correct typing or saying that. Economists estimate that slave labor had a near $300 billion economic impact. That’s billion with a capital “B.” After slavery officially ended, prejudice and discriminatory practices kicked it, and the effects of those systemic and institutional systems linger today.

What does freedom even mean?

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The answer is different for me than it may be for you. However, at the core, freedom should provide equal access to any and every available resource. It should mean navigating the United States in a way that doesn’t make my presence feel like a threat. Freedom shouldn’t be so hard-pressed. It should be the realization and the audacity to dream, thrive, and succeed in every field of human endeavor.

With all of that, Dre’s coworkers still didn’t get it.

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One of the most exhausting things is trying to educate a group of people with no interest in learning anything. Save your energy. That’s the conclusion Dre eventually came to. However, he did not let that stop him from wanting to do more to celebrate Juneteenth.

Juneteenth became a federal holiday on June 17, 2021, and while that is progress, there is still much work to be done. However, in the words of Andre Johnson, “Don’t wait for the apology [understanding], celebrate anyway! Who’s hosting the cookout? And, there better not be any raisins close to the potato salad!"

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Make sure you head here for more of our Juneteenth coverage!