By Neha Kotagiri, Saheli Intern
A holiday celebrated on 19th June to commemorate the emancipation of enslaved people in the US. The holiday was first celebrated in Texas, where on that date in 1865, in the aftermath of the Civil War, slaves were declared free under the terms of the 1862 Emancipation Proclamation.
After years of leaders and activists calling for greater national recognition, Juneteenth has been officially deemed a federal holiday by the Biden administration. Though it is often left out of history books and conversations about United States history, it is no secret that this country was built on the pain, plight, and persecution of black livelihood. Juneteenth commemorates emancipation, but the years following 1865 signified everything but freedom for black people in America. The 20th century was marred by Jim Crow, warfare, oppression, followed by calls to revolution, which leaked into the 21st century by way of brutality, mass incarceration, class warfare, suppression and more. Racism culminated into a multilayered force, manifesting from the combination of interpersonal bias and pervasive systemic tactics alike.
As we begin to open greater dialogues about race and establish a space for South Asian activism, it’s crucial to understand our roots in this country and reflect deeply on our ties to the black community and their tenacious activism that opened doors for all minorities.
Throughout the twentieth century, the US passed a series of anti-immigration legislation in order to preserve “American Homogeneity”. The Immigration Act of 1917 banned Asians, Mexicans, Mediterraneans along with disabled people and political radicals from immigrating to the US. Shortly after, the Immigration Act of 1924 created a system that prioritized immigrants from Northern/Western Europe, restricted those from Southern/Eastern Europe and Africa, and entirely banned Arabs, Indians, and Asians. The civil rights movement not only called for the liberation for African Americans, but for immigrants of all nationalities through the Immigration and Nationality Act of 1965. (Source: How the Civil Rights Movement Opened The Door to Immigrants of Color by Rebekah Barber) Many of our families immigrated to the US after the 1970s for greater opportunities and a better life, and we owe it thoroughly to the work of black civil rights activists.
The black community’s solidarity transcends America: revolutionaries expressed their support for India’s independence movement and drew inspiration from it in their own movement. In a parallel sense, Dalit people in India have taken inspiration from the Black Panther movement, and formed the Dalit Panther in the 1970s (Source: Dalit and Black Solidarity: Interview with Suraj Yengde). Revolutionary Angela Davis has been vocal about the movement, as was Martin Luther King Jr. As we examine racism in the US and abroad, we must recognize that South Asians are not a monolith, and that all systems of oppression are inherently connected. We must think critically about the oppression and bias that are present and persisting, whether they have to do with religion, ethnicity, caste, class, gender, sexuality, or more.
On this Juneteenth, following a tumultuous and eye-opening year for us all, I ask you to examine how you have personally allowed for anti-blackness or have been complicit in any type of discrimination. I ask that we begin to wholly reject any colorism, extremism, stereotypes, or model minority myths that have been fed to us and continue to grow in our homes. Take the time to learn about the different groups of people that exist in our communities and critically listen to what they have to say. Liberation for one is liberation for all.