My Mixed Emotions Of Embracing Juneteenth — Dwayne Barnes Guest Column – Deadline

Editors note: Actor Dwayne Barnes writes occasional columns here at Deadline and today he confronts his mixed feelings that come with the official holiday status of Juneteenth.

Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863. It stated that all enslaved people in the Confederate states “Shall be then, and henceforth forever free.” However, this didn’t instantly come into reality. It took two more years; troops had to go and take control of the state to ensure that just as the proclamation stated, “all enslaved people were free.”

Dwayne Barnes

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That day was June 19, 1865, or Juneteenth, when slaves officially wiped the sweat off their brows and walked away from slavery and into freedom land.

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Honestly, I’ve never celebrated Juneteenth. Blame it on my ignorance and growing up in a public school system that didn’t see fit to educate us on our actual African American Independence Day significance.

In my predominately African American community filled with many generational remnants of slavery, we solely focused on the nationally recognized holiday that celebrated America’s Independence from Britain: the 4th of July. We didn’t know any better and didn’t have the education, the guidance, or the understanding. As a result, we emulated much of the behaviors of our enslavers.

I’m thankful those days are continually shifting. We have seen many films and TV series as of late and of past depicting historical portrayals of the African American community’s horrendous journeys of slavery and other subjugations. I have stretched and grown from the knowledge, insight, and grueling terror of them all. I feel where my academic life fell short in educating me on the atrocities of my ancestral journey, the entertainment media has victoriously won.

These creative re-tellings have served as an essential process in our healing as a community. I’ve learned in therapy that to release traumas, one must go back and look at the pain, feel the pain, accept the pain to heal the pain. I agree with that. The creative efforts of many fine writers and directors have assisted me in powerful ways to understand just what the African American community endured.

However, at present, I must admit it’s also been a crushing challenge for me to personally heal after having lived a life of such intense personal trauma myself when I’m constantly seeing the barrage of traumatizing historical and present-day content.

I’m not judging anyone, nor their creative expressions. As an actor, I have participated in hard-to-watch content myself. Each man must tell the story that sings in their heart. I’m a big supporter of that. I’m simply stating my truth and my dream. My brother recently told me he felt I was too sensitive. So, these are words coming from a too sensitive man’s perspective. They are not the words of a defector of the cause of the fight for racial justice: a battle that I live to see won.

I love that our gripping survival stories are continuously shared. However, the emotional triggering that I am having from the news media, film, and TV constantly showcasing our atrocities could also be an inner alarm. It could be a moment for me to look at how it may be a time to look beyond my personal pain-body story. Is it time for me to focus on my freedom and ways to enjoy and relish in that a tad more? If not, the joy of life will continue to be coated by the stains of my past. And from the looks of things, these stories may last forever, so maybe that’s just the African American’s life fate. Will the rest of my existence be filled with images of my past and present demons? A sad but possible question I ponder daily.

I love all of the nuances to the African American lifeline. We have had massive achievements in every field there is. However, I would love to see more of a balance in content presented, representing all African Americans’ truths, showcasing our strength and resilience while being oppressed. Also, our successes and greatness all while being free. This concept of balance would provide more room to have a breathable view of reality and offer me the excitement to truly celebrate our freedom and the continued possibility of my freedom.

I will personally grapple with this dilemma. How can I genuinely celebrate freedom when I’m constantly witnessing the toxic, ignorant, and vile individuals via the media who aren’t intelligent enough to accept the reality of being human? That we are all equal and we are all free. Is seeing this barrage of historical and modern-day hate serving me or subconsciously defeating me? I’m sorry, but I don’t want to keep seeing their faces and taking in their disturbing negative energy. It deeply disturbs me, but I firmly accept its importance as well.

To me, with all that’s happening globally, from all of the disturbing racial life events, it feels as if we are more on probation than free.

I’m not saying that I want to forget, ignore, or even neglect the past, but I also want to continuously remind myself to celebrate the beauty of the present and the hope of the future.

The definition of probation states the release of an offender from detention, subject to a period of good behavior under supervision. As we’ve seen time and time again, one never knows when an African Americans’ sheer human tendency of making a traffic error may cost us our lives under the supervision of oppression. Our shameful truth. And these displays are what seem to be the most relevant thing that appears to engage audiences. They keep many of us triggered, angered, and afraid.

Unfortunately, it all reminds me of the wildfires that break out in California and throughout the world: One never knows when the fire of racism will rear its head and how much damage it will do.

Please hear me. I am so excited that we powerfully see what’s under America’s blood-red carpet as a society; e are witnessing over and over again the filth that’s underneath. Yet, we are also visibly seeing that change is slowly but surely happening, bringing me joy. I pray and crave for the healing from our collective PTSD. How will that happen, and will it happen in a way that makes me comfortable? Only God knows.

I’m not saying that I want to forget, ignore, or even neglect the past, but I also want to continuously remind myself to celebrate the beauty of the present and the hope of the future.

Like, yesterday, President Biden officially signed into law that Juneteenth is now an official holiday. A reason to celebrate. A reason to feel a sense of freedom, not probation.

I look forward to experiencing more roads to freedom. I applaud our new official holiday, June 19, Juneteenth, African American Independence Day.

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