Opinion

Dear Conservatives: Cultural Symbols Like Juneteenth Really Do Matter

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Posted: Jun 22, 2021 12:01 AM
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Dear Conservatives: Cultural Symbols Like Juneteenth Really Do Matter

Source: AP Photo/Evan Vucci

Juneteenth, a holiday that commemorates the day the last slaves in the U.S. were formally freed hardly seems like it should be controversial.

But when a bill to make Juneteenth a federal holiday passed the House of Representatives last week, progressives were quick to enlist the holiday to support their contention that celebrating America is celebrating racism, since blacks have not historically been given the same rights as whites in this country. But conservatives, just as quickly, let them adopt the holiday.

Juneteenth celebrates a significant step toward racial equality in America, something many conservatives undoubtedly find worth celebrating. Of course, Leftists will use the holiday for their own partisan political ends, but that is not reason to give up. 

Conservative commentator Candace Owens expressed disapproval. “Juneteenth is soooooooo [sic] lame,” she tweeted. “Democrats really need to stop trying to repackage segregation.” 

Candace argued that a specific celebration of a day that marked black independence from slavery would be used as a repudiation of the holiday we celebrate a month later, marking the birth of America. Candace put it, “I’ll be celebrating July 4th and July 4th only. I’m American.” 

Owens is right that some will use Juneteenth as an opportunity to participate in ritual “America is an irredeemably racist country” self-flagellations. BuzzFeed News, for instance, placed the Juneteenth holiday in seeming contradiction to opposition on the Right to critical race theory, in a headline that read: “Juneteenth a Federal Holiday Amid Critical Race Theory Debate.” Twitter added the blackpower fist to the “Juneteenth” hashtag. An opinion article at MarketWatch encouraged us to take the opportunity to design a new national flag that “represented all Americans.” The framing of Juneteenth as a repudiation of traditional American patriotism is frustrating. 

But that is exactly why conservatives shouldn’t allow the Left to define the holiday, and overtake the cultural symbols we deem too dirty to save. 

Take the visual arts, such as painting, acting, and film-making, as an example. It is no secret that the Left practically dominates these sorts of artistic pursuits. Few conservatives have deemed it worth their time to attempt to retake the visual arts. For the most part, conservatives have voiced opposition but done little else to really reclaim this culturally significant pursuit.

Now, one political persuasion dominates the natural impulse to create innovative and beautiful things, and the conservatives who have given up on fighting this battle are missing in action. Perhaps the Right doesn’t think the arts are worth fighting for. After all, we have facts and logic on our side, so a painter’s opinion on America’s imperialistic patriarchal systems of oppression doesn’t matter. Wrong. Art is powerful. Think about it. Would you rather spend your time at an art show, or at a panel explaining the scientific basis for the fact that there are only two genders?

Consider the rainbow: Once a symbol of God’s promise never to flood the earth again, a biblical narrative most conservatives still cherish, it’s been co-opted by the LGBTQ+ community for its own socially progressive ends. And while some may have voiced opposition to the symbol of God’s promise becoming the symbol of cultural decadence, most have simply abandoned the rainbow. 

The significance of the rainbow flag is not that it substitutes for argument, but that it can be the rallying point around which one can assemble a formidable movement. To signal your support, for instance, for any number of socially progressive policy points, one need only display the rainbow colors. Does anyone really think of God’s promise to Noah in the book of Genesis when they see a rainbow? Of course not, and maybe that’s our fault. Here, as in the case of Juneteenth, conservatives are abandoning the significance of symbolism as soon as that symbol becomes too tainted with the ownership of the other side.

This week, commentator Charlie Kirk reneged on his own support of Juneteenth being made a federal holiday once it became clear that Leftists were using it for their political ends. A year ago, Charlie was chiding Democrats for not making Juneteenth a federal holiday. Juneteenth, Charlie tweeted, celebrated, “the end of slavery in the United States,” and was, “made possible thanks to Republican President Abraham Lincoln.” Last week, however, Charlie opposed Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday. Kirk claimed the motive of Democrats who support making Juneteenth a federal holiday was to “replace” July 4th. In many cases, this is undoubtedly so. But for others, it is a celebration of the end of an institution of oppression, the triumph of the best parts of America over its worst, and the destruction of one of the last remaining formal shibboleths of racism. Can Kirk not find it in his heart to celebrate that? 

To be fair, he likely can. But instead of fighting for a definition of Juneteenth that he and many others would agree with, he gives up the field entirely. 

When Democrats stepped up to make Juneteenth their own, Kirk let them. 

It’s understandable that Kirk and conservatives like him don’t want to assist the Left in its comprehensive reframing of American history. But instead of giving up the fight and leaving Juneteenth for the Left, why not fight for a correct interpretation of history? 

Juneteenth celebrates an important step towards the realization of founding principles for black Americans. Whether you’re liberal or conservative, that’s a worthy holiday. For once, instead of abandoning symbols the Left claims for their agenda, the Right should play ball.

Sarah H. Weaver is a graduate student studying politics at Hillsdale College and a freelance writer. Her work has appeared in The American Spectator, Washington Examiner, The Federalist, and more. Find her on Twitter: @SarahHopeWeaver and visit her website: sarah-weaver.net