Florida Senate Bill 1500 has been celebrated by some as a promising step towards education and respect towards Black Americans as “Emancipation Day” is being considered. After centuries of no acknowledgement, the day is finally receiving the attention it deserves.
However, how genuine is this “respect” and what does this mean for Black people?
It’s no secret how Florida’s lawmakers feel about topics concerning minorities and racial justice. With bills like HB 7 and HB 1557, it is clear what they believe in. “Prohibiting classroom discussion about sexual orientation” and saying certain circumstances “constitutes discrimination” is the language used in the bill texts, and yet “Emancipation Day” is being looked at as a win for Black people.
The day would be an official celebration of when enslaved Black people in Florida were informed about the Emancipation Proclamation. The day would include a 45-minute lecture about the significance of the day to high school students; of course, only those who are enrolled in a U.S. history course.
While the day should be acknowledged, the almost 40 million Black people in America should have exclusive rights to remember and celebrate the day as Black people are the ones who suffer the trauma from slavery, even now.
Let’s not glamorize or romanticize what the day means. That day should not be turned into an Independence Day, where Americans have turned the true meaning of the holiday into an excuse to grill and light fireworks. People died for Black people to gain freedom, a fight that still goes on today evidenced by the thousands of wrongfully convicted Black people and the Black Lives Matter protests brought on by murder.
Making history simplistic is not always a good thing. We cannot rely on the narrative that America and what it means to be American represents good. Textbooks for students talk about the indigenous populations as if their massacre was “exaggerated.” American students aren’t taught about people of Asian descent being put in concentration camps in the 1940s. Americans being put in concentration camps. The teaching given on slavery doesn’t even scratch the surface about the true horrors that were once legal in this country.
Instead of making the day a celebration, the focus should be about how to dismantle modern-day slavery and the systems put in place to oppress Black people. Educating students on the prison system, creating legislation to help schools in rural Black communities to get the resources they need and creating space for honest discussions with the community and lawmakers where people are actually being heard would be better for Black people than creating a day that will be whitewashed in time.
Instead of bills with no substance and words of acknowledgement, it is time for real change to occur in this country.