As I write this, it’s the first Juneteenth that’s a national holiday. It literally became one two days ago. This declaration has been met with unease by many Black voices I’ve been hearing. In this article I plan to unwrap why this is by bringing my usual communication studies lens to the subject, with a dash of Jesus thrown in. In short, declaring Juneteenth a federal holiday is a good step forward in a lot of ways. But especially the largely white-Evangelical-supported GOP’s embrace of this holiday, especially coming at a time when GOP politicians are legislating attempts to silence healthy discussions of our national history in schools on the state level, is a clear sign of what I’ve previously discussed under the term “cordial hypocrisy.”
In the remainder of this blog post I’ll describe how that works, why this kind of situation is literally unhealthy for our country and what we as people who long for healthier forms can continue to do about it.
A Bit of Background on Juneteenth
Okay, so if you’re behind on what Juneteenth is, well, that’s not surprising considering what’s going on. Here’s a reasonable overview from the Wall Street Journal. In short, Juneteenth is a day celebrating the emancipation of the slaves in the US during the Civil War.
It’s telling that slaveowners continued to resist emancipation after that date. In fact, the journey to humanizing Black people in this country, and giving them equal rights, definitely continues, as recent events have loudly underscored.
The GOP=Still Representing that Slaveholder Resistance to Change? (Not Good!)
Sadly, it seems clear the GOP’s party rhetoric and platform has joined in with those distant slaveowner voices.
It doesn’t take a scholar of recent history to give you lots and lots of examples of that, but the most striking example is the rhetoric surrounding many bills that have been introduced—and in many cases passed—on the state level seeking to legislate the way K-12 teachers talk about race and racial history in the classroom. (You can find some summaries of some of these events, including expert commentary and context, here from NPR, here from NBC News, and here from the Washington Post.)
GOP Gaslighting of America’s Racial Traumas
While these bills don’t in many cases actually ban “critical race theory” in the descriptive sense (I’ve previously discussed CRT’s demonization here), GOP rhetoricians and legislators have been seeking to use this as a fearmongering devil term to be fought at all costs.
Specifically, this anti-“critical race theory” rhetoric has been used to gain support for legislation seeking to silence perspectives that speak truthfully about the tragedies of our racial history in this country in public school classrooms.
Trying to Silence Educators’ Truthful Voices
In short, these bills are in practice, if not in wording, ways of instilling fear in teachers in many states around actually discussing the tragic events surrounding our newest federal holiday.
Not a Matter of “Checks and Balances”
Unfortunately, recent events up to and including January 6, including the Congressional GOP’s votes toward cover up investigation of that traumatic incident, show that the nearly unanimous GOP vote to make Juneteenth a holiday coming in the midst of GOP state legislator calls to keep banning “CRT” in classrooms isn’t the sign of some quirky “checks and balances” style debate between federal and state legislators in the party.
On the contrary, the fact that every GOP member of the Senate and all but 14 GOP representatives in the House voted for Juneteenth to be a holiday, even while they are doing everything in their power to block national legislation around voting legislation and against investigation of January 6, shows that they chose to mandate this holiday as a way to look good without actually doing anything meaningful to acknowledge and address the toxic issues of race in the country, either historically or to improve things toward genuine equality going forward.
What Would Jesus Do in This Situation? Well…Yell at the GOP, It Seems
If you know your Bible (specifically Matthew 23), perhaps by now you’re bringing to mind how Jesus called out certain leaders as “whitewashed tombs.”
Specifically, this is what he said, addressing, interestingly, the “teachers of the law”: “You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”
Jesus went on to say that these “snakes” and “brood of vipers” are trying to cover up history in that they are the ones who killed prophets who were calling out unhealthy acts.
Disturbingly Applicable, Eh?
It’s an accurate comparison. A little chilling, really, how well it applies to the GOP in this current Juneteenth situation when taken in context.
A Reminder: Jesus Was Not “Nice” When People Were Being Hurt by Systemic Wrongs
So yeah, Jesus was not “nice” in how he reacted to leaders that did this sort of sh*t, and serves as a great illustration of how incredibly and intensely spiritual it can be to assertively call people out on these kinds of issues.
How Today’s Scholarship Fleshes This Picture Out
As I’ve discussed before here, scholars looking at the definitions of civility have used the term “cordial hypocrisy” to provide a more generalized view of the toxic patterns Jesus was describing in ways that can expand and deepen our understanding of the problems of the phenomenon.
Defining Cordial Hypocrisy
Specifically, as I’ve described before, cordial hypocrisy is the type of situation where everything seems to look nice on the surface, but really resentment is building up under the surface because people aren’t actually dealing with the conflict in healthy ways.
The scholars describing cordial hypocrisy rightfully define it as antithetical to authentic trust, which is built socially and relationally through a series of words and deeds paired together in ways that show that either pretty words or single acts are not hollow.
And a lack of authentic trust, not shockingly, is not correlated with health and well-being. On the contrary, stress and trauma research shows that communication climates that don’t make space for healthy disagreeing dialogue dealing authentically with real problems can literally make people sick, as I’ve discussed many times in this blog.
Soooo Jesus and Scholars Agree=We Need to Deal with Our Historical Issues
In other words, both these scholars and Jesus alike point out that the stuffing down of discussions around problems doesn’t actually make the problems go away—the smell will out in the end, to draw on Jesus’ whitewashed tombs metaphor. As with the problems of gangrene, you have to take it out and directly address it in order for the problem to genuinely solved.
Important to Leave Room for Dissent and Healthy Protest!
Oh, and by the way, that whole line in Jesus statements about these “teachers of the law” and religious leaders messing with the prophets? Well, the prophets represented dissenting voices.
Basically, without using the term that didn’t exist yet, Jesus in the passage I just mentioned is calling out authoritarianism and fascism—both systems of leadership that work to silence people who point out that the system is not—and has not been—perfect.
Bans of “CRT” Are Banning People Calling Unhealthy Things Out
Again, this should be sounding familiar in how the GOP has been legislating against “critical race theory,” which in its descriptive sense was designed by legal scholars to discuss the ways racism is baked into our legal systems to call out issues so we could move toward greater systemic equality.
So yeah, the pairing of the passage of Juneteenth as a federal holiday with bills seeking to make teachers uncomfortable discussing the reasons for the holiday do just that—create (or should I say continue) a situation of cordial hypocrisy in our nation surrounding the gross racial sins our nation has participated in.
Back To Biblical Times? But Wait…
And that, ironically, seems to be a sign that the white Evangelical-supported GOP is trying to bring us back to biblical times.
Unfortunately, it also puts them on the wrong side of that particular biblical equation—as the people Jesus was calling out for their bad behavior rather than those who were genuinely repenting on behalf of themselves and their forebears.
To Readers Who Already Think the GOP Is Messed Up on This and Other Issues
At any rate, if you’re a white person who has a problem with how the GOP has handled this, and didn’t vote for them, and have been feeling uncomfortable with the unease Black people are voicing around how this holiday is being handled, I’m hoping this explanation will help you contextualize this unease, and channel your stress responses into continuing to work for more justice in all areas of racial justice.
Here’s the thing: we white people who disagree with the GOP too are descendants of those who murdered not only our prophets, but those we have killed and abused and exploited—our “least of these.” (If you follow Jesus, he was pretty explicit about not hurting the least of these.)
And whoever else is really uneasy about this cordial hypocrisy, I hope this analysis pumps you up to keep working against it.
None of Us Can Do Everything (and That’s Okay)
Of course, none of us can do everything (as anyone who’s ever tried to school their narcissistic and racist uncle at Thanksgiving knows). It’s a messy situation, and yeah, none of us individually is fully to blame for this big systemic issues we have around us and baked into our communication.
It’s a big mess. And none of us individually can do everything to fix the problem. Nor did we create the situation. And yet we all need to do whatever we can to clean up the continuing rot and gangrene left behind by that legacy and try to make a better world for future generations.
But We Can All Do What We Can
May we not grow weary of doing good, friends. If you need to rest, if you need to emotionally process, sure, let’s absolutely do that as appropriate—but please rest rather than quitting.
What We Can Do to Properly Celebrate Juneteenth: Some Thoughts
Need some ideas about what to do to create a healthier environment without cordial hypocrisy? Here are a few:
- Refuse to give up just because the problem is big. Work through your stresses about it as you’re able, and channel your feels into the ongoing work as much as you can.
- Fight for the right for there to be healthy discussions of race and unhealthy racial history in schools in whatever way you can.
- Keep communicating with your representatives, GOP, Democrat, and progressive, to encourage and persuade them to do the right things regarding the deeper issues, especially voter suppression.
- Keep raising your voices on and off social media toward racial justice, providing whatever expertise you may have to help creating healthy problem-solving dialogue as much as you’re able.
- Get involved in efforts toward the upcoming elections. They’re going to be important ones.
- Support other healthy voices speaking up on these issues, in whatever big and small ways you can.
- Support Black-owned/POC businesses however you can.
- Donate to causes that continue to fight for social justice in and out of our legal system.
Still Not Sure What You Can Do? Seek Others
Again, this is not a comprehensive list. If you still feel lost after reading it, maybe find other folks who are strategizing on these things and ask what you can do to help to remove this unhealthy dissonance–this cordial hypocrisy–from our legislation and rhetoric regarding race.
None of us needs to take on the weight of the world as we do this—but we can all do what we can. If we each do that, we can collectively make a significant difference in moving things forward.
A Final Charge
Go team #AssertiveSpirituality! Let’s continue to do what we can where we are with what we’ve got to keep working toward a healthier world for us all. We can do this thing!
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