Juneteenth and Psychological Liberation

three fists symbol for juneteenth

What is Juneteenth?

June 19th, more commonly known as Juneteenth, is the day in 1865 when the last enslaved peoples in Galveston, Texas, finally got the news that they were actually free, from physical bondage, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation.

A celebration of our culture and history, Juneteenth is more than just a Federal Holiday; it’s a day of recognition for the resilience and resistance of our ancestors who fought for their freedom and dignity. It serves as a reminder of the unfinished work of racial justice and equality that we still face today.

As a depth psychotherapist, my work is rooted in the exploration of the human psyche – an odyssey into the inner world of dreams, emotions, memories, and unconscious elements that shape our lives. Today, I wish to explore a significant moment in American history, Juneteenth, through the lens of Africanist depth psychology.

Juneteenth is recognized as a celebration of African American freedom and achievement, but it also represents a much deeper psychological journey – from captivity to liberation, from unconsciousness to conscious awareness and must serve as a reminder of healing the racial and psychological legacy of slavery. 

Understanding Juneteenth from a Psychoanalytical Perspective

It is crucial to reflect on the concept of liberation, an essential theme in Juneteenth. From an Africanist perspective, liberation isn’t merely a socio-political construct but also a mental and psychological process. It involves breaking free from racialized themes of inferiority, internalized negative self-concepts, unconscious self-oppression, and repressed trauma that we may have inherited from our ancestors or absorbed from our environment.

Similarly, the delay between the Emancipation Proclamation and its knowledge reaching the last enslaved individuals can be seen as a metaphor for the process of depth psychological therapy itself. Just as the Proclamation represents the enactment of freedom, a therapeutic insight or breakthrough may create a path towards mental, psychological and financial liberation. Yet, the actualization of this newfound freedom – the ‘Galveston moment,’ if you will – often requires time. Knowledge and understanding must permeate the layers of our psyche, bringing light to the deepest, shadowy parts of ourselves.

The Shared Journey to Liberation

Another dimension of Juneteenth worth exploring is the aspect of shared liberation. The celebration is not merely an individual experience, rather, it is a collective one, rooted in community and shared cultural identity. Likewise, depth psychotherapy is often focused on individual inner work, it also acknowledges the impact of relationships, community, and culture on our mental and emotional wellbeing. As descendants of former enslaved peoples in America, healing ourselves, contribute to the healing of our families, communities, and societies.

Acknowledging the Trauma, Celebrating the Resilience

Juneteenth encourages us to confront historical trauma while celebrating resilience, a key concept in depth psychotherapy. Recognition and acknowledgment of trauma, whether it be on an individual, cultural or societal level, is the first step towards healing. Embracing Juneteenth prompts us to acknowledge the traumatic history of slavery, its psychological and financial legacy, its long-lasting impacts on the African American community, and the resilience that emerged from it.

It’s important to remember that Juneteenth offers more than a commemoration of an historical event. It represents a profound psychological journey towards financial and psychological liberation, a journey that involves acknowledging our past, healing trauma, celebrating resilience, and moving towards a future built on conscious awareness, inclusivity, and empathy. It reminds us that while freedom can be legislated, the journey towards true liberation is personal, yet profoundly interconnected, and often unfolds in the depths of the human psyche.

Let’s embrace Juneteenth as a symbol of this enduring human journey towards freedom and as a reminder of the shared responsibility we have in creating a more conscious and liberated world as Africanist people.