Why Usher’s Juneteenth Shirt Means Everything
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Over the years Usher hasn’t been the kind of celebrity one looks to for his opinion on social justice issues or race. He’s steered clear of controversial statements throughout his career that spans over two decades. That’s why the T-shirt and jacket dismissing America’s Independence during his 4th of July headlining performance at Essence Fest is a big freaking deal.

The “Climax” singer rocked a white T-shirt with the words “4th of July” crossed out and “Juneteenth” written under it. His black leather jacket asked the question “Have We Achieved Our Independence?”

Without verbally saying a word Usher made a powerful statement with his attire. It means something when a global superstar of Usher’s caliber chooses to celebrate Blackness and Black people’s freedom opposed to the 4th of July.

Black folks have had an emotionally taxing year with the extrajudicial killings of unarmed Blacks to the Charleston massacre to churches burning in the south. In many ways it feels like Black people are reliving the dreadful America of the 1960s.

In a climate where many celebrities choose to remain silent, Usher gets it.

A friend who lives in New Orleans told me she wished every person she passed on the street on June 19 a “Happy Juneteenth.”

“People looked at me like I was crazy,” she recalled. Aside from a few woke people on social media, the historic day commemorating the end of slavery goes mostly uncelebrated. Usher chose to celebrate it in front of a massive audience of his people. He definitely woke some people up by asking if we’re truly free.

Two years after President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation enslaved people were freed when Union soldiers landed in Galveston, TX on June 19th, 1865 to announce the war had ended, hence why we celebrate Juneteenth. That was 150 years ago and by all accounts we’re still not free.

Usher has a lot to lose by making such a bold statement. He’s a megastar. He has a mainstream (read: white) fanbase too. He’s won eight Grammys and a slew of other awards. He knew his attire could alienate non-Black fans, but he wore sit anyway.

While I don’t think all celebrities need to speak on issues like the Baltimore uprisings or Eric Garner (because honestly, some don’t have the depth to intelligently do so), Usher acknowledging that he’s aware and understands and is going to rep being as Black as he wants to be, means everything.

Last night he chose to love up on Black people by essentially saying without saying, “I see us. I am with you. Let’s get free.” At least that is how I envision the statement. We needed that. And Usher will always have my support for doing it.