This past week, President Biden signed a bill into law making Juneteenth a national holiday. Although the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation officially freed all enslaved peoples in 1863, June the nineteenth marks the date, two and a half years later (in 1865), when Federal troops marched into Texas to effectively implement this order. Finally recognizing this long-held tradition at the Federal level, Biden’s administration acknowledges the fact that the fourth of July is not everybody’s day of independence in this country. Commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African Americans, Juneteenth celebrates Black Americans’ progress and commitment to continue fighting for equality and meaningful social change in the ever-flawed system we exist in today.
Official recognition of this holiday is no panacea for the structural inequities Black Americans continue to encounter. However, while celebrating this step forward, we must continue to demand reparations, demand an end to police violence, demand representative and accessible education, and continue to fight for Black liberation. Black contributions in labour, culture, innovation, and the arts, have made this country what it is today, yet Black artists continue to be overshadowed in traditional networks.
This year, in celebration of Juneteenth, Black Lives Matter (BLM) is collaborating with Nifty Gateway (one of the current largest NFT marketplaces) to host a digital art fair, highlighting the work of several Black creators. The exhibit features artists such as Oto Abasi Attah, Gianni Lee, Shanina Dionna, Julian Gillam (AKA Logik), Kennedy Yanko, and others.
The exhibit, curated by Damon Turner (founder of Trap Heals), exemplifies a growing trend in the NFT space through which digital partnerships allow influencers, or organizations, in collaboration, to harness their audience in order to maximize sales. This collaborative tactic is not unlike the collective action we see in social activism more frequently.
But why choose NFTs?
The NFT space gives Black creatives the opportunity to transcend geographical boundaries, political barriers, and produce radical art in a radical space. It is understood that the power of truth often depends upon the power of whom it is in the hands of. Many minority groups, notably Black Americans, have had their truths silenced for many decades. Yet, through collective action and political agency, minority groups have, over time, been able to work to translate truth into power. NFTs present a forum for this kind of translation — freeing artists from the constraints of governmental and/or corporate bureaucracy. In the traditional art world, power structures and inequities have solidified themselves over time. NFTs place power in the hands of the artist. Though leading social change in the decentralized space of NFTs at its infancy, BLM and other social movements may be able to play a role in shaping the future of NFT marketplaces and how they might be able to advance a shared cause.
The NFT platform, aside from its social implications and benefits for artists, holds investment appeal as well. NFTs present unique value to potential donors in terms of the unique return value, provable scarcity, indivisibility, guaranteed ownership through smart contracts, transferability, and cryptographic security. These characteristics of NFTs enable creators and consumers to engage in transactions through secure, transparent, and efficient means.
In whole, the platform complies with artists’ needs, consumers’ needs, and overall serves to bolster the cause of BLM, in its mission “to eradicate white supremacy and build local power to intervene in violence inflicted on Black communities by the state and vigilantes.” This past Juneteenth, and onwards, it is important to reflect not only upon past realities – but also on the ways in which we can pave the way for greater equality in the future. The decentralization of power propagated by the NFT space is beginning to spur change in this direction.
Marking Juneteenth as a national holiday has inspired a reclamation of Black stories, histories, and celebrations, as exemplified by this BLM X Trap Heals initiative on Nifty.
Image Source: Trap Heals by Oto-Abasi Attah
Main Featured Image By Julian Gilliam aka LOGIC