(Photo: Spencer Platt/Getty Images)
Jun 17, 2021
As legislation to designate Juneteenth a federal holiday breezed through the U.S. Congress this week and was signed into law by President Joe Biden Thursday afternoon, racial justice advocates stressed the imperative for meaningful policies and actions to address systemic racism and inequality that go beyond what some called performative gestures.
"Many of the senators who voted for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday regularly vote to impede civil rights for Black Americans."
--Dr. Tarika Barrett
Several congressional lawmakers took the occasion to both welcome the new holiday and speak to the need to address what author and activist Bill Fletcher Jr. has called "America's incomplete emancipation."
Speaking on the House floor Thursday, Rep. Jamaal Bowman (D-N.Y.) expressed his "great excitement and joy" over the designation of Juneteenth--which celebrates the day in 1865 when Black people in Texas learned they were no longer slaves, two and a half years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation--as a national holiday.
"But... we must not stop here. We must continue to go forward to fight for racial justice," he said, citing "housing discrimination and segregation, lack of access to healthcare, and wealth inequality."
"We must... do much more," asserted Bowman, who supports measures--including Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, raising the federal minimum wage to $15 an hour, and the For the People Act--that progressive campaigners argue will uplift tens of millions of Americans, especially people of color adversely affected by centuries of systemic injustice and inequality.
\u201cJuneteenth's recognition as a federal holiday is one step, with a long way to our destination.\n\nWhile we rejoice, we do so with an understanding that our fight for racial justice can't be complete without voting rights, housing rights, and reconciliation with our history.\u201d— Congressman Jamaal Bowman (@Congressman Jamaal Bowman) 1623939953
"But we can't just call this a win and move on," she added. "Congress needs to act on voting rights, police violence, poverty, environmental justice, and much more to tackle systemic racism in America."
Rep. Bonnie Watson Coleman (D-N.J.) tweeted, "As we take this time to acknowledge Juneteenth, I pray that we do not [lose] track of the fact that we have so much more work to do to ensure fairness, opportunity, and equality."
\u201cIt\u2019s Juneteenth AND reparations.\n\nIt\u2019s Juneteenth AND end police violence + the War on Drugs.\n\nIt\u2019s Juneteenth AND end housing + education apartheid.\n\nIt\u2019s Juneteenth AND teach the truth about white supremacy in our country.\n\nBlack liberation in its totality must be prioritized.\u201d— Cori Bush (@Cori Bush) 1623888169
Unfit Christian founder D. Danyelle Thomas called the new holiday "yet another tokenized victory to point to in the delusion of a post-racial society."
"The Senate unanimously passing Juneteenth as a federal holiday--and the Biden [administration's] championing of the cause--while actively obstructing raising minimum wages, student debt forgiveness, and gun reform is a reminder that performative liberation/resistance won't do a damn thing," she asserted.
\u201cBoth parties making Juneteenth a national holiday but also agreeing not to cut police budgets is kinda like NFL painting \u201cEnd Racism\u201d in the end zone while banning Kaepernick & Eric Reid.\u201d— ChuckModi (@ChuckModi) 1623807461
\u201cWe\u2019re going to have big corporatized Juneteenth celebrations where discussion of ongoing structural racism is considered political & a detraction from the focus on how the white Union army freed us.\u201d— \ud83d\ude37\ud83d\udc89\ud83e\uddfc COVID, FLU, RSV WAVES UNDERWAY (@\ud83d\ude37\ud83d\udc89\ud83e\uddfc COVID, FLU, RSV WAVES UNDERWAY) 1623805512
In a syndicated opinion piece published on Thursday, National Community Reinvestment Coalition (NCRC) chief of programs and strategic development Sabrina Terry and Dedrick Asante-Muhammad, chief of membership, policy, and equity at NCRC and an associate fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies, wrote that "Juneteenth reminds us to be critical of how progress is measured."
"In the last month alone, we had two national remembrances of racial injustice: the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and the 100-year anniversary of the Tulsa Massacre," noted Terry and Asante-Muhammad. "Floyd's murderer, police officer Derek Chauvin, was found guilty this year. And this spring, President Biden became the first president to visit Tulsa and commemorate the massacre."
"Both events have been celebrated as turning points in popular American public opinion toward racial justice, yet there is still little evidence of meaningful systemic reforms," the authors wrote. "A year after Floyd's murder, Congress still hasn't passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. And the few remaining survivors of the Tulsa massacre have yet to receive reparations from their federal, state, or local governments."
\u201cIf dismantling white supremacy & ending racism was buying a new car, then a Juneteenth holiday is those weird lights underneath the car that turn on at night when you unlock the door. I mean, I\u2019ll take it but that\u2019s not what I\u2019m here for. That\u2019s not what I need.\u201d— W. Kamau Bell (@W. Kamau Bell) 1623881639
Terry and Asante-Muhammad continued:
A year since the nation's 'racial reckoning' following the death of George Floyd, and 100 years since the massacre in Tulsa, our nation has still failed to even promise the type of repair--much less deliver the investments necessary--to bridge the centuries-old racial inequality that's maintained through economic inequality. But that doesn't mean we can't.
As we celebrate Juneteenth this year, the promise of freedom alone isn't enough to move us forward. Instead, we need to celebrate it every year with sustained action and investment to repair the inequality that even a general and his troops 150 years ago were not able to deliver.
"History... shows that without a sustained deployment of federal resources, the promise of Black freedom and opportunity were quickly dashed against the rocks of racially concentrated power and wealth, leaving African Americans vulnerable in a racially segregated society," they added. "And today, like then, there's huge division among states when it comes to racial justice."
\u201cAfter all, many of the senators who voted for #Juneteenth to become a federal holiday regularly vote to impede civil rights for Black Americans.\n\nMeanwhile, state legislatures across the U.S. are actively passing bills to prevent critical race theory from being taught in schools.\u201d— Dr. Tarika Barrett (@Dr. Tarika Barrett) 1623861286
Indeed, observers noted the irony of Juneteenth becoming a federal holiday at the same time that numerous states including Texas and Oklahoma are banning or whitewashing the teaching of the history behind events like Juneteenth and the Tulsa Massacre.
"Imagine making Juneteenth a federal holiday when laws are being enacted all over the country that will prevent people from being taught why it's a holiday," tweeted Monique Judge, news editor at The Root.
\u201cTexas is suppressing voting rights and teaching truths about racism and history while Juneteenth becomes a holiday.\n\nIt's the whiplash for me. \n\nTo be black in Texas = stuck between federal bread + circuses on one side - and the suppression of black political power on the other.\u201d— Karen Attiah ON MASTODON @email@example.com (@Karen Attiah ON MASTODON @firstname.lastname@example.org) 1623851902
Screenwriter Kashana Cauley quipped, "This'll be fun to teach in the anti-critical race theory states: 'So we're all getting this day off because absolutely no one did anything wrong.'"
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