Celebrating Juneteenth amid racial inequality

On Juneteenth, June 19, we celebrate and reflect on Union Army General Gordon Granger’s order to end enslavement in Texas, marking the end of slavery in the U.S. Although President Lincoln, in his Emancipation Proclamation, ordered slavery illegal in all confederate states two and a half years earlier, it took enforcement by union troops to reach most of the country. As one of the most remote slave states, Texas was the last wave of enforcement. Now over 150 years later, 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. Both the trial of Derek Chauvin and the presidential visit to Tulsa have been celebrated as a mark of a turning tide in popular American public opinion, yet there is still little evidence of meaningful systemic reforms. A year after the murder of George Floyd, there still has not been successful passage of the George Floyd Criminal Justice in Policing Act of 2020 and the few remaining survivors of the Tulsa massacre have yet to receive reparations from federal, state or local governments.

President Biden at his Tulsa speech did recognize that addressing the racial wealth divide was essential in bridging racial inequality. He outlined commitments to build Black wealth by removing discrimination in home equity appraisals and increasing funding for socially disadvantaged buisnesses, yet there has not been analysis as to what impact we expect out of these reforms in increasing Black wealth.  Eliminating racial discrimination in housing assessments is important but will do little to address the homeownership divide. In 2018, Black homeownership was at 42% compared to 73% White homeownership. An emphasis on increasing the national homeownership rate through mortgage products that require little to no down-payment would have a stronger outcome as most Black households are liquid asset poor. It also doesn’t tackle the lack of affordable housing stock. Bold proposals like the 21st Century Homestead Act, that focuses on revitalizing large clusters of abandoned properties in cities where hyper-vacancies exist, is an important part of addressing racial economic inequality.  

Biden’s proposal to increase procurement dollars to socially disadvantaged businesses by $100 billion in 5 years is a substantive increase that should be recognized, but it is not clear how much of that $20 billion a year will make its way to African American businesses. Considering about 95% of Black businesses have no employees, procurement dollars are likely to affect a small share of Black businesses. Universal healthcare and maintaining unemployment insurance for entrepreneurs are the type of resources that can allow for more Americans to pursue the entrepreneurial vision in addition to procurement dollars that reach Black businesses. Targeting the employment rate and underemployment rates that have consistently been double for Blacks compared to Whites is equally important to wealth-building as entrepreneurship.

As history shows, words were not enough to end slavery in Texas, it took a massive expenditure of national resources (federal troops) to end the enslavement of Black people. History also shows that without 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. Similar to then,  today’s struggle for Black wealth equality has an equally important battleground on the state level as there is a huge division among states and their stance on racial injustices. 

A year since the nation’s “racial reckoning,” following the death of George Floyd and 100 years since the massacre in Tulsa, the 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 is maintained through racial economic inequality. Celebrating Juneteenth as a promise of freedom is not adequate to move us forward in racial reconciliation. Celebrating Juneteenth must encompass sustained action and investment to repair the inequality that even a general and his troops 150 years ago was not able to deliver.

Sabrina Terry is NCRC’s Chief of Programs and Strategic Development

Dedrick Asante-Muhammad is NCRC’s Chief of Membership, Policy and Equity

This piece was originally published by insidesources.com

Photo by Clay Banks on Unsplash.

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