Two weeks ago Congress named Juneteeth a federal holiday. The holiday commemorates the day the last enslaved Black people in Galveston, TX were notified they were free via the authority of the newly signed Emancipation Proclamation. The prospect of citizenship was a godsend after almost 4 centuries of bondage. However, freedom came with several systematic obstacles that barred Black people from any social mobility. Black people were still enslaved 2 months post Civil War. This presents ample evidence that the tendrils of racism were tightly gripped on the American way of life.
Nonetheless, the holiday is one of celebration. Black people gather and commit to merrymaking in the spirit of Black liberation. Recognizing it as a national holiday is long overdue yet comes at a time where many question the ulterior motive of the decision. Last year, the Black Lives Matter movement gained worldwide attention post the state-sanctioned murders of Black people. Throughout the country, acts of solidarity were enacted by local governments and national organizations. NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell even publicly apologized to former pro athlete Colin Kaepernick for antagonizing his peaceful protests in 2016. Netflix added a Black Lives Matter collection to their programs showcasing classic Black films and TV shows. The heightened BLM movement was attracting major public attention, yet the rate of oppression against Black people surged on.
Scratch Your Back, Stab Ours
Last year, chants of “Defund the Police” rang throughout the nation. It was apparent that stripping the police state of its financial power is the only way to dismantle it. In addition, the topic of reparations was a major one. I can’t think of a single time I watched the news and one of these two things was not being discussed. Both were major points of interest during the 2020 Presidential elections. Generally, all the Democratic candidates supported the idea of reparations. However, no candidate, besides Marianne Williamson, showcased a desire to make it a top priority. According to the Pew Research Center, this is alarming considering that 84% of registered Black voters affiliate themselves with the Democratic party.
The efforts of Black voters helped the Democrats win the 2020 Presidential election. Major Red states voted Blue by the mobilization of Black leaders to increase voter turnout and registration. I already expressed my personal feelings surrounding voting. Nonetheless, Black people had elected a candidate that they believed they could hold accountable for accomplishing their goals. In the first 100 days of his presidency, Biden signed several pieces of legislation concerning the ongoing pandemic, climate change, anti-Asian rhetoric, relations with the Middle East, and financial stimulus packages. This left many Black voters wondering when their needs were to be recognized by Congress. Instead of legitimately seeking change, it seemed the Democrats sought to use Black voters as a tool to advance their own political influence.
Congress: The Musical
Nancy Pelosi and congressional Democrats kneeling in kente cloth intended to show solidarity with the Black community last summer. The photo op accompanied the signing of the Justice in Policing Act. Like many others before, the act does little to strip power away from police officers in cases of abuse. The bill establishes the following precedents:
1) establish a national standard for the operation of police departments,
2) mandate data collection on police encounters,
3) reprogram existing funds to invest in transformative community-based policing programs,
4) streamline federal law to prosecute excessive force and establish independent prosecutors for police investigations.
In other words, the bill does not enact any real change to the system of policing. It actually grants more power to police officers. Chants to defund the police rang through the streets of DC, yet lawmakers ignored these cries. Murals and passive bills were the government’s response.
The government has a pattern of wholly ignoring the demands of Black people and gaslighting their plight through legislation. For 4 centuries, both Democrats and Republicans have fooled Black people into thinking that every election is an opportunity for more representation. Policies like affirmative action have given the US government a false sense of progress in eradicating systematic racism. At the same time, these policies allow for the notion that racism has already been eradicated. Critics of the BLM movement argue that legislation has already done enough to bridge the racial divide with public assistance programs and instituting Black History Month.
However, there has never been legislation that specifically seeks to uplift Black people. Unlike other minorities, Black people have received little to no aid in gaining social mobility. Instead, we receive bread and circuses.
Rent Is Overdue
Juneteenth 2020 occurred during a pandemic and protests over police brutality. Terms like “Black Lives Matter”, “systematic racism”, and “protests near me” were among the highest Google searches last year. Activists called for swift action by their local legislature. However, the opposite happened. Legislators never fully address racial tensions. Currently, there is a nationwide attack on teaching critical race theory in K-12 classrooms.
According to the Pew Research Center, about 59% of white Republicans do not believe that the legacy of slavery affects Black people today. Juneteenth is an important holiday to the Black community. However, can we truly celebrate if the impact of enslavement is actively ignored by our government? How can we say we are making progress just because of a new holiday if America still has trouble merely acknowledging how racism is interwoven in our society? If Congress can spend time and tax dollars officiating a holiday, I personally believe that it can also push for a massive overhaul of its oppressive systems.