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June 21, 2021

Systemic racism

Juneteenth, a blend of June and 19th, commemorates the US abolition of slavery under President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation, belatedly announced by a Union army general in Galveston, Texas, on June 19, 1865.

Since the killing of George Floyd and the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement, there have also been growing calls for Black American history to be seen, discussed and honoured in its entirety. Activists not only demand the nation at large to acknowledge the legacy of slavery and the psychological, material and physical damage systemic racism still inflicts on Black Americans, but also want the country to take accountability for the systemic dispossession of Black Americans since 1619, the year the first enslaved African arrived at the Virginia colony.

Indeed, if we look at Texas, we see that Black history in the state is in no way limited to slavery. For example, Aleshia Anderson, a human resources worker who was born in Lockhart, Texas, can trace her paternal lineage back to St John’s Colony – a community built by freed slaves in the early 1870s. “It did not gain the richness of wealth like Black Wall Street, but many of us are still proud of that area,” she told me.

Black people have always been integral to the history of Texas. Not only did enslaved Blacks literally build the state – by clearing forests, harvesting crops and building houses – but they have remained a crucial part of social, political, economic and artistic life after emancipation. Despite countless obstacles faced by Black people in the US, they built, they created, they persevered, and this should be rejoiced

Today, we are at a crucial turning point in the United States. Demands for racial equality and justice are growing every day. The path to true racial justice, however, is still full of obstacles. And only by looking at and truly understanding history we can build a better future for everyone.

As Annette Gordon-Reed wrote in her book On Juneteenth, “History is about people and events in a particular setting and context, and how those things have changed over time in ways that make the past different from our own time, with an understanding that those changes were not inevitable.”

If we look at history with sobriety, leaving the prejudices engraved in us by systemic racism behind, we can clearly see the steps we need to take to achieve real equality and racial reckoning in America – reparations, restitution for the oppressed.

Juneteenth alone will not ameliorate the racial inequalities in the US. Nevertheless, this holiday provides Americans with an opportunity to look at history from the point of view of the oppressed (rather than the oppressor), celebrate Black American achievements and acknowledge Black American suffering.

Far too little has been done to redress the damage slavery and centuries of systemic racism inflicted on Black Americans. Even less has been done to exult how Black people thrived against such a brutal system.

This is why Juneteenth, a holiday celebrating emancipation, is not only important but highly necessary.

Excerpted: ‘Why we need a Juneteenth holiday’