Juneteenth is the anniversary of when, on June 19, 1865, news of the Emancipation Proclamation reached the Black community in Texas, where Blacks were still enslaved. This, sadly, was 900 days after Abraham Lincoln signed this legislation ending slavery in America. Word didn’t travel as fast back in those days.
I wish that the end of legal slavery, which began in America in 1619, would have meant the end of racism in our country. Black Americans played prominent roles in the Reconstruction that occurred across the South in the years that followed the Civil War. Many were elected to public office.
However, white people, fearing loss of their power, prestige, and wealth now that slavery was over, backlashed against Black progress and instituted things such as the Jim Crow laws that segregated Blacks from whites when it came to housing, property, voting, banking, education, eating in restaurants, staying in hotels, drinking out of the same water fountains, and so much more. The Ku Klux Klan also grew in numbers and power during this time, and minstrels mocking Black people, including blackface entertainment, became commonplace. This Jim Crow era, which spanned well into the 1960s, was also characterized by the lynching of Black people and the burning of Black homes, churches, and businesses.
All of this had the cumulative impact, continuing today, of robbing generations of Black families of the net financial worth enjoyed by so many white Americans.
The Civil Rights era, initiated by people such as Rosa Parks and the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., led to legislation that officially desegregated America. Sadly, racism has continued in many visible and invisible ways across the past 50-plus years, with Black people–because of racist policies and practices, not because of any deficiency as people– disproportionately more likely to be poor, under-educated, paid less than whites, imprisoned, and killed by police officers when compared to white Americans.
Black Americans have also been encouraged to try to “act white” and deny their own unique culture. This is one of the many downsides of assimilation, implying that Black people are somehow not good enough just as they are, that they need to change in order to become “acceptable.”
There’s been a “false story,” believed by so many of us, that racism was all but eliminated from America going into the 21st Century, and that the election of Barack Obama somehow solidified this. But to truly end racism, we need to attack and change discriminatory policies and laws, and not change Black people themselves. If we’ve learned anything from the election of Donald Trump, and the policies he’s enacted or encouraged that have hurt Americans of color and immigrants, it’s that racism is alive and well in 2020.
And it must end. Completely.
To do my part, I’ve been buying and reading a lot of books by Black writers. I’m educating myself on the history of racism in our country, and what racism and anti-racism truly mean. I’m donating money to organizations that fight racist policies. And I’m deepening my relationships with people of color, such as my sister-in-law and niece who live in Seattle, and with my black friends and co-workers.
It will take me a lifetime to “unlearn” all the misconceptions I’ve had about race and the history of our country; to keep it real, I’ll never finish. But I’m determined to be a strong ally to Black Americans, and to fight policies and laws that continue to discriminate against them.
This fight, along with fighting for the increased rights of women and the reversal of climate change, will characterize much of the rest of my life.
I don’t want to leave this world someday without having done all I could to make it a better place for people less privileged than I am. As a white, straight, male born in America, I’m one of the luckiest people alive—and that comes with a tremendous responsibility to help others. I’m up for it.