June 21, 2022

MIDWAY THROUGH THE JOURNEY:

What Is Juneteenth to All Americans? (Tarnell Brown, June 19, 2022, AIER)

During the post-Civil War Reconstruction Era, in the wake of the Thirteenth Amendment, African-Americans were allowed to vote, own property, seek office, use public accommodations, and otherwise enjoy the privileges of fully enfranchised citizens. Unless one was an indigenous native, (and, to a large degree, a woman) this was the closest the nation had gotten to honoring the proposition that all men are created equal. Yet, when Reconstruction ended, many individual states, especially in the South, became fearful of political and economic gains made by former slaves and their kin, and passed restrictive laws such as the Jim Crow statutes that reduced Blacks to second-class citizens at best. Once again, the promise of equality to all was broken, and that is why Juneteenth matters.

It is not necessary to give here a full history of the African-American experience between June 19, 1865 and the present. Most of us know it, or enough of it to understand many of the things that still divide us. Recently, I had the privilege of reviewing an excellent book by Rachel Ferguson and Marcus Witcher, Black Liberation Through the Marketplace. One of the points they made is that the history of Blacks in America is so vastly different from that of the majority, that it is nearly impossible to fit us within the nation's political culture. I agree with that assessment, and yet we are all Americans. I have relatives still alive who tell stories of living under the glare of segregation. And while the Civil Rights Act of 1964 put an end to de jure segregation in the United States, de facto segregation remained. 

For instance, public schools were not integrated in my birth state of Florida until 1970. I was born a scant five years later. I have cousins a decade or so older who remember the first time they entered a classroom with new classmates who did not look like them. This is why Juneteenth matters. It is taken as given among classical liberal thinkers that while we may differ in talent, ability and motivation, all of us are born inherently possessed of certain natural rights which should be protected in equal measure for all. Of course I agree with this, but historically, America has not. It was only in 1967 that Loving v. Virginia afforded the right for couples of mixed races to marry without government interference. The very right to love whom one wished to was proscribed until only 55 years ago, which is eight years longer than I have been alive. This is why Juneteenth matters.

Even now, African-Americans are roughly seven times more likely to be approached by police on suspicion of crime, six times more likely to be arrested, and seven times more likely to be convicted. Some may wish to quibble bias at this, and there are certainly arguments to be had over the role of personal choice vs public policy, but that is for another time and place. What is relevant here is that the cost of this is not borne by the African-American community, as the Institute for Advancing Justice Research and Innovation estimates that the carceral state imposes an aggregate burden on taxpayers of over $1 trillion per year. Once again, this is why Juneteenth matters, and not just to me and my fellow African-Americans.

America is a promise, one that has yet to be met. As July 4 commemorates the initiation of that promise, Juneteenth commemorates the work yet to be done, reminding us all that there are still miles to go before we sleep. 

Posted by at June 21, 2022 6:53 PM

  

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