Juneteenth: A day of joy and pain – and now national action

In just about any other year, June the holiday celebrating the day in 1865 that the last enslaved black people learned they had been freed from bondage, would be marked by African American families across the nation with a cookout, a parade, a community festival, a soulful rendition of “Lift  Voice and Sing.

But in 2020, as the coronavirus ravishes black America disproportionately, as economic uncertainty wrought by the pandemic strains black pocketbooks, and as police brutality continues to devastate black families, June is a day of protest.

Red velvet cake, barbecued ribs and fruit punch are optional.

For many white Americans, recent protests over police brutality have driven their awareness of Junes significance.

“This is one of the first times since the ’60s, where the global demand, the inter generational demand, the multiracial demand is for systemic change,” said Cornell University professor Rooks, a segregation expert. “There is some understanding and acknowledgement at this point that there’s something in the DNA of the country that has to be undone.

Friday’s celebrations will be marked from coast to coast with marches and demonstrations of civil disobedience, along with expressions of black joy in spite of an especially traumatic time for the nation. And like the nationwide protests that followed the police involved deaths of black men and women in Minnesota, Kentucky and Georgia, June celebrations are likely to be remarkably more multiracial.

Still, more workers than perhaps ever in history will have the day off on Friday: Nike, the NFL, Twitter and its mobile payments services company Square, along with a handful of media outlets, have announced plans to observe June as a company holiday. On Wednesday, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo signed an executive order recognizing June as a paid holiday for state employees.

The abolition of slavery in the U.S. was followed by the birth of Jim Crow segregation, relegating many black Americans to poor, redlined neighborhoods with under resourced schools. After the passage of landmark civil rights protections in the 1960s, decades of mass incarceration policy and employment discrimination eroded opportunities and economic stability for black people and families. All along, police brutality has been a fixture of the black American experience. And now, COVID-19 is killing black people at more than three times the rate that it kills white people.

Much of the systemic racism and atrocities visited on black Americans have gone unanswered. This week, the Equal Justice Initiative, which in 2015 cataloged thousands of racial terror lynchings of black people by white mobs, added nearly 2,000 Reconstruction era lynchings confirmed between 1865 and 1876, bringing the total number of documented lynchings to nearly 6,500.

“Our continued silence about the history of racial injustice has fueled many of the current problems surrounding police violence, mass incarceration, racial inequality and the disparate impact of COVID-19,” said Bryan Stevenson, director of the Equal Justice Initiative.

“We need a new era of truth and justice in America,” he said in a statement. “We must acknowledge our long history of racial oppression and then repair the damage this history has created — including the presumption of dangerousness that gets assigned to black people by police and others.

June also comes at a time when the nation is at a political crossroads, and Black Voters Matter co founder Brown said it is shaping up to be a politically defining moment ahead of the November election.

“The devaluing of black lives is built into this American system to the point that the ideas around democracy don’t apply to us the same way that they apply to white folks,” Brown said, adding black voters are demanding change.

“So June is a celebratory event but we’re not celebrating the country. We’re celebrating our own freedom and our own ability to be liberated and the resiliency of black people.



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