A Proclamation on Juneteenth - 2022


Protestors march during the March on Washington - August 28th, 1963

Seven score and seventeen years ago, our Union’s army, after defeating the Confederate rebels, arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas, and proclaimed freedom for the enslaved people of the state. The order came as a shot of relief to 250,000 slaves, who had languished in the deepest valleys of involuntary servitude. It came, like Martin Luther King said of the Emancipation Proclamation, “as a joyous daybreak to end the long night of their captivity.”

Yet, 157 years later, that joyous daybreak has broken back to a long night – lighter, yet still almost pitch black. The optimism for growth in a country so ravaged by slavery seemed to vanish once the enforcement of Reconstruction ceased, once the Ku Klux Klan began to terrorize America’s citizens of color, and once the blatantly unconstitutional (and still not entirely realized to be so) and unequal laws of segregation swept the South. 

The day broke again for a short time in the 1950s and 1960s as the civil rights movement protested and ultimately defeated the mental subjugation and physical hindrances of Jim Crow. Yet, even that daybreak faded as the Promised Land dreamt of in the civil rights movement was again met with the fierce brutality of racism; as MLK himself, the night after telling his people, “I am happy tonight – I am not worried about anything, I am not fearing any man! Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord!” was murdered outside his hotel by a racist white man; as his death seemed to strangle the civil rights movement, making less imminent the further changes he wished for America: decreasing military spending, reconstructing the American economy, expanding the social safety net, eliminating housing discrimination and its effects, and focusing on global humanitarian efforts over war efforts (like the Vietnam War effort).

Since then, the night has returned and remained, again lighter yet still immorally dark. We have had our moments of what appeared to be sunrise – the changes following the murder of George Floyd, for example – but many of the improvements have been largely tokens, following that same tokenism plaguing the civil rights movement of the 1950s and early 1960s. 

Our businesses and governments have embraced a few basic notions of the movement following George Floyd’s death – Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, and many businesses and government buildings now fly the Juneteenth and Black Lives Matter flags on their properties. Some businesses have pledged to donate to organizations fighting systemic racism. Some racist monuments have been removed. Some racist names have been changed. A few other promises of change have been implemented: an executive order to incentivize police departments to hire officers from the communities the departments serve, and a ban on chokeholds and tear gas initiated in a couple of cities. 

But, my friends, what are these but tokens? What are these but small monuments of change, so necessary yet far too narrow? Where are the vehicles of legitimate, positive change to counter four centuries of racism in our country?

Where are the provisions aimed at repairing the effects of redlining and discriminatory mortgage practices against black Americans? 

Where are slave reparations, the long overdue attempt at repayment for one of the most brutal inhumanities America has ever committed against humankind?

Where is the commitment to a more humane response to crime and its causes? 

Where is an attempt at curbing unemployment in our most disadvantaged communities? 

Where is a legitimate response to police brutality? 

Where is a law restricting qualified immunity? 

Where is a law measured at banning chokeholds? 

Where is anti-bias training? 

Where is proper officer training?

Where even is a unified, bipartisan promise to promote democracy, the right to vote, the Constitution, and Declaration of Independence for all members of our country?

June 19th, 1865, may have ordered the end of slavery in the South, but by no means did it end the unilateral and unconstitutional separation of the races there. July 2nd, 1964, may have mandated the end of blatant discrimination in the laws, but by no means did it address implicit discrimination in those same laws. April 11th, 1968, may have eliminated most discriminatory housing practices, but by no means did it even confront the effects of unfair housing. 

And thus, after many positive moves that did not reach far enough, here so many of us are now: caught in the rubble of implicit discrimination, forced into generational poverty, segregated from more affluent suburbs, enslaved in the still constitutional slavery of incarceration, denied from entering the workforce, languished in laborious and fruitless jobs, unable to find wealth, unable to live freely, restricted even from the ballot, toiling, day after day, night after night, month after month, year after year, all while being told by an antipathetic white that their plight is their fault.

Though Juneteenth is rightfully a celebration of the triumph of freedom over enslavement, it is a reminder that the greatness of America has not been duly appropriated to the whole of its citizenry. It is also a reminder that, though significant changes have been made to curb racial inequality, the same underlying notions of racism continue to go unaddressed – most evident among them being the categorically false assertion of white supremacy. 

Even the Juneteenth celebrations of today are met with “counter-protestors” bearing Confederate flags and harassing those celebrating. Our suburban friends continue to assume the black teenager that commits a petty crime is “some thug from Milwaukee.” Our local and state activists seek to eliminate from our education the role of slavery in American history, all under the guise that they seek to “eliminate woke, CRT curricula from our schools,” which is dog-whistle for “eliminate all curricula which seek to mitigate racist thought.” Our conservative friends and siblings continue to restrict voting rights, which disproportionately and blatantly target America’s citizens of color. Even our liberal friends and siblings continue to seek compromise or tokenism, seeing the removal of monuments and the small, incremental changes, none of which seek to examine and address the root causes of systemic racism and generational poverty, as effective deterrents of racism, when they do no more to curb racism than a sheet of paper does to curb a bullet.

It is time to rid ourselves of implicit discrimination, apathy, tokenism, and gradualism. We need an upheaval not only in thought but in action. We need not only to approach systemic racism at a more fundamental level (e.g. address poverty, housing segregation, and white supremacy as a thought), but we also must consider more ambitious, more peaceful, and more civilly disobedient forms of protest than we have before. We need not only begin to reject tokenism and gradualism, but we must also embrace further the concepts of love and brotherhood – even with those who would call us their adversaries – as we protest, disobey, and struggle. We need not only voice our opposition to unconstitutional and racist voting restrictions, but we must also advocate voter registration and that our businesses close on election days. We must forever embrace nonviolent resistance and civil disobedience. 

Juneteenth tells us that we have yet to reach the Promised Land – and that we are still far away from that Land. Yet, it is also a call to action: we must either stand up, sacrifice, and struggle for the rights of the people, or America’s people of color will live forever in chains, given tokens of incremental change that read in clear, engraved text, “no cash value.”

So, I appeal to you all, my white brothers and sisters, suburban or urban, conservative or liberal, Republican or Democrat: join the struggle, give yourself to the cause, sacrifice for the people, relinquish your apathy. If you will yourself to commit to this most sacred obligation, there will be brighter days ahead: days when the greatness of America and the world will have been achieved, when the people live in harmony and in love, when the cruel shackles of racism will no longer subjugate a large minority of our people. If you embrace love, empathy and nonviolence, that day, that Promised Land, I promise you all, will come.