On June 19th, 1865, Galveston, Texas erupted in joy when news of emancipation finally arrived more than two years after Abraham Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation. That day is known as Juneteenth: the annual and oldest known celebration commemorating the end of slavery in the United States.
Juneteenth is a chance to tell the resilient, persistent, bold and beautiful story of African Americans. How even in the face of oppression, Black Americans throughout our history have never stopped imagining and fighting for a better tomorrow. Not just for themselves, but for our entire nation.
But Juneteenth isn’t just about celebration. It’s a necessary reminder that 155 years later, Black Americans still feel the weight of government-sponsored racism and discrimination devaluing their lives and livelihoods.
Over the last few weeks, people have poured into the streets here in America and around the world to protest police violence against Black lives.
People are pouring into the streets because racist violence and white supremacy are still being used as tools of oppression to devalue and destroy Black lives. The tools of oppression come in all shapes and sizes, but today, on Juneteenth, I want to name three we must destroy.
The first tool is violence against Black lives.
We need real accountability for anyone — including law enforcement officers — responsible for the unjustified killings of countless Black Americans, and for any excessive use of force during peaceful protests.
We need to rethink our approach to public safety to focus less on locking people up and more on community investments to lift people up.
And we need to vote out a president who glorifies violence. He told us who he was, and now he’s showing us who he is.
The next tool of oppression is voter suppression.
Racist politicians have used racist voter suppression laws to steal votes from people of color for generations. Partisan gerrymandering allows politicians to pick their voters instead of the other way around. Enough.
We need a constitutional amendment guaranteeing every United States citizen the right to vote and have that vote counted. We need to restore the Voting Rights Act, overturn every racist voter suppression law, and end partisan gerrymandering.
Another tool of oppression is economic inequality rooted in generations of deliberate discrimination and racism.
To ensure Black Americans have the opportunity to build wealth and build a future, we need to confront the racial wealth gap head on. And yes, that means providing assistance to first-time homebuyers who live in formerly redlined neighborhoods. But it also means cancelling student loan debt, funding Historically Black Colleges and Universities, investing in small businesses and giving Black entrepreneurs the resources they need.
And there is so much more we need to do to root out racial injustice in our health care system, our educational system, our housing policies, in the workplace, and in every part of our society.
I have not personally experienced and can never truly understand the fear, the oppression, and the pain that confronts Black Americans. But none of us can ignore what is happening in this country.
I understand the responsibility that I and others have as white Americans to come together with all justice-loving people and ask what we are doing to dismantle a system that has too often undervalued Black life. We cannot just be allies. We must be anti-racists.
So today on Juneteenth, and every day, let us recommit ourselves to defending the unshakeable truth that Black people matter, Black families matter, Black lives matter.
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