National Perspective: Words Are Not Enough to Achieve Racial Justice

Although President Abraham Lincoln, in his Emancipation Proclamation, had banned slavery in all Confederate states two and a half years earlier, it took the application of Union troops to uproot the practice. As one of the most remote slave states at the time, Texas was in the last wave of law enforcement.

Today, over 150 years later, Juneteenth reminds us to critique the way progress is measured.

This summer alone we had two national racial injustice commemorations: the anniversary of the murder of George Floyd and the centenary of the Tulsa massacre. Floyd’s murderer, police officer Derek Chauvin, was convicted this year. And this spring, President Joe Biden became the first president to visit Tulsa and commemorate the massacre.

Both events were celebrated as turning points in popular American public opinion towards racial justice, but there is still little evidence of a lack of meaningful systemic reforms. A year after Floyd’s murder, Congress still has not passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act. And the few remaining survivors of the Tulsa massacre have yet to receive reparations from their federal, state or local governments.

In his Tulsa speech, Biden acknowledged that tackling the racial wealth divide is key to bridging racial inequalities. He described commitments to build black wealth by removing discrimination in housing equity assessments and increasing funding for socially disadvantaged businesses. These measures are welcome but hardly sufficient.

Eliminating racial discrimination in housing reviews is important, but it won’t do much to bridge the gap between home ownership. In 2018, only 42% of black households owned their homes, compared to 73% of white households, according to our National Community Reinvestment Coalition. In fact, increasing homeownership – for black families and all low-income households – will require mortgage products that require little or no down payment, since most black households are poor in liquid assets. .

Biden’s proposal also fails to address the lack of affordable housing stock. Bold proposals like the 21st Century Homestead Act, which focuses on revitalizing large clusters of abandoned properties as affordable housing, could have a huge impact.

Biden also offered to spend $ 100 billion on minority-owned businesses over five years. That’s a substantial and welcome increase, but it’s unclear how much of that $ 20 billion a year would go to African American businesses. Considering that about 95% of black businesses have no employees, procurement dollars are likely to affect a small portion of them.

If you’re talking about supporting black entrepreneurs, two things would make a huge difference: universal health care and UI for business owners. These would enable more Americans of all races to pursue the entrepreneurial vision without risking their lives or livelihoods.

Meanwhile, black Americans have consistently seen unemployment and underemployment rates double that of white Americans. Closing this gap – through strong employment and anti-discrimination programs, for example – is just as important to wealth creation as entrepreneurship.

As history shows, words were not enough to end slavery. It took a massive expenditure of national resources – in the form of federal troops – to end black slavery.

History also shows that without a sustained deployment of federal resources, the promise of freedom and opportunity for blacks was quickly dashed against the rocks of racially concentrated power and wealth, leaving African Americans vulnerable in a society. of racial segregation. Today, as then, there is a huge divide between states when it comes to racial justice.

In short, substantive equality requires a sustained federal response.

A year since the nation’s “racial calculation” after the death of George Floyd, and 100 years since the Tulsa Massacre, our nation still has not even promised the kind of reparation – let alone the investment needed – to make up for it. the centuries – old racial inequality that is maintained by economic inequality.

But that doesn’t mean we can’t.

Every time we celebrate June 19, the promise of freedom alone is not enough to move us forward. Instead, we need sustained action and investment to right the inequality that even a general and his troops 150 years ago were unable to bridge.

Sabrina Terry is Head of Programs and Strategic Development at the National Community Reinvestment Coalition in Washington, DC Dedrick Asante-Muhammad is Head of Coalition Membership, Policy and Equity and Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.

RELATED/The Minnesota DFL Perspective: “Much to Celebrate”, “Much Work to Come”

“On… June 19, 1865, some of the last slaves in the United States learned that they were free. Juneteenth was the end of the beginning of one of the most important undertakings in our nation’s history: the continued work of bringing full equality and dignity to African Americans.

“Working to achieve that equality is especially important here in Minnesota, where we have some of the worst racial disparities in the country that are an unacceptable barrier for so many black people in Minnesota. We cannot tolerate the current Tale of Two Minnesotas which makes our state one of the best in the country if you are white and one of the worst if you are black.

“As we celebrate the tremendous strides our nation has made towards racial equality, the end of the original sin of slavery that was present during the founding of our nation, and the resilience of black Americans, I ask my compatriots of Minnesota to join me in redoubling our commitment to building a more perfect union for all. We have a lot to celebrate, but we have just as much work ahead of us to achieve our goal of a state and a nation where all are equal. “

– DFL Party Chairman Ken Martin in a statement on June 19

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