Opinion: Designating Juneteenth a Holiday Does Nothing to Address Racial Inequity

When Congress passed legislation making “Juneteenth” a federal holiday it was good news to say the least. However, no-one in their right mind should believe for a second that it means racial inequity and disparity is finished as a systemic plague in American society.

There is a school of thought known as “critical race theory” that has raised the hackles of as many conservatives as the 1619 Project has and for the same fundamental reason: they refuse to acknowledge that white privilege exists or that racism in America is as endemic in politics as it is in every aspect of society.

There are many people who are clueless about what critical race theory involves, much less why  it is crucial to creating an equitable society. Many conservatives have taken it upon themselves to define what critical race theory is to justify their opposition to it, but a noted expert on racism explained in simple terms what it is and why it is important.

Over at Slate Jason Johnson interviewed Professor Ibram X. Kendi to get his take on critical race theory. Professor Kendi is the director of the Boston University Center for Antiracist Research as well as the author of How to Be an Antiracist.

In the interview  Professor Kendi clarified what “critical race theory” entails and for the purpose of this piece why it is so controversial among a certain demographic in America. Professor Kendi said:

Critical race theory emerged among lawyers and legal scholars who recognized that despite being in this post–civil rights America, racial inequity and disparity still existed and persisted. For them and for critical race theorists, the aim was to examine those structures, those laws, those policies, so that we can uncover the structures of racism.”

Of course conservatives do not want the structures of racism studied or revealed because doing so will expose the Republican movement in general, and its base of support specifically, as steeped in racism. It doesn’t mean all Republicans or conservatives are racists, but the movement’s policies definitely are founded in racism.

It is noteworthy that according to Dr. Kendi there is a difference between racism and being a racist. He said:

It’ important to understand racism as structural, as systemic, as institutional, but the term racist is a term of individuality.”

What that means is a person, like a dyed-in-the-wool white Republican, can claim they are not a racist and maybe they aren’t. But they still perpetuate racism as a matter of political survival, for political expediency and to burnish their bona fides with their racist base – such as passing anti-protest laws aimed at Black Lives Matter supporters..

What bothers most conservatives, and particularly the racist white people, is the simple fact that critical race theory exposes how much “racial inequity and disparity” exists today and how they are perpetuating it. Republicans, in particular, are institutionalizing that disparity by passing legislation restricting people of color’s ability to vote.

That is the opinion, and a natural fact for that matter, of the lead author of the “1619 Project.”  Nikole Hannah-Jones is the African American journalist who is one of developers of the 1619 Project – “a journalistic examination of slavery’s role in shaping the American present.”

Ms. Hannah-Jones noted just last week during an interview with MSNBC host Joy Reid that “opposition to critical race theory is dangerous.” She said:

Although the anti-critical race theory laws that have been passed in some states may appear very silly, the United States is in a dangerous period right now. Laws opposing critical race theory and the 1619 Project allow people to accept civil rights being taken away, which correlates with states introducing voter suppression laws.”

But it correlates with more than just racist Republicans enacting voter suppression laws. It goes hand in hand with conservatives and many evangelical groups justifying white police officers and private citizens taking it upon themselves to execute unarmed African Americans as if they are escaped slaves prior to the “official” end of slavery that Juneteenth recognizes.

Of course recognizing Juneteenth as a federal holiday was long overdue, but one can’t help but think that Republicans who supported the designation believe it is enough to pacify African Americans who are the targets and victims of America’s “systemic, structural, and institutionalized racism.”

If that is their belief, they are sadly mistaken because designating the end of slavery with a federal holiday will not stop white supremacists and seemingly normal white Americans who will never give up their white privilege without a fight. If that was possible, there would be no controversy or pushback against critical race theory or The 1619 Project. The fact that there is any pushback at all proves the point that America is and has been plagued with “systemic, structural and institutionalized racism” and it will likely continue unabated long into the future.