On June 19, we celebrate Union Army General Gordon Granger’s order to free those still enslaved in Texas. The holiday marks the effective end of slavery in the United States.
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 criticize the way progress is measured.
Just last month 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 meaningful systemic reforms. A year after Floyd’s murder, Congress still has not passed the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act of 2020. And the few remaining survivors of the Tulsa Massacre have yet to receive reparations from their federal, state or government governments. local.
In his Tulsa speech, Biden acknowledged that tackling the racial wealth divide is critical to bridging racial inequalities. He underscored commitments to building black wealth by removing discrimination in home equity assessments and increasing funding for socially disadvantaged businesses.
These measures are welcome but hardly sufficient.
Eliminating racial discrimination in home reviews is important, but it won’t do much to close the ownership gap. In 2018, only 42% of black households owned their homes, compared to 73% of white households. In fact, increasing homeownership – for black families and all low-income households – will require mortgage products that require little or no down payment, as most black households are cash poor.
Biden’s proposal also does not 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 here.
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 will 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. And 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.
As we celebrate June 19 this year, the promise of freedom alone is not enough to move us forward. Instead, we must celebrate it every year with sustained actions and investments 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. Dedrick Asante-Muhammad is the Head of Membership, Policy and Equity at NCRC and Associate Fellow of the Institute for Policy Studies.