Celebrating Juneteenth With Bold New Ideas

Above Photo: Shutterstock

Note: Racism is an ongoing crisis in the United States. Columbus was the founder of the African Slave Trade when he was a governor in the Carribbean in 1501 and the first slave ship to arrive on US shores was in 1619, 150 years before the United States was founded. The end of slavery was followed by a period of the Black Code, a series of laws passed in the South during Reconstruction to put slavery back in place, Then came the Jim Crow era of segregation, the KKK, and lynching. It was not until the successes of the Civil Rights Movement in court decisions in the 1950s and 60s ending segregation and in the passage of Civil Rights Laws in the 60s that the Jim Crow era came to an end. But that was not the end of racism in the United States. We still see a tremendous lack of investment in black communities where people live with a militarized police presence, regular arrests, underfunded schools, lack of housing and lack of jobs.

Juneteenth is an opportunity to take stock of where we are on race issues and how far we still have to go. Mitch McConnell says reparations are not needed because racism is behind us and points to the election of Barack Obama as proof. But, electing black people to political positions does not mean an end of racist policies. Our friends at Black Agenda Report call this political class of blacks “misleaders” because too often they serve the wealth class of developers at the local level and Wall Street and big business at the national level. We still need policies to correct historic and current injustices.

Several Democratic Senators noted Juneteenth on Twitter. Sen. Cory Booker testified at Wednesday’s House hearing on reparations and introduced the first reparations bill to the Senate since Reconstruction. The bill is co-sponsored by other Democrats seeking their party’s nomination including, Sens. Kamala Harris, Elizabeth Warren, Bernie Sanders, Kirsten Gillibrand and Amy Klobuchar. We are pleased to see even this small progress on reparations, which are urgently needed. The most thorough Juneteenth statement came from Green candidate Howie Hawkins who described the history of racism in the US and its current status, then called for policies to correct these injustices. He said a new approach to the US economy is needed in order to remedy race-conscious programs that caused race-conscious injuries.

Racism is a crisis for many communities and individuals across the country that the US fails to address. We hope this is one of the issues that the 2020 election cycle focuses on and that movements build national consensus for addressing racist policies. KZ

Closing our racial wealth divide requires bold thinking, but so did ending slavery.

One day in late June, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas. They carried some historic news: Legal slavery had ended some two and a half years ago with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation. And so some of the last enslaved people left in America were freed.

The day became known as “Juneteenth,” a holiday still celebrated today in black communities across the United States.

Yet more than 150 years after slavery, black wealth still lags centuries behind white wealth. A report by the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS) found that it would take 228 years for black families to amass the amount of wealth white families already own today.

In fact, the racial wealth divide is greater today than it was decades ago, and still widening. That divide won’t close without bold, structural reform to match the structural injustices that created it — from slavery itself to Jim Crow, red lining, and mass incarceration.

A more recent IPS report offered a number of promising solutions to close this gap. Some ideas include….

1. Baby Bonds: Baby bonds are federally managed accounts that could be set up at birth for all kids and grow over time. When a child reaches adulthood, they could use these federally seeded funds for education, to buy a house, or start a business.

2. Guaranteed Employment and a Living Wage: Bridging the racial wealth means creating good jobs that pay a living wage for everyone who can work. A federal jobs guarantee would provide universal job coverage and eliminate involuntary unemployment. A much higher minimum wage would ensure all jobs actually support families.

3. Affordable Housing: Secure housing remains out of reach for millions of families, and homes are the biggest source of middle class wealth. We need big investments in public housing, rent control, and down payment assistance for first-time buyers from marginalized backgrounds to ameliorate historical injustices and address the current crisis.

4. Medicare for All: People of color accounted for more than half of the 32 million non-elderly uninsured people in 2016, putting them at serious medical and financial risk. Medicare for All would drastically reduce bankruptcies from health care, the single largest source for all Americans.

5. Postal Banking: People of color are particularly vulnerable to being unbanked, along with rural people and the elderly. The Postal Service could offer short term, low-interest loans to these populations to protect them from predatory payday lenders.

6. Higher Taxes on the Ultra-Wealthy: Significantly raising taxes on the extremely rich would reduce the corrupting influence of wealth on our politics while producing significant revenue to create opportunities for those who’ve been blocked from generating wealth.

7. Fixing the Tax Code: We spend $600 billion per year on tax subsidies that ensure the wealthy are able to become wealthier. Shifting these expenditures toward low-wealth people would have a monumental impact.

8. Reparations: A bill called HR 40, championed currently by Rep. Sheila Jackson Lee (D-TX-18), would create a commission to study the issue of reparations and grapple with what they could really look like. That’s a welcome step.

9. Better Data Collection: It’s difficult to understand the scope of the racial wealth divide without good information on the full range of racial diversity in the United States. Localized data on household assets and debt by race would provide better insight for policy making.

10. A Racial Wealth Audit: All laws and policies can have unintended consequences. So we need a framework to assess the impact of new ideas on the wealth divide.

All of these are bold ideas. But none are so bold as the news that greeted Galveston in 1865: Slavery was over. This Juneteenth, let’s keep thinking radically about how to take on this incredibly important challenge.