June 19, 1865, Union soldiers arrived in Galveston, Texas. They carried
historic news: Slavery had finally and completely ended, they declared.
America’s enslaved people were now free, some two and a half years
President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
day in June would soon become “Juneteenth,” a holiday still celebrated
communities across the United States.
Americans have now been free from slavery for over 150 years. Over the
of those years, the United States has made some appreciable and even
progress. In 1964, passage of the Civil Rights Act toppled Jim Crow. A
later, the Voting Rights Act challenged discriminatory voting laws.
even seen the election — and re-election — of the nation’s first black
why, amid all this progress, does the Juneteenth holiday still resonate
powerfully for so many Americans?
Juneteenth reminds us how far we have yet to go. Racial inequality
of the top issues of our time. Black households, research
shows, continue to lag economically behind their white counterparts, in
income and wealth.
summer, the Institute for Policy Studies and the Corporation for
Development explored that inequality in a report called the The
Ever-Growing Gap, which focused on the essential
role wealth plays in
achieving financial security and opportunity.
the past 30 years, the report found, the average wealth of white
at three times the rate of growth for black families. If those trends
black families would have to work another 228 years
to amass the
amount of wealth white families already hold today.
almost as long as the 245 years that legal slavery stained colonial
the course of those years, slave labor built the backbone of America’s
— and gave white families a 245-year head start on building household
and overcoming economic insecurity.
helps us remember this history — and we need to remember.
conventional narrative around wealth building in America simply ignores
and its aftermath. Those with more than ample wealth, the narrative
merit what they have. And others merit less.
people look at the story of inequality through the lens of
get what they deserve,” writes my colleague Chuck Collins in his book Born
on Third Base.
standard narrative, he says, implies “that people are poor because they
try as hard, have made mistakes, or lack wit and wisdom.” And the rich,
same story goes, have worked “harder, smarter, or more creatively.”
“deservedness” narrative never acknowledges the discrimination and
barriers that have blocked black economic progress, or the public
have kept these barriers intact — things like housing and employment
discrimination, mass incarceration, and tax policies that favor the
over poor people of all colors.
time to take a close look at federal policies and the role they play in
the growth of black wealth stagnant.
Juneteenth, let’s rededicate ourselves to closing the racial wealth
Pierre is the Inequality Media
Specialist at the Institute for Policy Studies. This report first
appeared at OtherWords.org
and is reprinted here with permission.