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Happy Juneteenth: RaceAhead

Ellen McGirt

I was well into adulthood before I realized that they’d “freed the slaves” but never told most of them.

President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation on September 22, 1862, but it wasn’t until June 19, 1865 that General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, and officially freed America’s last enslaved people.

There is no official explanation for why it took so long for the “good news” to spread.

Now, June 19th has become Juneteenth, an official holiday only in Texas and Oklahoma, but has aspirations to be so much more. I hope you take some time to celebrate.

So, I feel some kind of way that on this most complicated and poignant holiday, the House Judiciary Committee held a hearing on the subject of reparations for black Americans. It’s hard not to see this as a moment. It’s the first serious discussion of the subject in more than a decade, a nod to the growing drumbeat of talking points from the current presidential candidates, and their increasing willingness to coherently address poverty, white supremacy, and the persistent racial discrepancies in health and wealth in public forums.

“Black voters are really hungry for candidates who will put forward concrete plans for [all] these issues,” Akunna Cook, a founding director of the Black Economic Alliance, told Reuters after a forum with four of the Democratic hopefuls last weekend. “We wanted to make sure we were able to help mold and shape the conversation.”

The history is inescapable. Writing in The Atlantic, Vann R. Newkirk II does a beautiful job breaking down the importance of today, even if it doesn’t go well:

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Ta-Nehisi Coates, author of longform masterpiece “The Case for Reparations,” is having a moment, too. He testified today, along with actor and activist Danny Glover, and a host of other experts.

Here’s the opener to Coates’s original treatise, which said it all before he took his seat: “Two hundred fifty years of slavery. Ninety years of Jim Crow. Sixty years of separate but equal. Thirty-five years of racist housing policy. Until we reckon with our compounding moral debts, America will never be whole.”

You can read his entire testimony here.

That said, this holiday will be a bumpy ride for justice fans. Reparations-talk brings out the worst in some people, and the ignorant in others. For others, like Senator Mitch McConnell, it just brings out the McConnell.

“I don’t think reparations for something that happened 150 years ago for whom none us currently living are responsible is a good idea,” he said yesterday. And then, after some yadda yadda, he crossed it off the list entirely with this: After all, “We elected an African-American president.”

We did indeed.

The Committee’s stated goal is to “examine, through open and constructive discourse, the legacy of the Trans-Atlantic Slave Trade, its continuing impact on the community, and the path to restorative justice.” It sounds like the history lesson we all need and deserve. May the conversation continue.

I look back on those lost years of not knowing about Juneteenth with an acid-tinged embarrassment; as if by missing the fine print of history I became complicit in the continued betrayal.

I hope I’ve made up for lost time.

Happy Freedom Day. I am grateful for all of you.

  • On Point

    Felicia Mayo, Tesla’s vice president of HR and head of diversity, has left the building I’ll skip the “bye, Felicia” jokes for this one; it’s tough to lose an executive of this caliber, and one of the few black women who have risen the ranks in Silicon Valley. This is a latest in a fairly long line of executive departures at the company, including Tesla’s chief people officer,general counsel, and chief financial officer. Mayo told the crowd at Fortune’s Most Powerful Women Summit last December that she met with founder Elon Musk every week to talk about their diversity initiatives. “We want to make sure we allow diverse individuals to come into Tesla. That is our focus, regardless if you are female, African-American, Hispanic, Latina,” Mayo said. “We want everyone to come and be a part of our mission.” CNBC

    California governor apologizes for the state’s ‘dark history’ of violence against indigenous people Gov. Gavin Newsom formally apologized to California’s Native Americans via executive order yesterday, for their troubled history of slaughter, family separations, and forced labor. “We can never undo the wrongs inflicted on the peoples who have lived on this land that we now call California since time immemorial, but we can work together to build bridges, tell the truth about our past, and begin to heal deep wounds,” the statement said. His office also announced a new commission called the Truth and Healing Council. During the 1850s, California’s governors carried out a well-funded campaign of forced removals, murder, and enslavement, carried out by the military. Sacramento Bee

    A new program from Mastercard aims to make it easier for transgender and non-binary people to get credit cards in their proper names The new program is called the “True Name” card, which will offer a product that will let people use their true names, not deadnames, on their credit, debit, or prepaid cards without requiring a legal name change. It can be painful if the name on your financial cards don’t reflect your identity. “[F]or the transgender and non-binary communities in particular, the card in their pocket can serve as a source of sensitivity, misrepresenting their true identity when shopping and going about daily life,” the company said in a release. Some 32% of individuals who have IDs that don’t match their identities report some sort of harassement, surveys find. Click through for a helpful video and kind words from Mastercard’s CDIO Randall Tucker. “Our vision is that every card should be for everyone.” Mastercard

    Joy Harjo becomes the first Native American U.S. Poet Laureate The Muskogee Creek Nation member is a poet, writer, and musician succeeds Tracy K. Smith as the country’s 23rd Poet Laureate Consultant in Poetry, and the first Native American in the position. She’s also the first Oklahoman. “It’s such an honoring for Native people in this country, when we’ve been so disappeared and disregarded,” Harjo tells NPR. “And yet we’re the root cultures, over 500-something tribes and I don’t know how many at first contact. But it’s quite an honor … I bear that honor on behalf of the people and my ancestors. So that’s really exciting for me.” In her memoir, she described how her art reclaimed her spirit after a life with an abusive stepfather and teen parenthood. “It was the spirit of poetry who reached out and found me as I stood there at the doorway between panic and love.” NPR

  • On Background

    U.S. real estate has ‘enriched whites at the expense of blacks’ “Black Americans experience a completely different kind of finance, one that turns the dream of homeownership into a poverty trap,” says this Bloomberg op-ed of the systemic exploitation of African Americans families that has persisted in U.S. real estate. In 1960, for instance, when the government excluded black families from subsidized mortgages, they often had to find other forms of payment like “contract for deed transactions” which, riddled with high interest rates and other unfair advantages for the arrangement issuer, made it increasingly difficult for these families to justly obtain home ownership. The exploitation has continued since, and in a country where owning a home is a major indicator of wealth, it’s a large reason as to why black families are generally less wealthy than white families. An example: In 2016, the average black family’s net worth was 15.5% of that of a white family, and that’s a gap that’s long persisted. Bloomberg

    Online black beauty stars discuss why it’s more than ‘just hair’ Wired spoke with black beauty vloggers who paved the way for the internet’s #naturalhair movement and not only challenged beauty standards but also highlighted the diversity in black hair—and the many ways to create more personalized hair care routines. Whitney White, who now has over one million followers on YouTube, used her channel to chronicle her own natural hair journey. When she started in 2009, White says, “No one was talking about going natural.” But early influencers “changed the landscape,” said Francheska Medina, one of the first of the natural hair Youtube personalities. As black beauty vloggers gained more followers, a market around natural hair products emerged as U.S. businesses, who largely ignored the beauty needs of African American women, finally took notice. Wired

    Chennai runs out of water as the city scrambles to find alternative supplies It’s an emergency long in the making. Chennai residents are lining up to get water from government tanks as the city—the sixth largest in India—grapples with the fact that its four reservoirs have dried up. With residents now completely reliant on the city’s water department, the government has also resorted to delivering supplies directly to the neighborhoods, where heightened tensions have led to fights among residents. The city’s water shortage is mainly due to the “dry reservoirs and low groundwater levels,” reports BBC, and efforts to find water supply alternatives have been difficult. “Only rain can save Chennai from this situation,” an official was reported saying. BBC

    Tamara El-Waylly helps produce raceAhead and assisted in the preparation of today’s summaries.

  • Quote

    The Southern institution of racial segregation or racial separation was the correct, self-evident truth which arose from the chaos and confusion of the Reconstruction period. Separation promotes racial harmony. It permits each race to follow its own pursuits, and its own civilization. Segregation is not discrimination… Mr. President, it is the law of nature, it is the law of God, that every race has both the right and the duty to perpetuate itself. All free men have the right to associate exclusively with members of their own race, free from governmental interference, if they so desire. —James Eastland