One year after Congress made Juneteenth a national holiday, I and so many of my Black and Brown people still yearn for true justice.
One year ago, Congress voted to mark Juneteenth—long celebrated by Black Americans as the true day of emancipation when the last group of Black people in Texas learned of their freedom—as a federal holiday. On its face, this seems like a mark of progress. But in the year since, and in the two years since companies and organizations plastered their social media accounts with statements on racial justice, has change happened?
As a Black woman living in America, I feel a growing sense that the re-uprising of the Black Lives Matter movement has fizzled out like a mere fashion trend. The sense of urgency to make a lasting change has dwindled and business is continuing as usual. No one is coming to save Black Americans.
We are tired of saying that we are tired. We inherited this tired, and we know we will pass down this tired. It’s a never-ending cycle of being tired, falling into despair, reclaiming our hope, then nothing changes. What can we really do with this tired? What can we do with our grief?
The sense of urgency to make a lasting change has dwindled and business is continuing as usual. No one is coming to save Black Americans.
I am reminded of the words of Fannie Lou Hamer who said, “I am sick and tired of being sick and tired. … Hate won’t only destroy us. It will destroy these people that’s hating as well.”
She also said: “We have to build our own power. We have to win every single political office we can, where we have a majority of Black people…”
In spite of the exhaustion, I am still committed and hold the conviction that emerged when I was in middle school: that our liberation is tied up in our ability to do it ourselves.
As a child, I didn’t understand that humans ignoring other humans’ suffering was often about racism. I didn’t know what racism was, or how to articulate this affliction and oppression on the Black body. I’ve since come to understand unconscious bias, a hidden influence on how we see things and people. When it comes to Black people in particular, its impact is horrific.
I remember the first time I reckoned with unconscious bias. Growing up in middle school in Ohio, I watched the scenes from Hurricane Katrina unfold on TV. Flooding hurt New Orleans’ most under-resourced, predominantly Black community, the Lower Ninth Ward, the worst. At a young age, I saw that nobody was coming to provide relief for my people. In New Orleans, the government delayed emergency evacuation orders. Black people huddled in appalling conditions, waiting to be rescued. When Kanye West said the president didn’t care about Black people, we yelled at the screen, “He sure don’t.” I heard journalists on mainstream networks referring to Black American citizens as “refugees.” I got on my knees and cried to God, “Please help my people, what can I do to help them, Lord.” I felt helpless, confused and defeated.
By dehumanizing my people, America numbs us to Black death, and it normalizes the concept of Black inferiority. This country cultivates a covert culture of violence against Black people, so that our cries for help fall on deaf ears. We say, “I can’t breathe” and nobody believes us. Black people are believed less often when we say we are in pain. Worse yet, our cries are mocked. Unconsciously, people are conditioned to accept and ignore our suffering. We are also subject to the lack of investment in community resources and opportunities. Then when crime rises, they chant, “Black on Black crime.”
By dehumanizing my people, America numbs us to Black death, and it normalizes the concept of Black inferiority.
Our liberation will not and cannot happen unless we take matters into our own hands. Like many young women in America, I didn’t see myself as political for a long time. Rather, I saw an issue showing up, and I wondered what had caused it. I started to think about how I could change things. That’s what ignited my political awakening—not some arbitrary connection to a political party or becoming a part of a debate club.
As the chief program officer of IGNITE, a political network for young women, I know firsthand that young Black women are stepping up to lead their communities like never before. More Black women than ever are running for political office and winning, because we understand all too intimately the impacts of long-term disinvestment in our communities, and we know we have the experience to solve it.
I’ve met countless young Black women who, like me nearly two decades ago, feel the pain of this moment and are grappling with how to build a better world. Through my work in the community and with IGNITE, I am seeking to educate and equip young people with the tools to understand and solve urgent issues—to take matters into their own hands. Most recently, I’ve begun organizing a series of virtual roundtables for young people on police violence in America, and how they can get appointed to police commissions. This program and others like it will help young Black women get informed, learn the history of our community systems, and identify forms of accountability to protect our communities from violence and brutality.
We understand all too intimately the impacts of long-term disinvestment in our communities, and we know we have the experience to solve it.
We might not all see them as political leaders yet, but Gen Z—and especially young Black women—are going to be the ones to lead us into the future and hold America accountable to the scripted doctrines of the Constitution.
“All we say to America is, ‘Be true to what you said on paper,’” said Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., the night before America shot him dead in Memphis.
Can we be true to what we said on paper? I have a feeling I will be asking this for the rest of my life, and my daughter, Reign, born on Juneteenth 2020, will be asking for the rest of hers. One year after Congress made Juneteenth a national holiday, I and so many of my Black and Brown people still yearn for true justice. And we’ll never achieve it unless we harness our political power and invest in tomorrow’s leaders.
Sign and share Ms.’s relaunched “We Have Had Abortions” petition—whether you yourself have had an abortion, or simply stand in solidarity with those who have—to let the Supreme Court, Congress and the White House know: We will not give up the right to safe, legal, accessible abortion.