Juneteenth Becomes a Federal Holiday

via Washington Post:

President Biden on Thursday signed into law a measure that establishes Juneteenth as a federal holiday, taking advantage of sudden and broad bipartisan agreement to commemorate the end of slavery in the United States after years of debate and inaction.

In signing the measure — which resulted in an unexpected day off Friday for federal workers — Biden also used the occasion to advocate for more aggressive action on voting access and other racial equity measures that have been at the heart of his administration’s agenda.

“Great nations don’t ignore their most painful moments. They embrace them,” Biden said in a ceremony in the East Room of the White House. “Great nations don’t walk away. We come to terms with mistakes we made. And remembering those moments, we begin to heal and grow stronger.”

Christine Emba writes:

A cynic — or simply a realist — would remind us that symbolic change is not the same as substantive improvement. Anti-racist reading lists haven’t stopped Black Americans from being killed by the police. Corporate diversity, equity and inclusion workshops haven’t closed the racial wealth gap.

The Senate may have voted in favor of recognizing Juneteenth, but the George Floyd Justice in Policing Act is still withering away waiting for the Senate to act. The For the People Act and its voting rights protections are all but dead. And some of the same senators who voted in favor of a new Black holiday are sponsoring legislation that would ban the teaching of our country’s racist history.

A new holiday won’t fix the material injustices that continue to fall most heavily on Black America: poverty, state violence, incarceration, environmental hazards, poor access to health care, a legacy of financial discrimination and limitations on political power. In fact, symbolic wins more often serve to let their champions off the hook. “Your national greatness, swelling vanity; … your shouts of liberty and equality, hollow mockery,” Douglass said.

But symbols accomplish something, too.

The debates over statues, the fury over the New York Times’s 1619 Project, the Republican horror at the teaching of “critical race theory” in public schools should be signs that even the symbolic holds some value. If these smaller declarations didn’t have power, would they be seen as such a threat?