The designation of Juneteenth National Independence Day as a federal holiday is a historic milestone in the struggle for freedom and equality for African Americans. However, it comes at a time when the Republicans have become a brazenly white supremacist, anti-democratic, far-right party engaged in massive voter suppression, the criminalization of peaceful protest, defense of police brutality and even insurrection.
Why, then, did most Republicans in Congress vote to make Juneteenth a national holiday? So they could claim that they’re not racists. As Mike DeBonis recently wrote in The Washington Post, “The push to establish June 19 as a national holiday ... only gained serious traction last year, as the nation erupted in turmoil over the killing of George Floyd.”
Post columnist Eugene Robinson noted that Republicans’ support for the new holiday “allows them to portray themselves as opponents of racial oppression, which they prefer to leave in the past — rather than as contemporary racism’s enthusiastic enablers.”
For example, Sen. John Cornyn and U.S. Rep. Randy Weber backed the Juneteenth bill in Congress but oppose a bipartisan commission to investigate the Jan. 6 Capitol attack by white supremacists, reject new federal laws to end voter suppression and refuse to support police reforms.
Most Republican politicians admit that slavery was horrific but unconscionably deny that systemic racism continues to exist. Republican-led legislatures in Texas and a few other states have passed ill-fated laws to limit discussion of white supremacy in schools and colleges.
This newspaper deserves credit for supporting the new holiday but grievously erred when it joined the mounting Republican attacks on critical race theory (“Don’t let controversial race theory thwart the real mission,” The Daily News, April 20). With an eye to last year’s controversy in the Clear Creek Independent School District, the editorial rightly denounced the use of critical race theory “as a handy bugaboo to demonize anti-racist efforts and teaching in general.” But the editorial’s denunciation of critical race theory grossly misrepresented it and failed to quote any of the prominent scholars, educators or organizations who support it.
Instead, the editorial quoted two men affiliated with the conservative Texas Public Policy Foundation. Last July, the foundation’s chief economist was widely criticized for a racist tweet urging schools to reopen since most of the state’s COVID-19 fatalities were elderly or Hispanic.
Critical race theory doesn’t teach that all white people are bigots or “tainted with a kind of original sin from which there is no redemption.” Instead, as Janel George of the American Bar Association has explained, “CRT recognizes that racism is not a bygone relic of the past ... it acknowledges that the legacy of slavery, segregation and the imposition of second-class citizenship on Black Americans and other people of color continue to permeate the social fabric of this nation.”
As the Organization of American Historians has noted, critical race theory “provides a lens through which we can examine and understand systemic racism and its many consequences.”
This kind of anti-racist education is an essential prerequisite for the collective political action required to uproot white supremacy and ensure freedom and equality for all people.