Centering Critical Race Theory in the Fight for Justice this Juneteenth

By Aliya Brown on June, 18 2021

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Aliya Brown

Senior Communications Project Manager “I work at Common Justice because at the heart of transformative policies, are narratives of reconciliation between those who have grown from experiences of violence firsthand.”

100 Years Later, We Have Yet to Reckon with Our Darkest Moments

This Juneteenth, we must put pressure on elected officials and society at large to acknowledge Black and other people of color's history. We must acknowledge the past lest we be doomed to repeat it, and the attack on critical race theory curriculum is a step in the wrong direction. Grappling with our past and understanding our collective history is a key step to charting a path forward. Pretending that history never happened, and sweeping our darkest moments under the rug won’t help us in the fight for liberation. Vehement opposition led by Republicans has led to bans on teaching critical race theory, and essentially history, in multiple states to the detriment of not only students, but to society at large.

States like Florida, Texas, Idaho and others have already passed legislation that prevents schools from teaching critical race theory. Several other states including South Carolina and Wisconsin have introduced pending legislation that would do the same. Under these bills, educating students about how Black people won the right to vote, or about the celebration of liberation from Slavery on Juneteenth would be forbidden. Standing in opposition to an education that can liberate all people, and bridge outdated divides is harmful and limits our ability to fully realize a truly inclusive society. American history has always been reduced to white history. It’s time to normalize history that tells the full story, that addresses the horrors of the past, and that continues to atone for those sins in the future.

The 1921 obliteration of Black Wall Street, known as the Tulsa Race Massacre, marked its 100th anniversary this year on May 31st. One-hundred years ago, a violent white mob descended on Greenwood Avenue seeking vengeance for the alleged assault of a white woman by a Black male – charges that were later dismissed, and a claim that went unproven. Still, the rage that brewed among white men over the alleged incident – and white resentment over the success of Black Wall Street as some would argue – was all-encompassing, and Greenwood Avenue later went up in flames. This horrific massacre is often overlooked, as with many other events that warrant acknowledgment, including the recent discovery of the cremated remains of victims of the 1985 MOVE bombing in Philadelphia. Popular series like Watchmen and LoveCraft Country have recently recaptured the horrors of the Tulsa Massacre. Survivors and the descendents of responsible parties have come forward calling for repair and reparations for the atrocity that unfolded a century ago. The raised awareness of the Tulsa Massacre has even led celebrities to urge educators to paint a more accurate picture of history. More recently, and many senseless acts of racist violence later, President Biden declared white supremacists the ‘most lethal threat’ to the United States.

In the same breadth, we were recently reminded of a global effort to erase indigenous people from the course of history, with the unearthing of the remains of 215 children at a former residential school run by the catholic church in Kamloops, British Columbia in Canada. Residential Schools were boarding schools created to force indegneous children from their homes, separate them from their cultures, and force them to assimilate into “modern” culture. These schools were typically funded by the government and run by the catholic church. The extent of the cruelties faced by indegenous people are often underreported and misrepresented in the American education system.

Even the memorialization of national holidays are often fortified under false pretenses. While Memorial Day is commonly used to celebrate all veterans, it’s earliest celebration took place in Charleston, S.C. and was an organized commemoration of a fallen confederate stronghold in the final year of the Civil War by freed African Americans. Similarly, following the Civil War, July 4th became a celebratory holiday for newly freed African Americans, who had finally realized the Emancipation Proclamation and felt included in the Declaration of Independence, although unbeknownst to them, the birth of convict-leasing and mass incarceration would follow the 13th Amendment. Juneteenth marks the actual "end" of slavery in the United States -- two months after the surrender of confederate general Robert E. Lee, more than two years after President Lincoln's Emancipation Proclamation, and more than two years of continued, free labor on the backs of those who had not yet learned of their freedom.

Black history is not solely limited to Black History Month or Black August. Indigenous history is not exclusive to Native American Heritage Month. Black and Indegenous history are American History, and deserve to be treated, and told, as such. Including critical race theory in our education system is crucial for creating a more tolerant, informed and empathetic world. Let us never forget, and simultaneously, let us strive to be better than our past. Only then can we truly realize a better world.

Aliya Brown is the Senior Communications Manager at Common Justice. @Common_Justice


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