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  • Writer's pictureDr. Julianne Malveaux


Juneteenth, or June 19, 2022, was marked with

fireworks and concerts, parades, and proclamations, a

big difference from Juneteenth a year ago when

President Biden signed the executive order making

Juneteenth a federal holiday just two days before its

actual occurrence. Last year's hastily implemented

plans were replaced by well-orchestrated programs this

year. Last year's celebration merited brief chats; this

year, there was a nationally televised concert. This year,

the media has gone to great lengths to explain

Juneteenth, perhaps doubling their coverage from a

year ago. Corporations and other organizations are

observing or commemorating Juneteenth. I was

surprised, for example, by receiving notices of

Juneteenth observations from not one but two of the

financial services organizations I deal with.

A white man at the airport wished me a "Happy

Juneteenth" and while I somewhat appreciated his

greeting, it didn't make me happy, mainly because I

don't think the word "Happy" should be applied to

Juneteenth. Big Dot of Happiness, a company out of

Wisconsin, has produced cringe-worthy "Happy

Juneteenth" greeting cards. An online search will yield

all kinds of products, many presumably not owned by

Black people, commercializing Juneteenth with t-shirts,

stickers, stationery, and more.

Commercialization is the way of predatory

capitalism, so I’m not surprised at those who hope to

extract surplus profits from the people who want to

observe the day when formerly enslaved people were

reminded that their enslavement was over. Many who

heard the announcement in Galveston back in 1865

were elated, some were angry at being exploited, and

some understood that the quality of their lives was not

to change immediately or soon. Jim Crow laws, peonage

and the sharecropping system, and economic lynching

emerged immediately after the passage of the 13th

Amendment. The holiday observation of Juneteenth is a

vital way to inject the issue of enslavement into the

popular lexicon, if only once a year. But the holiday

transcends symbolism only if coupled with decisive

action to combat contemporary economic exploitation

and virulent racism.

President Biden set the right tone when he issued a

proclamation a few days before Juneteenth. He

described the day as "a chance to celebrate human

freedom, reflect on the grievous and ongoing legacy of

slavery, and rededicate ourselves to rooting out the

systemic racism that continues to plague our society as we

strive to deliver the full promise of America to every

American. This Juneteenth, we are freshly reminded that

the poisonous ideology of racism has not yet been defeated

— it only hides." Now that the fireworks have faded, the

barbeque has been digested, and the red soda water has

been consumed, President Biden might do more to attack

the hidden, and not so hidden, ideology of racism.

Has his administration sufficiently tackled pay

disparities in federal employment? On Equal Pay Day

2022, the Biden-Harris Administration issued a forceful

pay equity statement. Yet, gaps remain, and many are the

result of the hidden racism that Biden referred to in his

Juneteenth statement. African Americans are more likely

than others to work for the federal government and

experience smaller pay gaps with the federal government

than in the private sector. At the same time, pay gaps

remain, and Black employees are more likely to be clerical

workers in the federal government than employed in the

Senior Executive Service (SES). Connecting the Juneteenth

proclamation to a strong statement about economic equity

in federal government employment would have been

impactful. There are still opportunities for this focus,

perhaps incorporating a statement about workers' rights

with a strong message about Black federal workers.

HR 40, the legislation to study reparations and offer

remedies for economic discrimination against Black

people, has enough votes to pass the House of

Representatives. Still, it cannot pass the Senate, given its

current composition. President Biden has been urged to,

through an executive order, establish an HR 40

Commission to examine the reparations issue thoroughly.

He could do this with the simple stroke of a pen, putting

action behind the

strong words he issued on Juneteenth. By

embracing reparations to remedy historic racial economic

exploitation, President puts teeth behind his lofty

sentiments about hidden racism.

The federal observation of Juneteenth is an important

step forward in our nation’s recognition of enslavement and

its foundational contribution to the wealth of this country.

Reparations are the necessary next step. We must move

from recognition to remedy.


Dr. Julianne Malveaux is an economist, author, and Dean

of the College of Ethnic Studies at Cal State LA.

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