Juneteenth has come and gone. Now what?

If I could remember where I read this a while back, I'd give the person credit. But since I can't, suffice to say this is not an original thought of mine (so few are) but it was a disheartening one. The writer was commenting on all the reforms America had made in its history: women were given the right to vote; now they vote; gay people were given the right to marry legally: now they marry legally; citizens were granted the right to speak freely, to practice the religion of their choice; now they do.


But racial equality and reform have escaped us. We have had watershed moments: Lincoln's willingness to go to war to keep the Union whole, the Emancipation Proclamation, the 13th, 14th, and 15th Amendments, the end of Jim Crow, the Civil Rights Act of 1964. The author's question was this: how many watershed moments do we need?


I hadn't thought of it that way, but then I'm not Black and don't live the prejudice daily. I can say I understand, but I don't think I do. Here's what I can comprehend, though: America lives in a cycle of granting Black citizens the rights they want and deserve only so that those same rights can be withdrawn at a later time and the cycle can begin anew. It's perverse and it's disheartening, but I'm hard pressed to believe that the deaths of George Floyd, of Breonna Taylor, of Rayshard Brooks aren't going to become steps along the way to the next diminution of civil rights and the next need for protest marches.


It's like one of those math conundrums where you can always get halfway to your destination, then halfway more, then half again–you can close the gap ad infinitum, but never get to the end. When Barack Obama was elected president in 2008, America had conquered the racial divide, or so we thought until September 2009 when U.S. Representative Addison Graves "Joe" Wilson, Sr. of South Carolina, whose history of apologies is long and varied, interrupted President Obama's joint address to Congress regarding health care by shouting "You lie!" His supporters insisted that the unprecedented act of effrontery insult had nothing to do with the fact that the president was black: reasonable people knew better.


So add the election of Barack Obama to the watershed moments, and what did that one lead to? The election of Donald Trump, whose history of racial animus extended back five decades. Sixty million people were willing either to overlook that fact or accept it as selling point, even though many of them four years earlier had swept Obama into a second term. It's the cycle, and we're halfway there again.


So yes, let's call the recent protests and demonstrations a watershed moment, but let's also remember that the current president has no concern for it, and that means that his followers have no concern either. Turning a watershed moment into something permanent–something that guarantees we won't be doing this again in ten years–is going to require attitude changes, legislation, and the removal of a racist president. And it's also going to require an honest appraisal of ourselves–the acceptance of the fact that previous turning points were transitory, and the insistence that we won't abide such failure ever again.


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