Regarding this year’s commemoration of Juneteenth, it’s appropriate to share the good news; and, there is bad news.
The good news is that on June 19, 1865 (known as “Juneteenth”), Union General Gordon Granger traveled to Galveston, Texas, to announce General Order No.3: Slavery had been abolished. For Texas slaves in particular, the Juneteenth declaration signaled the beginning of a new life. In the context of significant dates in American history, the day freedom is awarded becomes a milestone like no other. And now, the holiday is celebrated in most states.
The bad news is that in the span of the last 157 years, the notion of “being equal” for most Blacks has not been fully realized, maybe not even by half.
In terms of wealth inequality, the median Black household has a net worth of about $24,000, as opposed to the median household figure of $188,000 for white households. And white people own 86 percent of the wealth in the United States versus less than three percent for Blacks.
Black men earn only 87 cents for every dollar a white man earns, and historical data shows that “no progress has been made in reducing income and wealth inequalities between black and white households over the past 70 years.”
In this age of keen focus on diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and in spite of self-congratulatory reports and announcements, including those filing in right around this year’s Juneteenth, these numbers seem to suggest that most companies don’t really incorporate pay equity analysis into their program scheme; otherwise, would the percentage be so skewed?
In terms of one of the most consequential indices for predicting upward mobility and wealth in the United States — education — again, the numbers reflect a gap in achievement, likely attributed to lack of inclusion in the systems that produce the greatest rewards.
For the school year 2018-2019, the high school graduation rate for whites was 89 percent; for Blacks the number was 80 percent.
Today, only 57 percent of Black students have access to college-ready courses, compared to 71 percent of white students. And the five-year college graduation rate is 62.2 percent for whites, and 40.5 percent for Blacks.
But the fine points of what encompasses racial disparity for Blacks are not always considered or purposefully ignored.
For example, Blacks are the only minority in American history to enter this country as slaves. And the self-awareness and cultural comfort of traditions once known to the free man or free woman in their own land were rapidly and often violently extinguished. This peculiar status created an immediate and continuing imbalance permeating the nature of the relationship between Blacks and other Americans, especially whites.
Equally injurious is the fact that Black Americans, far before the first Juneteenth, had their start in America as “less than human.” In 1787, the status for Blacks was established by an article in the Constitution called The Three-fifths Compromise, which calculated Congressional representation based on population. Slaves were to be counted as three-fifths of a human being.
And, the negative impact from the practice of name-changing created personal and cultural insecurity within this social group. Leaving out racial epithets, Blacks have been Negros, “colored,” African American, and now Black with a capital “B.”
Whether self-proclaimed or assigned, this unsettling practice has created a diversity of thought and expectations that exists within the Black population that is often ignored. Depending on when you were born, the experience of each generation will factor into behavior and outcomes in the workplace differently; meaning that inclusion is not a one-size-fits all.
Instead of the American dream, after the Civil War came a baptism into the realm of racism in the form of Jim Crow laws which re-segregated the south. The “emancipated” relationship between Blacks and whites was characterized by firehoses, dog attacks and lynching for decades to come. Today this continues in the form of law enforcement brutality and teenagers who intentionally commit mass murder where Blacks live and work.
Abject poverty, illiteracy and the absence of adequate healthcare have become generational for some Blacks.
With this history as a backdrop, 157 years is both a long time to struggle for change without sustained success, yet not enough time to have realized the American dream.
Where Black Americans are concerned, the DEI topic must include these ugly nuances. In fact, all societal groups should be afforded the same consideration of the whole person; that is, if the goal of a corporation is to achieve authentic DEI.
Yet, a 2021 study based on 357 corporate respondents showed that only 40 percent of companies offer DEI-related learning and development opportunities to all employees. Less than half say that their workforce reflects the demographics of today’s marketplace.
Racism is not a white problem, or even a corporate problem. But it lies within the authority of both to effect change. And such a lofty destination as equality demands equal participation. The path to success is realized at the intersection where willingness along with self-determination and personal responsibility meet—factors immune to legislation.
Should Blacks and the rest of the nation celebrate Juneteenth? To the extent that it was a glorious day in 1865 but requires some context to be relevant today: yes.
Image credit: Tasha Jolley via Unsplash
Gloria Johns' career has included her work as a columnist for Scripps-Howard, Gannett and Tribune News Service. She writes for the San Angelo Standard Times and the West Texas Angelus. Previously she was a special features reporter for San Angelo LIVE! Gloria also has nearly thirty years of award-winning grant writing experience for federal, state and county funds to support social, medical, educational and arts projects. She has enjoyed a successful career in telecommunications and nonprofit management. "Gloria is a Purdue University graduate. She has also attended Angelo State University for graduate courses and studied Texas Family Law at Sam Houston State University. She lives just on the edge of the Chihuahua desert in west Texas.