On June 19th, we commemorate Juneteenth, the day in 1865 when enslaved people in Texas finally found out about their freedom––more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation had formally mandated it. While it is a day to celebrate, Juneteenth reminds us that formal protections written into law are not enough, because laws are not always followed, and law enforcement is not always committed. And, more importantly, it must remind us that many of our laws today continue to enforce inherently racist policies which continue to create legalized harm to Black communities.
Today, long after the ratification of the 13th and 14th Amendments, and with legislative victories like the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act having been on the books for more than 6 decades, Black Americans continue to experience racism, prejudice, brutality, voter suppression and systematic inequality. We need more changes to the law––but we also need to show up as individuals, with agency and intention, to address the foundations of our institutions and the culture in which white supremacy continues to thrive.
In our current moment of national self-reflection, which we know is long overdue, we must examine the legacy of slavery in the United States and its continuing and traumatic impacts for Black people. From mass incarceration of Black Americans, to the use of excessive force by the police on communities of color, to the intentional suppression of democratic rights, for too long racist policies have plagued all aspects of American institutional, social, economic, and political life.
On this Juneteenth, we stand unequivocally and unabashedly in solidarity and in allyship with our Black siblings. We say their names: Rayshard Brooks, George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Ahmaud Arbery, and too many more who were murdered for the simple crime of being Black in America. The list gets longer day by day. On this Juneteenth, we declare that Black Lives Matter. Black souls, Black bodies, Black experience, Black pain, Black suffering, and Black tradition, matter.
We call on all members of our Jewish community to join us in doing the work to confront our own biases, amplify Black voices, and ultimately, change racist policies.