Readers: The entries in this blog are built around the assumption there will be a 5th revolution in the US — the Revenge Revolution. More about the Revenge Revolution, a list of earlier revolutions and the author, Entry #1. Periodically I write a “sense check” to assess whether a revolution in the US is possible or whether the entire exercise is based on a statistical aberration — i.e., a roughly 50-year cycle between major upheavals in the US. Entry #400 was the most recent “sense check.”
On June 17th, 2021 President Biden signed legislation declaring June 19th a Federal holiday. The holiday recognizes the Emancipation Proclamation. The date coincides not with the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation but with the day in 1865 when the last area of the US – West Texas – was informed of the Emancipation Proclamation.
The legislation passed the House of Representatives with 14 dissenting votes. The Senate vote was 100 to zero, with the bill structured as a proclamation that did not require individual Senators to vote.
The apparent widespread support for Juneteenth in an otherwise fractured Congress would seem to bode well for future legislation aimed at addressing inequities in society – voting rights and education, for example.
My view is just the opposite. While many on the right likely would characterize me as “one of those liberals,” and by their definition the characterization would be correct, I think Republicans allowing the legislation to pass with virtually no opposition will end up showing their underlying beliefs by slowing passage or refusing to pass most, if not all, future rights-type legislation.
In a way, the Democrats and especially the black community, have been snookered by the Juneteenth holiday. By allowing a Federal holiday to honor the Emancipation Proclamation, Republicans now have a retort to any future rights legislation. “You got a Federal holiday for Juneteenth. That’s enough.”
Worse for blacks in particular is the holiday could evolve into a backlash among many non-black voters. With Juneteenth, there are now 11 federal holidays: New Year’s Day, Martin Luther King’s birthday, Presidents Day, Memorial Day, Juneteenth, 4th of July, Labor Day, Columbus Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving, and Christmas.
One holiday is associated with a particular religion, Christmas. Two holidays are associated with honoring those who defended the country – Memorial Day and Veterans Day. Four holidays are somewhat related to the founding of the country – 4th of July, Columbus Day, Presidents Day and Thanksgiving. One holiday for workers, Labor Day.
None of the holidays listed so far is directed at any particular ethnic group. However, 2 of the 11 holidays are – King’s birthday and Juneteenth. Whether categorizing the holidays as “ethnic”-type holidays is fair or appropriate, some people will do so. In addition to two holidays associated with blacks, there is an entire month devoted to black history. At some point voters may say, “No more. I had nothing to do with slavery or Jim Crow laws. Time for blacks to quit whining and start committing to fixing their problems.”
A spreading backlash may already be starting. Although a single data point, what’s happening in Charlotte, NC may help portend the future. Background – although Charlotte lies south of the Mason-Dixon Line, by most standards Charlotte would be considered a moderately liberal city. In the last few months there has been an increasing push by a number of blacks to force the school board to balance the ethnicity of: (i) teachers with the student population; (ii) student population among the schools.
The county encompassing Charlotte, Mecklenburg, threatened to withhold 10% of its school funding until the school board presented a plan that ensured students were learning. Duh, folks, let’s start with who’s responsible for the student wanting to learn. What’s that old saying, “You can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink.”
Trying to force balanced ethnicity in classrooms and ethnicity of teachers and then force accountability on teachers might look good on paper and gain political points, but the actions do not addresses the underlying cause of the poor student performance. Without a commitment to education by the black community, balancing students and teachers by ethnicity will have little effect.
Measuring teachers for performance against a teaching metric is valid. Trying to measure a teacher’s performance by the performance of students is a no-win for teachers, and a good approach to making sure the most qualified teachers go elsewhere.
Ensuring students learn is an excellent societal goal. But let’s be honest about who’s responsible for the behavior and commitment of the students. The responsibility starts at home, and if the home is not being responsible, then those in the family and support community must take up the slack.
On a somewhat cynical level, implementation of some demands by the black community and actions by Mecklenburg County seems to imply a desire to return to Plessy v. Ferguson, which approved “separate but equal” education. No, I haven’t joined the far right. But what we, societal we, need to discuss honestly is what will solve the problem at hand.
Most of the discussions about inequality in schools, jobs and even sometimes voting rights seem to focus on optics and not substance. Juneteenth is a perfect example of what I label as “optics.”
What problem was solved by declaring Juneteenth a Federal holiday? Nothing. While blacks might feel better there has been some overdue recognition of the Emancipation Proclamation, nothing fundamental has changed. If you think the holiday is the beginning of a sea change, ask yourself, “What fundamentally has changed for blacks since Martin Luther King’s birthday became a Federal holiday?”
Let’s see what has changed: key portions of the Voting Rights Act were not renewed; innumerable bills have been introduced in state legislatures that are intended to suppress voting rights; the US now has a Supreme Court that has shifted far right. Keep thinking about all the gains made been made since King’s birthday became a Federal holiday. Then compare the list to a list of inequities still exist or have reemerged. Creating holidays maybe a step backwards, not forward.