A collaboration by Oregon Food Bank’s BIPOC, Equity, People & Culture, and Communications Teams

As we continue to increase our awareness of Juneteenth across the country, we invite our entire community to join us in this time of self-reflection. This is an opportunity for self-assessment, self-improvement, and planning for the future.

A celebration of Black perseverance, Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, when enslaved Africans in Texas were officially pronounced free — two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Now, 155 years later, Juneteenth observes the heritage, history and accomplishments of Black Americans. Yet the systemic oppression that began more than 245 years before Juneteenth continues today, though in a slightly different form.

Juneteenth

A celebration of Black perseverance, Juneteenth marks June 19, 1865, when enslaved Africans in Texas were officially pronounced free — two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation was issued. Now, 155 years later, Juneteenth observes the heritage, history and accomplishments of Black Americans. Yet the systemic oppression that began more than 245 years before Juneteenth continues today, though in a slightly different form.

As is characteristic of empires, the fight for power and control can be seen throughout American history. To ensure resources like food and land were more readily available and accessible for Whites, increasing their chances for a higher-quality life, Africans were deemed inferior and thus suitable — even “destined” — for enslavement. And so, for hundreds of years, thousands Africans were hunted and stolen from their homes to be brought to the Americas. While exact dates are debated, few questioned the practice.

For Africans who survived the voyage to North, Central and South America, a terrible life of enslavement awaited them. Seen as property, their hardships were not isolated to a simple lack of rights; the practice of enslavement involved rampant neglect and oftentimes killings. Even after their freedom had been earned, African Americans were not free. Even now, Black people the world over continue to suffer from four different but interconnected levels of racism — interpersonal, institutional, structural and cultural — each and every day. In America, we see that expressed through the systemic and blatant devaluing of Black lives.

Black Americans are still treated as second-class citizens, experiencing harsh and unjust discrepancies in quality of life. Despite their Americanness, they are still discriminated against and suffer disproportionately when compared to their White counterparts. As shared in our 2019 Juneteenth article, the statistics are staggering:

Pre-pandemic, the above figures were hard to swallow. Today, in the midst of a global pandemic, Black Americans are being hit even harder. In a recent multi-state study, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control found that 33% of hospitalized patients were Black, despite being only 18% of the population in the communities they live in. (CDC COVID-NET, 2020)  Even more troubling, African Americans make up just 13% of the U.S. population overall, yet they account for 23% of all COVID-related deaths. (CDC, 2020)

We continue to see disproportionate acts of violence and imprisonment directed at Black Americans in our society today. Under the guise of “law and order,” Black Americans are killed three times more often at the hands of police than White Americans. (Mapping Police Violence) We have moved from a country that enslaved Africans on farms to enslaving Black Americans in jails and prisons — with incarceration rates at nearly six times that of White Americans. (Pew Research Center, 2019). With cheap prison labor, manufacturers can bring us the latest in fashion and consumer goods at our local retailers at the expense of our Black brothers and sisters.

While this Juneteenth is a celebration of where we’ve been and how far we’ve come, the current protests around the globe are a stark reminder of how far we have yet to go. White Americans have long been asleep, desensitized and shying away from the violence Black Americans face each and every day. Black Americans do not have the luxury of simply turning a blind eye.

Collectively, Americans must educate ourselves on our history. We must band together to create a better future for our children and grandchildren. We must put an end to police brutality and mass incarceration. White America must come to terms with White fragility and commit to being actively anti-racist. When lives in our communities are on the line, there is no other choice.

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