Delayed Liberation

By Anne Price, President

From left to right: Cat Brooks, Nwamaka Agbo, Mia Birdsong, and Anne Price

Last week, Insight hosted its first Juneteenth economic forum commemorating June 19th, 1865, when a reluctant Texas state government finally emancipated a quarter of a million people enslaved in the state two years after the Emancipation Proclamation was put into effect.

As Vann R. Newkirk II at The Atlantic most brilliantly notes, Juneteenth is “the observance of a victory delayed, of foot-dragging and desperate resistance by white supremacy against the tide of human rights, and of a legal freedom trampled by the might of state violence.”

This year, Juneteenth served not only as a rallying call to end the criminalization of economic migrants and the inhumane policy to separate children from their parents at our nation’s southern border, but an opportunity to examine the age-old tactic used throughout our history to control and decimate communities of color for profit. We are reminded, yet again, of how engaging in blatant dehumanization of people of color lays the foundation for state sanctioned violence and criminalization.

The crisis at the border provides space to understand how these historical policies and practices continue to manifest. It also shines a light on how forced family separation is pervasive, long-standing, and universal among communities of color, resulting in both similar and strikingly different economic and life outcomes.

Enslaved Blacks and their descendants routinely had their children, partners, and siblings stripped from them as a means of profit and control. Fugitive slave laws, the use of apprenticeship of Black children, and a host of other policies maintained family separation. And today, Black and Brown families are disproportionately separated from each other as over-policing in communities of color pushes hundreds of thousands of innocent people into jails. Many of these people have not been convicted of a crime, but simply cannot afford to pay cash bail. The psychological and economic impact of this experience is tremendous, resulting in missed family moments, lost wages, and anger and depression.

Our government’s longstanding history of allowing missionaries to snatch Native children from their homes and put them in boarding schools, destroying their Indigenous tribal identity and forcing them to assimilate, is distinctly parallel to their current involvement in the child welfare system. Native children are placed into foster care at a rate 2.7 times greater than other groups.

Local governments in California and Texas participated in deporting between 500,000 and 1,000,000 Mexican immigrants and Mexican Americans (an estimated 60% of whom were American citizens) during the Great Depression, whom they blamed for the economic downturn. This “repatriation” stemmed in part from efforts to kick Mexican Americans off public relief programs, using similar false and harmful narratives that are driving the decimation of our current social safety net system.

Communities of color have always suffered the brunt of vicious policies put forth by our government. And where there is similarity, there is also difference.

Vital to our fight to resist is a deeper understanding of the distinct trajectories for each community, and greater recognition that we cannot lump together communities of color. In other words, there is no one-size-fits-all solution, as different responses may be necessary for different communities.

This type of reckoning may be one of our greatest hopes to build solidarity and work together to address these struggles and achieve true equity.

We know the road won’t be easy.

Within the past week, amidst a glimmer of hope, we have been confronted with gut wrenching setbacks on social and economic issues. We must grapple with the fact that, as Newkirk says, “liberation is always on the horizon.” I believe that greater liberation will come in the in-between places, which means we will endure both progress and stumbling blocks.

Understanding how historical policies continue to manifest in communities of color can also spark our imagination and reveal new possibilities. Author and social justice facilitator adrienne maree brown notes in her book Emergent Strategies that, “realizing the right to dream and imagining the future is a decolonizing activity.” Indeed, our ability to maintain hope and courage in this difficult time will come from our capacity to dream bigger and to plant seeds for the more just and equitable society we want to create.