Monday, June 19, 1865. Galveston, Texas.
The last enslaved African Americans are gathered.
Union General Gordon Granger ascends the balcony and begins to read to the assembled crowd from “General Order No. 3” …
The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of personal rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired labor. The freedmen are advised to remain quietly at their present homes and work for wages. They are informed that they will not be allowed to collect at military posts and that they will not be supported in idleness either there or elsewhere.
Some two and half years after the Emancipation Proclamation’s ratification, Black America exhaled a collective breath. A single declaration shattered the servitude backbone of America, 246 years after the first African slaves set foot on American soil.
But that resounding breath quickly became labored again.
While some Black Americans saw the Proclamation as the beginning of newfound freedom, opportunity, and equality, many would soon realize that they were just pawns in a wartime tactical execution: the pivotal means to a most decisive end.
That “end” did not bring “life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness” to the newly freed American inhabitants, but gave way to a nation that quickly reconstituted slavery into shackles that were less visible to the naked eye, but equally as potent. An inferior race still had to be managed.
During the 155 years that followed that celebratory day in 1865, Black America has continually experienced acute shortness of breath. Slavery morphed into the establishment of Jim Crow and segregation laws, which we protested and attacked throughout the Civil Rights era. And we continue to fight the remnants of them in today’s Black Lives Matter movement.
From Emmett Till to George Floyd and now, Rayshard Brooks, American history is replete with the blood and final exhalations of men and women whose lives were tragically and unnecessarily surrendered because of the well-entrenched racism in our nation’s DNA.
Nowhere to Run
Some 50 years after the close of the Civil Rights era, we still struggle with the harder truths about race and culture in this country.
We no longer have “Whites Only” lunch counters, sections of the bus, and water fountains, but we have a more insidious foe to confront—structural racism. It’s something so implicitly shrouded in our most critical social, political, industrial, and commerce systems that we don’t even recognize its presence today.
It is time for us to acknowledge and confront our past, understand our present, and do the hard work to improve our future.
The disproportionate deaths due to COVID-19 in communities of color and the growing number of videos showing violence and threats against black men and women by police and citizens alike have created the accelerant that has propelled systemic racial injustices to the center of our national agenda.
Over the last two weeks, support for Black Lives Matter increased by nearly as much as it had over the previous two years (New York Times). The biggest difference between today and June 19, 1865: a collective realization that this isn’t just a black issue, but a national issue. And that is the first step to, one day, achieving a cure.
The structural weight of racism does not lie on the shoulders of African Americans, but on all of us who have consciously and unconsciously supported systems of inequality. For some, this will be hard to accept and difficult to understand. The illusions about equality in America have been shattered by three weeks of protests across the world. For others, it is something they have known, but haven’t known how to fix.
From Here To…?
There is no going back to life as normal before the COVID-19 pandemic. Until a vaccine or cure is made widely accessible, we will need to continue to be fastidious to keep ourselves, families, friends, co-workers, and community members from becoming a viral statistic.
Equally so, there is also no going back to life as normal before Rayshard, George, Breonna, and Ahmaud. While their names join an extraordinarily lengthy roster of black lives lost, they represent a critical pivot in America’s next chapter.
Their names call upon every American to fully embrace what it means to say, “all people are created equal” and petition our governments, local communities, places of work, worship, and social/entertainment to be responsible in keeping black American lives from becoming another statistic.
Today, we stand as a nation and hold America accountable to deliver on the promises set out some 200-plus years ago for all Americans—even though our nation’s architects and framers never envisioned the America we so clearly see today. Imagine, if you can, what those just-freed slaves in 1865 felt like looking out into the America of that era, compared to what they would experience today seeing people of all colors and communities walk arm in arm in protest for black lives.
Black America has held its breath for 155 years in anticipation that “this time will be different.” The Civil Rights Movement and two terms of the nation’s first black president did nothing to change the underlying heart of America and turn promise into reality.
Revolutions may start with a riot, but they can end in a changed society. The yelling, screaming, anger, and protesting may initially thrust us into an uncomfortable place of fear and anguish, but we can no longer let “the American dream” escape Black Americans who are continuing to run in place and living in perpetual fear that their respective breath may be cut short.
We envision a future where every American, regardless of race, color, orientation, gender identity, citizenship, or socio-economic status, can freely and equitably take advantage of America’s promises.
What is the change that you want to see?
We can no longer wait to finally exhale. The next 155 years are on us.
Daryl Sneed, CEO & Co-Founder/Co-Creative
Natasha Goburdhun, SOUNDOFF Editorial Contributor
Suzanne Claussen, Editing
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One mask at a time, we can make a difference in what kind of tomorrow we will have and ensure that we all get to see the dawn of America’s new day.