Inequity in Real Time: Celebrating Juneteenth in the Midst of the Critical Race Theory Debate

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“Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world” –

Nelson Mandela

As we approach Juneteenth this weekend, we’ve already seen several tweets, posts, and memes about celebrating Juneteenth and recognizing it as a Federal holiday amid a cultural debate and mass push for state legislation across the country against critical race theory. 

So let’s be clear, it is an educational inequity to celebrate Juneteenth while banning Critical Race Theory for several reasons. But I want to first look at the purpose of education in this country, the land of the free.  In my very educated opinion, as a political science and law school graduate, the word theory literally means: 

  • a supposition or a system of ideas intended to explain something, especially one based on general principles independent of the thing to be explained. (Oxford Languages)

Several theories taught in schools across the country have fallacies and teachers prove them wrong to train and educate their students. That is what learning is all about. One example that sticks out in my mind being raised in Kentucky is educators that teach creationism and theories of natural selection co-existing versus all Darwinism/natural selection theories lead to atheism. Talk about a debate. I vividly remember learning about these theories in high school, which caused me to want to know more and challenge what I thought. I cannot imagine not having this experience in my formative years.

So as the curious person I am, I would think that if Critical Race were such an erroneous theory and easily refutable, it would behoove our educators to teach and dispel the errors. 

I mean, amirite?

Instead, as our country’s history would suggest, when people are afraid of what they don’t know or like, they try to erase or ban it. If they learned all of history, some of our legislators might better understand what is occurring with the fight against Critical Race Theory. And as someone who likes to debate, I remember having a good conversation with a colleague who agrees with the majority of Critical Race Theory but has criticism about one of the core ideas. It was good for us to talk through and see where we differed and walk away to seek more knowledge. But it felt okay for her to challenge for more understanding – this conversation happened well over a year ago. However, today, the onslaught against Critical Race Theory has divided our country into two opposite camps: you either believe in Critical Race Theory or you don’t and this removes the gray that is the purpose of education – to learn, understand, challenge, and grow

So if we look to Juneteenth, it is even more essential to think that systemic racism has played a role in our society. The short history lesson of Juneteenth is slaves in Texas received their freedom 2 ½ years after the Emancipation Proclamation due to the end of the Civil War. In reality, a moment of celebration, but real independence, and improved quality of life did not immediately follow. Instead, many were forced into underpaid labor (a.k.a Sharecropping) due to the inability to find work except with their former slave masters. Many southern states codified this way of life for decades. And worse off, some slaves remained in slavery years after independence.  Although this treatment occurred elsewhere, it is well documented in Texas (link, link).

So imagine you have been a slave your whole life, you receive “freedom” and a majority, not all, become sharecroppers on their master’s land, and then laws started being created to hinder any other progress. There was a short reprieve with Reconstruction, which were “attempts to redress the inequities of slavery and its political, social, and economic legacy.” Still, by the 20th anniversary of the Emancipation Proclamation – The United States Supreme Court had struck down the civil rights act of 1875 along with the decision of Plessy vs Ferguson (1896) which opened the flood gates for Jim Crow laws which was eventually countered by the Civil Rights Movement of the 1950s and 60s that brought hope and change. Only to be overshadowed by the over-policing and criminalization of black bodies that lead us to the racial reckoning that is occurring today. 

This is truly the foundation of Critical Race Theory: The core idea is that racism is a social construct, and that it is not merely the product of individual bias or prejudice but also something embedded in legal systems and policies. (link)

So when people are celebrating Juneteenth and removing Critical Race Theory from the classroom, they deny youth a complete picture and turn us more toward a less educated society.

This history is not that far from us. The abolishment of slavery & the origins of Juneteenth is a mere 156 years ago. Juneteenth was followed by direct laws and policies that crippled the black community. 

Now for some, this is up for debate, but let history speak for itself.