Juneteenth marks the day that all enslaved people were freed. As we reflect on this important day in our country’s history, we cannot ignore the many ways the government failed these freed slaves and the struggles they faced in the years that followed. We also cannot ignore how some government policies continue to burden people of color.
Federal troops notified a group of enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, that they were no longer viewed as property. Instead, they were to be treated as “hired laborers” by their “employers.” This occurred on June nineteenth, 1865, two-and-a-half years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after the Confederate army surrendered. However, in Texas, slavery had continued, and many slave owners from other states moved there since it was seen as a safe haven due to the lack of Union troops enforcing the Emancipation Proclamation.
After the Emancipation Proclamation and eventually the end of slavery, the government implemented more racist policies that infringed on African American people’s rights. Systemic racism continued and still continues to this day. Let’s take a look at some of the policies in the last 150 years that have denied people of color the Libertarian principle of self-ownership.
The government recognized that freeing the enslaved people into a world where they had no money, property, or education would not go well, so they came up with the idea of “40 acres and a mule.” This would force plantation owners to give up their property and give each African American family 40 acres. Unfortunately, President Johnson overturned this order and returned land back to the former slaveowners, forcing many formerly enslaved into servitude, which was only a bit better than slavery, and made sure to keep the African Americans impoverished.
We can also look at gun control laws which have always disproportionately harmed people of color. In what used to be called “slave codes” and then eventually renamed “black codes,” African Americans were not allowed to own guns as a way to prevent insurrections. Jim Crow era gun laws gave full power to the elected Sheriff to decide who would be granted gun permits and who wouldn’t. This was in a time where the KKK had a huge influence in local elections, so the Sheriff would want to keep them happy. Therefore, African Americans were not granted those permits, which prevented them from protecting themselves from the violence that, at the time, was socially and even legally acceptable. Fast forward to the 1990s when the Clinton administration made it illegal to own guns in public housing, which, again, disproportionately affected African Americans and prevented them from exercising their second amendment right and also gave police an unjustified excuse to search and arrest them.
People of color have not been given the same opportunities to own their own property as white citizens. Owning property used to be extremely expensive, and most people were unable to do so. Mortgage loans had short repayment periods and required very large down payments. As part of the New Deal, the government introduced FHA loans which allowed more people to purchase their own homes with a small down payment, 30 year repayment period, and relatively low interest rate. This helped jump-start the economy through the building of millions of homes in what we now know as the suburbs. The problem was, African Americans were generally not approved for those loans.
A practice known as “redlining” essentially segregated the United States. Mortgage lenders would refuse people of color a mortgage loan even if they were credit-worthy. They would also deny loans in areas that were known to be lived in by people of color due to what they said was it being “high risk.” This made property values lower in these areas, which further prevented government funding in schools and public services.
While lower class and middle-class white Americans were able to buy into these newly formed suburbs, people of color were denied loans and put into housing projects in underfunded parts of the city. While white Americans were introduced to the “American Dream” where they could provide for themselves, people of color were made to rely on the government for housing. Government Housing, or projects, were usually not well kept and were unsafe. It was also subject to many ridiculous rules, which made the occupants unable to live life in the manner of their choosing. Redlining was made illegal under the Fair Housing Act, but the effects can still be seen today.
Then there was the war on drugs and the criminal justice system as a whole, which has continually harassed and imprisoned people of color. African American men were arrested for drug possession and selling drugs like marijuana. They were given lengthy prison sentences for non-violent crimes, which prevented them from contributing to the wellbeing of their children. Today, we are all aware of the disparity in the police’s use of force and violence against African Americans. We can be hopeful that the protests of 2020 will lead to change, but so far, it does not look promising. We need to demand more. We need to demand that the government and law enforcement stop trying to “help” and to leave us alone.
This Juneteenth, let’s celebrate the freedom that was granted to the enslaved while also recognizing that the government’s policies have made life more difficult for people of color. These policies continue today, and we need to make a push to change them drastically.