America has once again found itself at a historical crossroads.
unanimously passed a bill on Tuesday to make Juneteenth
, the day that marked the end of enslavement in the United States
on June 19, 1865, a federal holiday, and the House of Representatives
overwhelmingly passed the bill 415-14 the next day. President Joe Biden
signed the bill into law
However, there is a debate among Black people
on social media
, including activist Bree Newsome and author Fred T. Joseph, about who actually benefits from making Juneteenth a federal holiday, with some making memes
pointing to America's capitalistic approach to holidays
and noting how low-income Black workers may not get the day off.
Social media users have also pointed out the irony of lawmakers’ overwhelming support for making Juneteenth a federal holiday in comparison to their stalled approach to combating current racial discrimination
and injustice — including through the John Lewis Voting Rights
Act, legislation that would restore and strengthen parts of the 1965 Voting Rights Act that the Supreme Court
struck down in 2013.
In a statement issued Thursday, Congressional Black Caucus Chair Joyce Beatty (D-Ohio) stated that while making Juneteenth a federal holiday is “important and long overdue,” it is not the end of the fight to correct this country’s racist
“While we will celebrate this milestone, let us not forget how much further we still have to go,” she said. “Voting rights, the racial wealth
gap, justice in policing, and so many more issues remain to be overcome – and, through Our Power, Our Message, the Congressional Black Caucus will continue to lead the fight on these issues.”
Making Juneteenth a federal holiday also runs counter to recent statewide laws prohibiting the teaching of critical race theory
— an academic framework that critiques how institutionalized racism has impacted the most marginalized. Just this week, Texas
Gov. Greg Abbott
(R) signed legislation that effectively prohibits teachers from discussing racism in classrooms.
The prohibitions and restrictions on how teachers can discuss the history of systemic racism
with their students will undoubtedly make it difficult for them to teach about the country's newest federal holiday.
It is somewhat contradictory to say, ‘We should recognize Juneteenth as a holiday,’ but we should not be allowed to teach some of the finer points of what Juneteenth truly is.
's School of Education
adjunct lecturer Stefan Lallinger
Juneteenth, two and a half years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation, marks the ostensible end of enslavement in the United States. On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas, to inform enslaved Black people in the state that slavery
had been abolished.
Stefan Lallinger, who began his career in education teaching social studies but is now an adjunct lecturer for American University's School of Education, believes that censoring how American history
is taught in this manner not only harms students but also disempowers educators.
“I do think it is somewhat contradictory in terms of people coming out
and saying, ‘We should recognize Juneteenth as a holiday,’ but we shouldn’t be allowed to teach some of the finer points of what Juneteenth truly is,” he said.
“Juneteenth connotes the final, sort of true end to slavery, if you will, [when] so many people teach the Emancipation Proclamation as the end of slavery in 1863.”
“I do think it’s a little hypocritical to be unable to engage those topics in the social studies classroom and then claim this mantle of racial reckoning with our past,” Lallinger said.
In the 1970s, a group of scholars and legal practitioners began investigating the role of the legal system in exclusionary and discriminatory practices, citing some of the civil rights
movement's stalled efforts. The framework builds on work begun decades before by Black scholars such as W.E.B. DuBois.
Crenshaw, who coined the term, told CNN
earlier this year that critical race theory deals with the belief that past laws have no real implication for the present and future.
“Critical race theory attends not only to law’s transformative role, which is often celebrated, but also to its role in establishing the very rights and privileges that legal reform was designed to dismantle,” Crenshaw told the outlet.
According to Keturah Proctor, a New York educator fighting to include critical race theory in school curricula, much of the controversy surrounding critical race theory stems from people who don't understand what it is.
“Our systems are embedded with racism and legal protections and policies that structurally and systemically support that racism,” said Proctor, an ambassador for the Partnership for the Future of Learning, a nonprofit organization that works to make public education more equitable.
“If we look back at critical race theory from a legal standpoint and look at the structural piece, I think that would actually help to demystify a lot of what people are feeling because people are reacting right now from a very personal level.”
Since the New York Times
published Nikole Hannah-Jones
' 1619 Project, which relies on critical race theory to highlight the long-term consequences of enslavement in this country, critical race theory has been in the news more frequently in recent years, and the project has become a part of the curriculum in over 4,500 classrooms across the country.
Former President Donald Trump
rejected the idea of teaching the 1619 Project
in schools in 2020, calling critical race theory “a Marxist doctrine holding that America is a wicked and racist nation.” He also prohibited federal agencies from conducting white privilege and critical race theory racial sensitivity training.
Currently, 21 states have introduced bills that restrict educators from teaching critical race theory or limit how racism and sexism
are discussed in the classroom. Several states, including Idaho
, Iowa, Florida
, and Texas, have rallied around bills that ban critical race theory from schools and regulate how teachers discuss American history.
According to Lallinger, the fight against teaching about racism in American schools is nothing new, as the same states passing these laws were already avoiding lessons on how race has always worked in this country.
“Many of these states are already devoid of a robust account of the legacy of slavery and racism in the American past and its impact on modern society,” he told Stardia. “So, you literally have politicians
stirring up a culture war and passing legislation in places where what should actually be happening is consideration of the existing state standards, and how there isn’t enough of an undoing,” he added.
“We need to confront the other parts of American history because that is really the point of history and teaching history to kids and the next generation,” Lallinger added, “so that they understand it in a way that does not lead us down a path to repeat the mistakes of the past.”
Racism is embedded in our systems, as are legal protections and policies that structurally and systemically support that racism.
Keturah Proctor is a teacher and a member of the Partnership for the Future of Learning.
While critics of critical race theory exist, there are organizations working to promote lessons about systemic racism and other oppressive systems. On Wednesday, the American Association of University Professors, the American Historical Association, the Association of American Colleges and Universities, and PEN America issued a joint statement opposing the new laws.
Though New York does not use the term critical race theory, the Board of Regents initiative supports an educational framework aligned with teaching students about race and identity, according to Proctor, who has been teaching for 21 years. She said her approach to teaching about such an expansive and nuanced subject is to ensure she is listening to her students and allowing them to lead.
“We need to create spaces where students can wonder, think, have agency in their learning, and then take action,” she said. “If you step back and listen to young people, they’re saying yes, we do want to know more. The adults, again, are always in the way of what kids say they want. I think we need to move away from being the gatekeepers.”
She stated that students now have more information than ever before and are learning about race and social studies through social media platforms, particularly TikTok
“They’re getting the knowledge and information, despite all of the boundaries and legislation that we’re enacting, right? You can ban this in your schools — guess what? Kids go to lunch and they’re on Tik Tok, they see it anyway,” she explained.
“That’s where knowledge happens, and if we already know it’s happening, school districts should be doing their due diligence to ensure that students have a platform to explore those ideas and concepts in a framework that makes sense, right?”