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This Juneteenth and Father’s Day, let’s offer true ‘absolute equality’

On June 19, 1865, nearly three years after the Emancipation Proclamation and two months after Gen. Robert E. Lee’s surrender at Appomattox, Maj. Gen. Gordon Granger issued General Order No. 3 notifying the people of Texas that, “in accordance with a proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free.”

For countless Black men and women, those were the words they’d been waiting to hear their entire lives. Slavery was over, and the joy that they felt in that moment echoes still across time in our Juneteenth celebrations today — especially with the new designation to make Juneteenth a federal holiday.

This year, our Juneteenth celebration falls the day before Father’s Day and, somehow, that feels right to me.

It feels right because today, 156 years after Granger’s proclamation of “absolute equality” between former masters and former slaves, America’s Black men — our sons, brothers and fathers — are facing a crisis. Some evidence of this:

  • Unemployment is nearly twice as high for Black men than white, and Black men have the highest unemployment of all race/gender groups in America. In other words, Black men are more likely to be unemployed in the United States than anyone else.
  • Only about 28 percent of Black men (ages 25-29) have a bachelor’s degree or higher, compared to 30 percent of Black women, 40 percent of white men and nearly half of white women.

So, how many Black children might not get to see their dad this Father’s Day because he’s in prison? How many will grow up without a father because he was killed? 

Moreover, what harm does it do to a generation of children to watch their families — particularly their fathers — face the same struggles, again and again, simply because of the color of their skin? Does that sound like “absolute equality” to you? Does it sound like the America you love?

For example, can you imagine what it’s like to see your father berated, belittled and handcuffed just because he forgot to use the turn signal while driving? Perhaps you can’t relate to a reality that says you’re never going to get a fair shake because Black men are expendable and that’s all you’ll ever be — a Black man. Maybe you can’t understand what it’s like to watch your father work long hours, only to be called “lazy” or “hopeless” or “a waste of time.”

But we can do something about this. 

There’s a reason that GOP-controlled legislatures across the country are rushing to adopt draconian voter suppression measures.

There’s a reason that conservative commentators cheer the increased number of Black men who have cast ballots for Republican candidates in recent elections, even as the GOP tries to tamp down Black voter turnout. 

There’s a reason that Republican “justice reform” proposals refuse to ban chokeholds, no-knock warrants, the militarization of law enforcement and qualified immunity, hoping we won’t notice there are no apples in the apple pie. 

There’s a reason that conservatives shout “culture war” so often. It’s so that they don’t have to vote to raise wages, don’t have to invest in rural schools or health care for all, and don’t have to pass infrastructure investment that creates jobs for Blacks. 

They hope we won’t notice. But we do; we always have.

So, it’s time to stop playing games. It’s time to end the crisis affecting Black men. It’s time to live up to that 156-year-old proclamation of  “absolute equality.” We can change America, and I can’t think of a better Juneteenth tribute or Father’s Day gift than doing so.

Antjuan Seawright is a Democratic political strategist, founder and CEO of Blueprint Strategy LLC, a CBS News political contributor, and a senior visiting fellow at Third Way. Follow him on Twitter @antjuansea.

Tags Black men Emancipation Proclamation Juneteenth racial inequality Racism

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