Juneteenth 2019: An Essential Reading List

Highlights from Pacific Standard's coverage of racial inequality and the state of reparations in America.
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The United States House of Representatives chamber.

The United States House of Representatives chamber.

Each year, June 19th marks Juneteenth, a day to commemorate abolition in Texas, and, with it, the final end to slavery throughout the country. Calls for reparations are often raised on Juneteenth, and 2019 is no exception: The House Committee on the Judiciary held a hearing regarding reparations for black Americans.

The committee met to discuss H.R. 40, legislation introduced by Representative Sheila Jackson Lee (D–Texas) to acknowledge slavery in the United States, and begin to make amends. The bill includes measures such as establishing a commission to research the possibility of a national apology and a proposal for reparations for black Americans.

During the hearing, author and journalist Ta-Nehisi Coates criticized Senate majority leader Mitch McConnell's comments rejecting reparations for slavery, arguing that the legacy of Jim Crow laws continues to marginalize black Americans today, from wealth disparities between black and white families to higher mortality rates for black women giving birth.

Advocates argue that, in addition to slavery, decades of Jim Crow laws created state-sponsored structures that perpetuate the marginalization of black Americans. Discriminatory institutions, in areas such as banking and housing, continue to trap black Americans in cycles of poverty. The impact of these compounding racist practices has manifested in a racial wealth gap, harsher criminal punishments for black Americans, and significantly worse health care for communities of color, among other inequities.

Here's an essential reading list of Pacific Standard stories on racial inequality and the state of reparations in America.

  • In April, Peter C. Baker reviewed Ken Woodley's new book on the history of resistance to civil rights in Prince Edward County, Virginia, which documents how, 50 years after Brown v. Board of Education, the county is finally beginning to seek justice: "Woodley gives us a chance to see one small reparations initiative go from dream to reality, and ponder its connection to the broader project," he writes.
  • Reflecting on Coates' 2017 "The Case for Reparations" piece for The Atlantic, Jim Russell explores why reparations don't apply to other immigrant groups, such as Irish Catholics.
  • The U.S. should construct cultural organizations to reflect on and memorialize the history of slavery as part of reparations, argues Sara Fanning. She writes: "Individuals who visit museums, it has been noted by recent research, develop increased historical empathy and have higher levels of tolerance than those who do not."
  • Earlier this year, Dwyer Gunn examined a report that found that the racial economic disparity in America not only persists, it is actually growing. One reason, she finds, is that "wealth is increasingly concentrated in the hands of the few (mostly white families), and then passed down from parents to children. American politicians have historically ignored this fact, choosing instead to focus on factors like income and education, in the hopes that wealth would follow."
  • In 2017, Tom Jacobs reported on a study that traced the ongoing effects of county-level slavery in 1860. The researchers found that economic inequality in such counties continues.

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