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We are thrilled to share with our community a thought-provoking piece originally published on Political Education 4 Freedom Medium’s account. This article resonates deeply with our mission and values, shedding light on critical issues that align with our ongoing pursuit of knowledge and empowerment.

As we continuously strive to broaden our understanding and challenge the status quo, this piece offers unique perspectives and insightful analysis that we believe will enrich our collective journey towards a more informed and liberated society.

We invite you to dive into this compelling narrative, engage with its ideas, and join the conversation as we explore these vital themes together.

Addressing Historical Racial Injustices: Can Race-Neutral Policies Achieve True Equity?

The history of racial harm in the United States is deeply entrenched in the institutions and policies that have governed the country since its inception. Slavery and Jim Crow laws represent two of the most egregious examples of systemic racism, which have left an indelible mark on the lives of Black people in America. However, the path to remedy such harm is not as simple as it may seem. Although addressed through the years by various Black legal scholars, the argument about race-based injuries and race-based remedies for said harms is worth addressing in 2023.

Race in America is a complex issue, mainly because race operates differently outside of the United States. Assuming most people understand race as a made-up construct establishing permanent systems of hierarchy, and as society changes, so do the hierarchies. As Nell Painter reveals in her seminal work, “The History of White People,” the concept of race is not universally agreed upon(1). Painter posits that the categorization of people based on race has been used historically for exclusionary purposes(1). This non-agreement and misuse of race make remedying race-based harms an intricate endeavor.

 


 

Race-neutral policies, by definition, do not favor or disadvantage any particular racial group. Yet, they can be leveraged to rectify race-based harm indirectly. For example, consider the Fair Housing Act, a race-neutral policy intended to prevent housing discrimination. It has the potential to improve housing conditions for Black Americans, who have historically been disproportionately affected by discriminatory practices(6). However, the effectiveness of race-neutral policies in remedying race-based harm is a contentious topic among scholars. Some argue that these policies while avoiding direct racial identification, could fail to tackle the root causes of racial disparities(3).

This critique aligns with Malcolm X’s words, ‘If you stick a knife in my back nine inches and pull it out six inches, there’s no progress.’(7) Simply put, race-neutral policies might alleviate some symptoms of racial harm but often fail to address the root causes of such harm or the systemic racism entrenched in society. To truly heal the wounds of racial injustice, policies must aim to remove the ‘knife’ entirely, rather than simply lessening its depth.”

 


 

Black thought leaders have greatly influenced the discourse on racial harm remediation. Ibram X. Kendi’s work on anti-racist policies, for instance, argues that race-neutral policies are ineffective at combating systemic racism4. Instead, Kendi suggests that we should implement anti-racist policies that directly address the racial disparities that exist due to historical and current discrimination(4).

As James Baldwin wisely noted, “Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced”(6). This sentiment underscores the imperative for us to confront our racial past and present to instigate effective change.

 


 

Juneteenth, a critical milestone in American history, signifies the emancipation of enslaved Black people and underscores the ongoing struggle for racial equality (5). As we contemplate the significance of Juneteenth, it also accentuates the persistent requirement to address racial harm within America. In 2022, the United States acknowledged Juneteenth as a national holiday. This recognition can be viewed as a race-neutral attempt at repair. However, the very act of making this day a nationwide celebration raises a thought-provoking question: does it truly constitute repair if the descendants of the perpetrators of slavery also engage in the celebrations? This conundrum poses a question about the nature of reparations and how we truly achieve racial justice and healing.

While race-neutral policies may offer some resolutions to racial harm, they are insufficient. Indeed, they can sometimes dilute the specific recognition and restitution that racial harm demands, as seen in the nationwide celebration of Juneteenth, a day of profound importance to the Black community now shared as a national holiday. A more encompassing approach seems necessary, one that synergizes both race-specific and race-neutral strategies.

As Nell Painter’s work vividly illustrates, understanding and acknowledging the historical context of race is fundamental to this process. Alongside this, it is crucial to heed the voices of Black thought leaders who bring to the fore the lived experiences and systemic challenges of the Black community.

Commemorating significant milestones like Juneteenth is critical; however, this does not address racial injustices. We must remember the specific context and history of such events, including the struggle for emancipation and the ongoing quest for true racial equality. Thus, Juneteenth should be a national holiday and a moment of deep reflection and understanding of the ongoing journey toward racial equity in America.


  1. Painter, N. (2010). The History of White People. W. W. Norton & Company.
  2. Pager, D., Shepherd, H. (2008). The Sociology of Discrimination: Racial Discrimination in Employment, Housing, Credit, and Consumer Markets. Annual Review of Sociology.
  3. Reskin, B. (2012). The Race Discrimination System. Annual Review of Sociology.
  4. Kendi, I. X. (2019). How to Be an Antiracist. One World/Ballantine.
  5. Gordon, M. (2011). Celebrating Freedom: Juneteenth and the Emancipation Festival Tradition. Journal of Black Studies.
  6. Baldwin, J. (1962). As Much Truth As One Can Bear. New York Times.
  7. Massey, D. S., & Denton, N. A. (1993). American Apartheid: Segregation and the Making of the Underclass. Harvard University Press.
  8. X, Malcolm. (1964). Speech at a meeting sponsored by the Congress of Racial Equality in Detroit.
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