This Monday, the U.S. celebrates Juneteenth, which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African Americans on June 19, 1865 — two and a half years after the Emancipation Proclamation.
We celebrate Ms. Opal Lee, who, at the age of 89, walked from her home in Fort Worth, TX to Washington, D.C., in an effort to get Juneteenth named a national holiday. The Juneteenth Legacy Project reports that she “traveled two and a half miles each day to symbolize the two and a half years that Black Texans waited between when Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation, on Jan. 1, 1863, abolishing slavery, and the day that message arrived in Galveston, where Black people were still enslaved, on June 19, 1865.”
Juneteenth is a poignant reminder that oppressive systems can still be upheld, even after they’re formally dismantled. Slavery ended on paper years before it ended in practice — and even then, anti-Blackness, white supremacy, and structural racism simply took on new forms, further entrenching themselves within the U.S. culture and systems.
The era of slavery was followed by decades of racial subordination, most violently through what the Equal Justice Initiative describes as “racial terror lynchings.” According to the EJI, terror lynchings peaked between 1880 and 1940 and claimed over 4,000 lives between 1877 and 1950.
Environmental racism is one of many facets of white supremacy that continues to this day, both within the US and globally. And while many white climate activists might agree that climate denial is racist, it is much less common and much less comfortable to confront the work that remains to dismantle white supremacy within the climate movement. This includes interrogating the structures that non-Black climate leaders and white-led institutions benefit from and perpetuate.
So while the 350 U.S. team is off from work today, we have grounded ourselves in this hard-fought federal holiday this way:
It is a day off for Black team members to spend the day however it feels good to them. But we have called for a day on of sorts for non-Black team members, in the sense that we invite them to interrogate how they’re contributing to and existing within systems that are rooted in anti-Blackness, and how they can hold themselves and each other accountable to dismantling white supremacy 365 days a year.
We firmly believe that working to dismantle white supremacy is a condition of membership in the climate movement. With that in mind, we’re sharing these articles and resources:
- MSNBC – ‘Climate denial is racist’
- Atmos – ‘Climate denial’s racist roots’
- Brookings Institute – ‘Environmental racism and the struggle for climate justice’
- TIME – ‘Why the Larger Climate Movement Is Finally Embracing the Fight Against Environmental Racism’
At 350.org, we are calling out the white supremacist work culture that permeates the nonprofit world, including our own organization, with sustained internal trainings on anti-racism and anti-bias work, and we are calling in our network with upcoming political education webinars that will highlight how the climate movement must intersect and align with the racial, political, and social movements that have and continue to lead the way to liberation for us all. More soon, and until then, may we all remember how inextricably our fights are connected.