Juneteenth march US protest
In this June 19, 2020, file photo, protesters chant as they march after a Juneteenth rally at the Brooklyn Museum, in the Brooklyn borough of New York. Image Credit: AP

The past year has been difficult around the world, and these past 12 months made more challenging in America by the tensions wrought by race relations. The reality is that from the very earliest days as the 13 colonies that would go on to become the founding states on independence from Britain, the most basic conflict in the US was one of extremes, between white and black, between the slave-owners of the Southern states and those opposed in the North.

That was a conflict that would spill over into bloody Civil War eight decades later — and have repercussions that still shape modern US life today. Certainly, the high-profile murder of George Floyd in Minnesota last year, along with the deaths of other Black Americans, highlights the need for racial equality.

Last week, US President Joe Biden signed a bill that creates a new federal holiday, Juneteenth Day, symbolically commemorating June 19, 1865, when enslaved African Americans were told that they were free. Free perhaps, but few in the Black Lives Matter movement would argue that freedom means equality now. If you’re black and living in the US, you are three times more likely to be incarcerated than if the colour of your skin is white, and eight times more likely to be pulled over by police.

Juneteenth Day is a cause for celebration in that it serves as a reminder that we all, regardless of creed or colour, size or shape, background or preference, share the same rights of equality. We deserve to be free. We deserve to be treated the same.

The holiday should serve as a reminder too that the US is built on the promise of a dream of equality, that it is a nation open to all, that all are welcome. And that when people arrive, or are born on American soil, they deserve the freedoms and protections of the Constitution, its bodies of federal and state law, and equal treatment from its law enforcement officials.

Juneteenth Day must mark a new beginning, a turning point for all living in America. But it is a sentiment of equality too that must be echoed around the world. The US is not alone in having a deficit in race relations.

Perhaps too the designation of Juneteenth marks a public acknowledgement that things need to change. But they need to change elsewhere too. And that is a sentiment we can all readily take on board regardless of where we live.