Some Thoughts on Juneteenth, 2020

It’s Juneteenth (June 19), a day commemorating the end of slavery 155 years ago. I personally had not given much thought to this day in years past. This year, however, Juneteenth has entered white consciousness as we have recently witnessed and felt the pain black and brown people experience daily. Many corporations in America are encouraging employees to take the day off. I’m taking this time to jot down some thoughts in this blog which i’ve neglected for too long.

The pandemic has driven more people to the streets in search of exercise and fresh air. Armed with smartphones and social media accounts, many have been documenting and sharing aggressions of various kinds towards black people. These street atrocities are just the tip of the iceberg of the discrimination experienced by black people over hundreds of years.

What is not caught on camera is the discrimination that has deprived black people of economic advancement. How many times have black and brown candidates been turned down for well paying jobs because white people are in charge of making hiring decisions and more likely to select a candidate that looks like them. All of these micro decisions and biases that cut black people from opportunities negatively impacts their financial and mental well-being and this negativity impacts their family and reverberates across their community. And so now we find ourselves with staggering wealth disparities between white and black people. A 2015 Boston Federal Reserve study conducted in collaboration with Duke University and The New School showed that black households in Boston had an average net worth (assets less debt) of $8 while while households’ net worth was $247 thousand. When black people tell you they don’t own anything, it’s not an exaggeration.

To turn the topic over to street infrastructure now, the subject of this blog. As someone who champions converting streets into Complete Streets that can accommodate cyclists and pedestrians safely, I realize that this cause may not resonate similarly with the Black community. If taking a walk increases your risk of a negative encounter, or going outside exposes you to harmful pollutants, you may prefer to get around in the safety of a car. As Destiny Thomas, a black transportation and community planner, shares in this CityLab article, “if you want to ban cars, start by banning racism”.

Across all fields of work – financial services, urban planning, technology and healthcare we have so much work to do to better support and lift up our black brothers and sisters who contribute so much everyday in spite of the oppression they continue to face.

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