Commentary | June 18, 2021

'Only through abandoning our comfort zones can we undo the hold of racism'

By Dr. Terri Dickerson, USCG Civil Rights Director

President Joseph R. Biden has signed the “Juneteenth National Independence Day Act,” which recognizes June 19th as a federal holiday. Combining June and Nineteenth, Juneteenth commemorates the ending of slavery in the United States and is historic because it did not occur with President Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation of 1863. Rather, nearly two years later, Union soldiers arrived at Galveston, Texas, with a General Order stating that the war had ended and that slaves were free. In the intervening two years, hundreds of thousands of Black people had remained enslaved.

The General Order stated: “… in accordance with a Proclamation from the Executive of the United States, all slaves are free. This involves an absolute equality of rights and rights of property between former masters and slaves, and the connection heretofore existing between them becomes that between employer and hired laborer.”

These words, intended to guarantee equality and justice, have not been fully realized for African Americans, who experience an enduring legacy of violence, racism, and injustice as the promised freedoms have been systematically and structurally denied. Thus, Juneteenth is not merely a footnote to African American history but represents a solidarity call for the country as a whole.

I am appreciative of the deep conversations about race and justice that have occurred with our workforce beginning last summer after the death of Mr. George Floyd. Such conversations are not easy, and for many are uncomfortable, however only through abandoning our comfort zones can we undo the hold of racism. I encourage Commands to conduct activities which observe Juneteenth by strengthening our ability to promote transformative change and a more inclusive future. Recognizing and celebrating Juneteenth continues the Coast Guard’s dedication to equity, diversity, inclusion, and belonging, which are integral tenets to the success of our mission and overall readiness. 

The Coast Guard is dedicated to providing an inclusive culture that promotes equity and is intolerant of racism, discrimination, and xenophobia. Combating and eliminating racism requires active participation and all personnel must be vigilant in acting on intolerance, violence, and xenophobia when confronted with it in the workplace. 

If you experience discrimination or harassment based on race, or other protected categories, report it to your Command or local Civil Rights Service Provider