Juneteenth: The Activist Class Is Never Satisfied

Erich Prince. Within a matter of hours of President Joe Biden signing into law the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act and, thereby, creating a new federal holiday—the first such addition to the calendar since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was added in 1983—activists returned to their now-familiar refrain: “It’s great, but it’s not enough.” By 10 o’clock the next morning, Jade Magnus Ogunnaike, a senior campaign director at the advocacy group Color Of Change, published an opinion column at The Root under the headline “Juneteenth Is More Than a Federal Holiday.

We Need Reparations Now.” This followed a similar piece published two days before on the Brookings Institution’s website arguing that making Juneteenth a federal holiday should best be viewed as an opportunity to again push for reparations for black Americans. Also chiming in to this effect was Rep. Cori Bush (D-MO): “It’s Juneteenth AND reparations.”

So even as corporations begin their latest round of virtue signalling, including Yahoo! temporarily updating its logo to a white and black fist raised side-by-side and Facebook hosting a “company-wide Juneteenth Day of Learning event,” the activists have not even taken a full day to enjoy their latest victory. As we should know well by now, they are always on to their next demand. But their latest, however, carries a particularly high cost. Although estimates vary depending on the particulars of varying reparations proposals, according to CNBC, meeting the demands laid out by William A. Darity Jr. and A. Kirsten Mullen in their 2020 book From Here to Equality: Reparations for Black Americans in the Twenty-First Century to close the wealth gap between white and black Americans would cost between $10 and $12 trillion. (The current national debt already stands at $28.42 trillion.)

Further, many of the comments put forward in response to Juneteenth indulge in one of the activist class’ most pronounced vices: its tendency to lump together various demands, without bothering to argue for each one independently on its own merits. To this point, Rep. Bush expanded on her initial effort to use the creation of this new federal holiday as a segue into arguing on behalf of reparations; while she was at it, she also threw in “end[ing] police violence + the War on Drugs.” This would not have surprised the Canadian columnist Margaret Wente, who sensed this trend when writing on the earliest iterations of the Women’s March: “Today, feminism is not so much a movement as a grab bag for the usual assortment of progressive causes. ‘Free birth control and Palestine,’ one popular sign said, which about sums it up. If you believe in one, then you’re assumed to automatically believe in the other one.”

Then, as I alluded to before, activists’ latest pivot only confirms their critics’ suspicions that there is no concession or show of good faith that will ever placate their ever-increasing litany of demands. Not long ago, many on the Left argued that it was a right-wing strawman to say that anyone was sincerely advocating for “equality of outcome.” Slowly but surely, however, the Left’s talking point has gone from prioritizing equality to equity, the latter of the two meaning something rather close to equality of outcome. Then-vice presidential candidate Kamala Harris made this clear two days before the 2020 election when she posted a video apparently endorsing equity: “Equitable treatment means we all end up at the same place.” As such, one suspects that even if reparations were granted to the tune of Darity and Mullen’s $10 to $12 trillion, it would only be a matter of months until the next round was being called for. And this is not even taking into account the many persuasive arguments against the entire concept of reparations in the first place.

The particularly unfortunate reality about this activist pivot is that it comes in the immediate wake of President Biden signing a bill that—even in our hyper-partisan times—received almost universal support. One of the leaders of the effort, to this point, was Sen. John Cornyn (R-TX), who stood behind the President at the signing ceremony. (If one recalls, efforts to honor Juneteenth were also championed by former Republican Senator Kay Bailey Hutchinson, also of Texas.) Instead of celebrating this new federal holiday, many on the Left have chosen to turn immediately to their next quest. But perhaps it shouldn’t be so surprising; this tendency is built into the very name of what they call themselves, “progressives.” There is no satisfaction with any victories or improvements made; it’s always just on to the next thing.

Erich J. Prince is Co-Founder and Editor of Merion West.