Celebrate Juneteenth—But Where’s the Clean Water?

It is right to celebrate how far American society has come since slavery "ended", but the systematic way underprivileged Black neighborhoods and towns are overlooked for funding should cause greater outrage.

Published: Jun 28, 2023  |  

Disability and climate action advocate


Juneteenth—a day of celebration, liberation, and commemoration of the end of slavery in the Confederacy—serves as a stark reminder of our nation’s historical struggle for racial equality. Yet, as we mark this significant day, the ongoing water crisis in Jackson, Mississippi, underscores the lingering remnants of white supremacy and its paternalistic mindset, which continue to permeate our systems and policies.

Jackson, a city predominantly composed of Black residents, grapples with a water crisis deeply entrenched in systemic racism. This crisis not only infringes upon the fundamental human right to clean water but also disproportionately impacts those with disabilities, creating an intersectional battlefield of racial and disability rights.

The Black disabled residents of Jackson bear the brunt of these compounding inequities. The failing water system turns simple tasks such as securing clean drinking water into a daily struggle. For those reliant on a stable water supply for medical equipment or therapies, the frequent disruptions are more than inconveniences—they are threats to their health and well-being.

The financial state of Jackson, already strained, has been further weakened by the phenomenon of white flight and middle-class Black flight. As wealthier residents, both white and Black, have moved out of Jackson, the city’s tax base has eroded, reducing the resources available for essential services like water infrastructure. 

This exodus, driven by a complex mix of racial tensions, economic factors, and perceived opportunities elsewhere, has left the city with fewer resources to address its mounting challenges. The residents left behind, predominantly lower-income and disproportionately impacted by disabilities, are left to bear the brunt of a failing water system and an inadequate response from the state.

Compounding this crisis, the state of Mississippi’s majority white legislature has repeatedly undermined Jackson’s ability to repair its crumbling water infrastructure. There has been no substantial aid. Instead, the state offered small loans—a decision that only deepens the city’s financial stress without adequately addressing the root problem. 

More insidiously, there have been attempts to divert federal funding away from Jackson and towards predominantly white cities. This is not just an affront to the principles of equity and justice; it’s a glaring example of systemic racism in action. It sends a clear message: the well-being of Black residents, especially those with disabilities, is not a priority.

Furthermore, the state’s attempt to seize control over Jackson’s water system is a vivid embodiment of the mentality that underpinned the white supremacy of the slavery era. This disregard for local authority and self-governance resonates with a time when Black individuals and communities were denied autonomy and the right to self-determination.

As we celebrate Juneteenth, we must confront the reality that the vestiges of the slavery era and its white supremacy continue to cast a long shadow over our society. The water crisis in Jackson is a call to action against the paternalistic and supremacist attitudes that persist.

True celebration of Juneteenth demands more than remembrance; it requires a commitment to dismantle the systemic racism that still prevails. It urges us to advocate for clean water infrastructure, uphold local authority, and strive for a future where every individual, regardless of their race, ethnicity, or ability, enjoys the basic right to clean water.

By amplifying the voices of those most affected, particularly Black disabled residents, we can ensure that their unique needs and challenges are addressed. By acknowledging and addressing the historical and ongoing failures of our systems, we can strive towards true equity and justice. This is how we can honor Juneteenth and reaffirm our commitment to equality and justice, not just in words, but in tangible, meaningful action.

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