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As we commemorate Juneteenth — the annual celebration of Black freedom in America — I am awestruck when I contemplate our ongoing journey.

On one hand, African Americans are seemingly locked in a permanent struggle as we seek to grab hold of the rights our country has promised. On the other hand, we’ve experienced the kind of progress that is only achieved when determination is connected to miracles.

Last week alone, in Philadelphia, America’s birthplace, I spoke with Cherelle L. Parker, a Black woman, and the city’s first female mayor. I also spoke with Kevin J. Bethel, the city’s Black police commissioner. And as I look back at my votes for the first Black president, Barack Obama, and my various interviews with Kamala Harris, America’s first Black female vice president, I am keenly aware that I’ve had a front-row seat to my people’s meteoric rise.

It is a rise that is even more astounding when one considers what we’ve overcome to get here. We are reminded of that journey on Juneteenth — the federal holiday that celebrates the June day in 1865 when Union troops marched into Galveston, Texas, and told the last of the enslaved that they were free. But even now, with Black people taking positions of power, we are facing social and political backlash. In order to overcome it, we will need the same determination that got us here. We will need to understand what blocks our path.

Black Americans must first recognize that our perceptions of racism in America are real, and not figments of our imagination. We are not stuck in a time warp. We are not mired in bitterness. We are not collectively adopting nonsensical conspiracy theories.

However, when even the most well-intentioned white people study how Black people view race in America, they often start with the premise that African Americans are engaged in mass delusion.

For example, the Pew Research Center recently conducted a study on Black people’s adoption of what researchers called “racial conspiracy theories.” Pew defined conspiracy theories as ideas Black Americans might have about “the actions of U.S. institutions” that don’t necessarily align with the stated goals of the institution.

Someone must have called them out on their use of the phrase “racial conspiracy theories,” and Pew has since added an editor’s note admitting it may not have chosen its words wisely. “By using these words,” the report now reads, “our reporting distorted rather than clarified the point of the study.”

Pew’s research found that more than 80% of Black Americans surveyed believed that “Black people are more likely to be incarcerated because prisons want to make money on the backs of Black people.” And more than 60% of Black adults surveyed agreed that institutions like the criminal justice system, America’s economic system, and policing are designed to hold Black people back. Pew also found that most Black Americans don’t trust the media.

The problem is that most of these opinions are not based on fictional beliefs. They are firmly grounded in fact.

Black people are disproportionately jailed in America’s prisons. The Sentencing Project has also found that Black Americans are more likely to face arrest, conviction, and harsher sentencing than our white counterparts.

Bank officers literally drew red lines around Black communities on maps and refused to lend there. Today, banks still disproportionately deny mortgages to Black people, even when our income and credit scores are the same as white borrowers. Our homes are even appraised at lower values when appraisers find out Black people live there.

Our distrust of media is not some wild-eyed conspiracy, either. Newspapers across the country, including the Los Angeles Times, the Kansas City Star, and even The Inquirer, have admitted that their coverage of Black communities was grounded in racism, and they have apologized.

But change does not come easy. Black people know that better than most.

That’s why, as African Americans celebrate and reflect on the progress we’ve made this Juneteenth, we also acknowledge that the fight for equal rights goes on.

In my view, the same Black leaders who are symbols of our progress are routinely held to a higher standard than their white counterparts. Philadelphia’s mayor and police commissioner are somehow expected to clean up the chaos of Kensington’s open-air drug market in a month. Harris is expected to save the Biden administration from the onslaught of right-wing vitriol. Black prosecutors and judges are expected to successfully hold a former president to account.

As lofty as those expectations may be, the progress we’ve made since the first Juneteenth tells me that anything is possible. When a people have repeatedly lifted the unbearable weight of racism, we are strong enough to lift America.