Juneteenth conjures up a swirling haze of emotions for me. On one hand, it is a celebration of freedom, and on the other, it is the commemoration of a lie.

Juneteenth is named for June 19, 1865, the day some 2,000 Union troops rode into Galveston, Texas, and announced that a quarter million enslaved people in the state had been released from bondage because of an executive order issued by President Abraham Lincoln. That executive order, commonly known as the Emancipation Proclamation, had been issued more than two years earlier, but slaveholders in Texas withheld the news from the enslaved. They did so to maintain the brutal institution that Confederate soldiers killed and died for while losing the Civil War.

Thus, Juneteenth is the true Black Independence Day, and therein lies the irony. If not for America’s deadly determination to keep human beings in chains, there would be no need for Juneteenth. If America had honored its own creed — that all men are created equal — chattel slavery would never have existed here. We would all mark our freedom as one. But we don’t. We can’t, because America has never been one.

» READ MORE: Juneteenth is bigger than a BBQ. We need to treat it as such. | Jenice Armstrong

Juneteenth emerged kicking and screaming from the womb of that reality, and as we simultaneously celebrate and mourn what the holiday represents, we have an opportunity to face our nation’s truth. That requires a level of honesty that our country has thus far refused to embrace. However, if we take hold of it now, we can heal. We can grow. We can change.

First, we must recognize that America’s relationship to slavery is tightly tied to economics. That’s why, when our country’s founders were engaged in high-minded rhetoric about freedom and independence, they hypocritically allowed slavery to continue. Lest anyone think that compromise only benefited Southerners, please know that there were Northerners, including Philadelphia’s renowned Chew family, who held enslaved people, as well.

Even when some in America’s political system sought to prevent the spread of slavery, they did not do so to benefit the enslaved. They did so to benefit white working-class citizens whose wages were driven lower by competing with unpaid laborers. The Free Soil Party, which worked to keep slavery from spreading to new territories in the early to mid-1800s, exemplified that mindset.

» READ MORE: Teaching Juneteenth in schools is crucial amid debates about how to tackle U.S. history | Opinion

In 1846, David Wilmot, a Pennsylvania Democrat who adhered to Free Soil principles, put forth a piece of legislation that became known as the Wilmot Proviso. The bill was meant to stop slavery’s expansion into territory America acquired after the Mexican-American War. If passed, the legislation would have led to higher wages and more land for poor white people to cultivate.

The proposal failed, because it was more important for America to maintain slavery for the rich than to create more opportunity for poor white people. But the debate over the proposal helped to widen the gulf between those who supported slavery and those who opposed it.

In other words, the economic interests of poor white people were sacrificed to maintain slavery. That’s ironic, since poor white people are the ones who have historically been used to fight for racist systems that enrich those at the top.

On Juneteenth, as we look back on the lies that extended slavery for years after it was supposed to have been abolished, we are left to question the systems that maintain a caste-like power structure based on race and class.

It is a system that drafted poor white people into the Confederate army while rich men who held at least 20 enslaved people were exempted. It is a system that, a century and a half later, prompted thousands of working-class white people to storm the U.S. Capitol in a failed attempt to grab power for a rich man who falsely claimed he would go with them.

That system, which is based on the simple premise that all white people are better than all Black people, uses race to convince Americans to fight for scraps. Meanwhile, those who are at the top grab ever bigger portions of the economic pie. That’s what was happening in Texas in 1865, and that’s what continues to happen today.

Juneteenth reminds us that lies cannot endure forever. It reminds us that when the army of truth comes riding into town, the truth can indeed set us free.