There might be no American holiday on the calendar that is Blacker than Juneteenth. Kwanzaa has always felt like Christmas and Hanukkah counterprogramming. Black Friday is colored in name only, and merely celebrates capitalism. And Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day has been sanitized as all hell—a fate that sadly seems to be coming for Juneteenth, too.
Dating back to June 19, 1866, Juneteenth commemorates the abolishment of the chattel slavery system in America. Black folks’ Independence Day has since become an annual occasion for rejoicing and celebrating the freedom our ancestors fought so hard to obtain.
However, a couple of years ago, amidst the racial uprisings that took place in Spring and Summer 2020, Juneteenth went mainstream. President Biden declared it a national holiday in 2021. And now, one full year later, White people who’ve only recently discovered the holiday are already showing their asses.
If you’ve got a well-meaning White person in your circle, fret not. They, too, can partake in the festivities without making things weird. All they have to do is follow the simple guide below.
Educate yourself about the Black struggle
To be honest, you don’t have to wait until Juneteenth to learn about the legacy of slavery in America, celebrate Black freedom, and connect with the Black community. But Juneteenth is a perfect day to carve out some time to do just that. You can read the work of Black authors, watch a documentary about an aspect of Black history, or simply reflect on your own privilege. Bonus: You can do this all without fishing for woke points on social media. Which brings me to the next point…
Don’t make it all about you
Here’s a hint: If you’re planning an event that’s open to the public, perhaps consider not centering a bunch of White people. This should be obvious. But it wasn’t the case back in April, when a flier for a Little Rock, Arkansas event called “Juneteenth Soul Festival and Market” began circulating online, prominently featuring photos of three White people—and no colored folks. What in the gentrification? Black Twitter tore it to shreds; some jokingly suggested the event would serve raisins in their potato salad. Organizers pulled the plug on the event after the backlash.
You might not be throwing an event at the scale of this one, oh White person, but you can still take heed to avoid a similar epic fail come June 19. Check yourself and make sure you’re not making the holiday all about you.
Support Black organizations and businesses
Fundraising, providing supplies, obtaining permits for local Juneteenth celebrations, spreading the word on local radio and television stations, supporting Black-owned businesses—all are viable ways to honor the spirit of Juneteenth.
Don’t try to hard
Walmart really tried it when they launched a Juneteenth product line, complete with red, black, and green colors. It was giving… performative fly-by-night profit-grab. Someone should’ve told their marketing team that hawking liberation-themed red velvet ice cream and napkins that read “It’s the freedom for me” were liable to get the retail megachain dragged. Read the room. Instead of trying to commodify a holiday with such painful roots, try supporting and stocking items produced by Black-owned businesses. (And actually treating Black employees equitably, while you’re at it.) Also, knock it off with the AAVE appropriation.
For Chrisssakes, do not wear kente cloth
This goes out to you, Nancy Pelosi. (See also: sombreros on Cinco de Mayo.) At this point, I shouldn’t have to explain why this shit is wrong.
Don’t have too much fun
Look: Enjoy yourself. That’s all good. But there’s a limit. We don’t want to hear about how you plan to spend your newfound vacation day at your timeshare in Hilton Head, South Carolina, ripping the waters on your jetski and getting drunk off strawberry daiquiris. Perhaps consider keeping the celebration humble, or at least keeping the extravagance to yourself. Some of us don’t think you should have the day off at all—but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation.