How Can White Folks Celebrate Juneteenth?

June 19, also known as Juneteenth, is a holiday commemorating the day in which Texas (the last of the confederate states) became aware of the Emancipation Proclamation- which marked the end of slavery in the United States in 1865.

It is important to keep in mind that the emancipation of slaves was not immediate and didn’t happen all at once. We should keep in mind when celebrating Juneteenth that the news regarding the Emancipation Proclamation which abolished slavery within the confederate states and the thirteenth amendment (which outlawed slavery throughout the United States) was news delivered to Black folks at different times.

Juneteenth is observed in many states, but it is still not a federally recognized holiday.

Race relations in our nation are at an all time high and this year’s Juneteenth celebrations are sparking new and heated conversation (including calls to recognize the day as a federal holiday). Activism, protests, and allyship are on the rise fueled by police brutality, the deaths of Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, and Rayshard Brooks.

Many of my white friends have asked how they are supposed to celebrate Juneteenth. It has taken me a while to articulate my thoughts. At first, I was frustrated because I felt like the answer was YOU ARE NOT, it is not yours to celebrate. You have July 4th, and I, as a black woman consistently feel excluded on that holiday, to the point that I have stopped celebrating. America is not mine. I am still not free. And even today as we celebrate Juneteenth, we have a whole lot of work to do.

So, what can white people do to celebrate Juneteenth, not just today, but through antiracism work daily moving forward until black people are truly free?

  1. White folks read, study black history, black poets, engage black leaders, learn about black achievements
  2. They can elevate black voices.
  3. They can quiet their own voices TRULY, placing the voices of black folks ahead of their own
  4. They can stop talking about their own feelings and experiences, instead they can try listening to and considering the experiences of Black folks making it a point to talk about those.
  5. Genuinely think about and consider the wounds of racism in the hearts and minds of all Black folks they encounter. Think about how racism must impact individuals and how it weighs on a person daily.
  6. Stop talking and listen. This work MUST be done. It is NOT going to do itself and white folks got us into the place we are in and now white folks need to start cleaning up their mess.
  7. Seek out an accountability partner and make a list of public actions you will take. This CAN be done on social media and will not be performative but rather a public commitment to doing more. Doing better. Once you commit to the work, check in and update your progress. This work is a sprint not a marathon. You will not complete any of your projects overnight and you should commit to doing them not just for a day but for the long haul.
  8. Stop complaining about how uncomfortable it is to discuss race, racism, police brutality, and white supremacy. This is our lived experience. If you are uncomfortable talking about it imagine how uncomfortable we are LIVING with it. Basically, stop being so damn fragile.
  9. Do not shy away from your own internalized white supremacy and biases. Take a good hard look inward. No one cares about your discomfort anymore. There is no time for coddling your feelings or your fragility. Black folks have been experiencing discomfort for 400 years. Be authentic, feel our feelings. We have had to do it, and we are still here to talk about it.
  10. Write your representatives, demand Juneteenth be declared a national holiday. It should be recognized. It shouldn’t have taken this long for Black folks to see equality.
  11. Hold one another accountable- not just on social media. Calling one another out on a social platform is great. We see you; we appreciate you AND we need more. We need you to speak to one another in the breakroom at work, or at family dinner. Pick up the phone and call your uncle when he posts that whack meme. Use language that forces the people you care about to question their choices and their views and start making changes. We need you to be brave and engage in conversation that makes folks feel bad enough that it becomes the crux for change. When someone is talking about black on black crime at work in the break room, don’t just call them out, ask them to expand on their point. What do you mean by that? If that example doesn’t make sense, apply it to someone making a sexist joke. Think of your boss making a sexist joke. If you ask him to explain himself, he’s going to feel uncomfortable. Forcing someone into a level of discomfort puts the onus on them to be accountable for the words coming out of their mouth. This is important in your interaction with folks. If someone feels ashamed, they’ll either modify their behavior or they’ll double down. Either way, you’re forcing accountability.

Allyship isn’t easy. We are calling on white folks to stand with us this Juneteenth and make actionable change. We’ve been in this fight; we live this fight. We know it. It is time for you to know it and live it too. Join us, let us make a difference so that next Juneteenth we can legitimately see independence because right now, we’re not living freely.

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