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What You Need to Know About Juneteenth

This is a celebration. 

While the United States celebrates its independence on July 4th, America’s people were never truly free — or, not all of them. 

Black people in the United States were still enslaved as America gained its freedom, and they continued to be for another 87 years, until President Lincoln signed the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863. However, even then, slavery still existed in America. It wasn’t until two years later, June 19th, 1865, when Black people in Galveston, Texas, were free from being enslaved, marking the day that all Black people in the United States were free — Juneteenth.

To be clear, it was only on that day that Black enslaved people in Texas were made aware of their freedom. While they were technically free, this news did not reach them until two years later. The news of their freedom had been intentionally kept from them.

Currently, the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on New Year’s Day is not recognized nor celebrated as a holiday. Juneteenth is also not recognized nor celebrated as a holiday, except by those in the Black community.

“There is a want for something that is ours — a holiday of the struggle we have been through in this country,” says Ralikh Hayes, community organizer of the NAACP Legal Defense Fund’s Policing Reform Campaign, “to show Black people and Black life deserve a chance to really have that conversation nationally and re-discuss Black history nationally. Making Juneteenth a holiday would allow us to celebrate just being able to exist.”

On why Juneteenth is not as widely known or celebrated, Hayes says, “Black history is extremely white-washed. A lot of people haven’t had a chance to understand what Juneteenth is until recently, until the wake of Trayvon Martin and Mike Brown.” And those are only a few of the names that have brought the importance and significance of Juneteenth and Black history to light.

The Black Lives Matter movement started in 2013, but has taken on greater volume in 2020, as the senseless killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor at the hands of police brutality sparked outrage not only at law enforcement, but at the corporations, systems, and institutions that have continued to oppress Black people across the world.

Now, over 150 years after that victory in Texas, Black people continue to fight for their freedoms. “The last 5 years have shown that it is really hard to be Black and exist in this country without getting shot or arrested,” says Hayes. Across the country, protests, rallies, and vigils amplifying the Black Lives Matter movement have occurred in all 50 states, with Americans demanding accountability and change for the injustices Black people still continue to face every day.

“Recent events have shown the need for people to be in a community with people who think like you and believe the things you do and support,” says Hayes. As we continue to protect each other and fight for equality and justice, it is crucial to keep in mind that Juneteenth is a celebration — it is a celebration of freedom, a commemoration of overcoming the brutality, violence, and injustice experienced by Black people, and an honoring of their humanity.

While Juneteenth is yet to be declared a federal holiday, some major brands have begun to celebrate it and mark the day a company holiday. “The celebration of Juneteenth can look a lot of different ways — blackness is not monolithic,” says Hayes. To respectfully and appropriately celebrate Juneteenth, here are a few things you can do:

When it comes to social media:

  • Educate your audience on the significance of the day and its origin
  • Spotlight and celebrate Black culture/businesses/organizations
  • Consider how you connect with your audience, and use your platform to facilitate understanding
  • Highlight Black voices and talent by creating ways for them to speak to their personal experiences 
  • Integrate red, green, and black when creating Juneteenth graphics, as they are the colors of the Pan-African flag
  • Utilize the Smithsonian National Museum of African-American History & Culture’s open access image library where you can use/transform/share imagery without permission from the Smithsonian
  • For modern stock imagery, utilize Black-owned stock photo sits like TONL

Other ways you can continue to show your support:

If you want to donate:

1. NAACP Legal Defense Fund
2. Emergency Release Fund
3. Marsha P. Johnson Institute
4. The Okra Project
5. Oluwatoyin Salau Freedom Fighters Fund
6. G.L.I.T.S.
9. Bail-funds by state

If you’re a company:

  • Examine how you plan to increase Black people in leadership roles
  • Examine your recruitment plan to increase Black hires
  • Reconsider your budget for your employee resource groups
  • Implement sensitivity training for all employees that targets bias, macro and microaggressions, ally-ship, etc.
  • Establish a dedicated headcount to a diversity and inclusion team
  • Revise company goals to include diversity and inclusion objectives
  • Provide employee resources for learning Black history
  • Examine your (yearly) plan to celebrate Juneteenth
  • Examine your (yearly) plan to celebrate Black History Month
  • Examine your current list of vendors/partners owned by Black people and how you plan to increase it
  • Commit to donating to organizations for Black Lives Matter and Black Trans Lives Matter

If you want to write about Juneteenth:

  • Language to adopt
    • Enslaved (Africans, people, mothers, workers, artisans, children, etc.)
    • Using enslaved (as an adjective) rather than “slave” (as a noun) distinguishes the condition of being enslaved with the status of “being” a slave
    • People weren’t slaves, they were enslaved
    • Captive (Africans, fathers, families, workers, infants, etc.)
    • Enslaver (the term “master” transmits the aspirations and values of the enslaving class without naming the practices they engaged)
  • Language to avoid
    • Slave master
    • Slave mistress and enslaved mistress (to name sexual violence/relations/conditions)
    • Slave breeding/breeders (for forced reproduction)
    • Slave concubine and enslaved concubine
    • Slaveholder
    • Slave owner
    • Alternatives: those who claimed people as property, those who held people in slavery, etc.
  • Principles to consider
    • Avoid using “runaway slave”
      • Alternatives: “fugitives from slavery” or “self-liberated” or “self-emanciapted” individuals
    • Consider using “stolen labor” or “stolen labor, knowledge, and skills”
    • No one was “born a slave,” instead people were born with “free” or “slave” status
    • Please honor the humanity of the millions of people treated as chattel property by naming enslaved people whenever possible

If you want to read:

  • Toni Morrison
  • James Baldwin
  • Ta-Nehisi Coates
  • Maya Angelous
  • Zadie Smith
  • Hilton Als

If you want to watch:

  • Amazon
    • The Hate U Give
    • I Am Not Your Negro
    • If Beale Street Could Talk
    • Blackkklansman
    • Little Fires Everywhere
  • Netflix
    • 13th
    • Pose
    • Dear White People
    • When They See Us
    • Self Made: Inspired by the Life of Madam C.J. Walker

If you want to listen:

  • Still Processing
  • About Race
  • Slay In Your Lane

There are just a small fraction of resources. 

The most important thing you can do is continue to educate yourself and continue to show up.

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