What Juneteenth Is, And Isn’t, For White People

Featured Image: Text is from General Order Number 3, given on June 19, 1865 by General Gordon Granger. The pattern is the Juneteenth flag, designed by Ben Haith et al. Money Penny Script font by Ian Barnard. Edited in Affinity Designer.


4 for Now

The US’s newest federal holiday, Juneteenth, is approaching. But we (USians generally, white folks in particular) have a tendency to not really get what particular observances are for or how to interact with them appropriately.

For example, we stole an observance of Black folks who died in the struggle for emancipation (Decoration Day) and turned it into an observance of all folks who lost their lives serving in the military (Memorial Day). Or stripping the 4th of July, a celebration of freedoms most of us don’t have, from the recognition of all the people we killed or enslaved to achieve said “freedoms” (and ignoring what an asshole move using fireworks is).

What Juneteenth Is

After 244 years of enslaving Black folks, Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation declaring all enslaved peoples in the states that had seceded were free (restrictions applied).

That was on January 1, 1863, but before email and text messages, it took a little longer to spread the word. It didn’t help that many plantation owners weren’t eager to give up their free labor.

So it was that enslaved folks in Texas, at the furthest edge of the nation, were not allowed any semblance of freedom until the Union army showed up and, on June 19, 1865, Gordon Granger gave General Order Number 3.

There are some important points we white folks need to keep in mind:

What Juneteenth Isn’t

Between the privilege of whiteness and the exploitation of capitalism, I know better, but I’d really like to see us not ruin this special day.


4 for Later

  1. Educate yourself and share with family and friends. Check out Juneteenth.com for more about its history. The National Museum of African American History and Culture has a Juneteenth reading list and a resource for talking about it with kids [PDF]. If podcasts are your thing, Bustle’s got you.
  2. Support an Emancipation Park. (The original is in Houston, but you could search for one closer to you.) Esquire has a collection of links to racial justice organizations to support and CNN provides a few categories of organizations. Use Miiriya.com or the app on Android or iOS to shop from Black-owned businesses. DiDi Delgado has additional ways to support Black folks [Medium]. Or help someone asking for aid in your community or on social media (try #BlackMutualAid [Twitter] or #HelpFolksLive2022 [Twitter]).
  3. Sign petitions, contact your representatives, and/or attend protests. NAACP and this Black Lives Matter carrd have some actions you can take. End the Exception has a petition to abolish prison slavery.
  4. Wayside Youth & Family Support Network has ten things white people can do to celebrate Juneteenth and Good Good Good has more ideas.

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If there’s something specific you’d like me to cover, or something I’ve already written that you’d like to know more about, let me know!