- There are many other ways to celebrate this holiday as non-Black individuals in order to honor the history of this day and fight for true freedom.
On June 17, 2021, President Biden signed legislation to officially make Juneteenth a federal holiday. This act has been met with mixed reactions, with most calling the government out for performative activism while schools are being stopped from teaching students about issues of race. While this new legislation is controversial for its negative impacts on the Black community and its seemingly performative nature, it is important to educate ourselves about the origins of Juneteenth.
It is taught in most schools that President Lincoln’s signing of the Emancipation Proclamation on January 1, 1863, is what freed all enslaved people, ending the institution of slavery in the United States. Over two years after this legislation was signed, illegally enslaved people in Texas were finally informed by a Union soldier of the new law.
The law may have stated that formerly enslaved Black people were free, but white Americans were angered by this and many Black people remained in oppressive conditions similar to slavery. In places like the South, children of slave owners still held power over businesses and took advantage of the labor of Black people until as recently as the 1960s.
While we may not see obvious slavery anymore, a similar system is perpetrated through the prison industrial complex which takes advantage of the labor of incarcerated people who are disproportionately Black men. In this way, enslavement continues, but Juneteenth commemorates the legal end to the practice of slavery.
Moving onto the controversy of this new “holiday,” many remain uneducated about the origins of Juneteenth and Black history overall. While government officials urge Americans to celebrate this day by closing government offices, courts, and banks, Black Americans still suffer injustice. From casual racism and microaggressions rampant in our society to police brutality, there is much to be done by the government to achieve Black liberation. From teaching about race in schools to ending voter suppression, steps should be taken by those in power to make sure that Juneteenth is truly a celebration of freedom and not a symbolic gesture to allow the oppressive institutions of the past to remain as they are.
Many fear that Juneteenth will become a holiday similar to July 4th or Memorial Day, during which many seem to forget the true reasons behind the celebrations and take the time to barbecue or party. There are many ways to celebrate this holiday as non-Black individuals to honor the history of this day and fight for true freedom.
Juneteenth must be a day of reflection and reparations, so take the time to read books and literary works by Black authors, support local Black-owned businesses, and donate to organizations working to fight racial injustice or inequality. There is still much to be done to advance racial justice in America, but this symbolic gesture by the government can serve as a day for people to educate themselves and truly work towards a more just nation.
Ishani Peddi is a college student from Irvine, California. She has been writing for as long as she can remember and published a fictional work in middle school. A passionate poet, who has won numerous literary competitions, Ishani has an extensive political background, having worked with AAPIs for Biden, the Democratic Party of Georgia, and Students for Ossoff and Warnock, to name a few. She is also the Founder & Editor In Chief of SANCTUARY Publication.