Sunday, June 19th, was the 1st anniversary of Juneteenth National Independence Day. Since being officially declared a federal holiday in 2021, there have been conflicting perspectives about who it’s for, its significance, who gets to celebrate, and how to celebrate. I also had mixed feelings about Juneteenth while living in Texas as a young adult. However, as I continue to learn about the plight of African Americans and apply myself professionally to advancing equity in the workplace, I believe we need to acknowledge our history and celebrate our progress.
Juneteenth, also known as Jubilee Day, Emancipation Day, Freedom Day, and Black Independence Day, marks the effective end of slavery in the US. Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, in 1865, two months after the Confederacy had surrendered in the Civil War and around 2 1/2 years after the Emancipation Proclamation freed enslaved people in Southern states.
Many don’t like that white people and non-Texans have learned more about Juneteenth over the past year and want to participate in celebrating it. In fact, according to NPR, states have been slow to make Juneteenth a paid holiday. Diversity Works respects differences of opinion on celebrating Juneteenth but fundamentally we see it as an opportunity for white allies to help us heal the trauma of the past that still burdens too many African Americans.
There is a lot of work to be done to educate Americans about the significance of Juneteenth. State Senator Joey Hensley, a Republican from Tennessee, said, “I asked many people in my district over the last few days, well over 100 people, if they knew what Juneteenth was and only two of them knew.” Rather than see this as a shortcoming we need to fix, he continued, “I just think we’re putting the cart before the horse making a holiday that people don’t know about.”
There has also been significant backlash against inappropriate monetization and the use of tropes on Juneteenth. From the Children’s Museum of Indianapolis’s “Juneteenth watermelon salad” to Walmart’s swirled red velvet and cheesecake flavored “Juneteenth Ice Cream,” many feel corporations are getting it wrong.
“These are cringeworthy fails on social media,” Joshua DuBois, the chief executive of the market research platform Gauge, told the Washington Post. “But they also illustrate sort of a fundamental gap between far too many brands and the customers and communities that they want to serve.”
Diversity Works evaluations consider the diversity of product and marketing teams because we believe representation matters. However, we also caution against making a single person the ambassador for their race or ethnicity. Companies should take care to avoid misappropriating Juneteenth just like any other celebration by having a dialog with critical stakeholders and taking the time to listen to their concerns. Ultimately, your actions should reflect your values and why we evaluate your actions against your commitments.
About Denise Rosemond
Denise brings more than 20 years of experience in diversity, equity, and inclusion consulting. Her wisdom and judgment ensure clients use best-practice protocols to strengthen their businesses through DEI commitments.