Hold up, white people.
Now that you have officially discovered Juneteenth,* you need to become familiar with the traditions, customs and history lest you succumb to the Caucasian colonization gene and gentrify this auspicious celebration. Before hopping on the Juneteenth bandwagon, you first need to realize that you have no say in driving the narrative about this special day.
Left to your devices, Juneteenth might become a day when you parade around in African headwraps drinking Hennessy just like y’all celebrate Mexican Independence Day on May 5 by donning sombreros and taking shots of American tequila.** So, to protect the legacy of this special day, The Root created this handy-dandy guide to help you become familiar with existing in spaces you don’t own.
Welcome to the Juneteenth Project.
* I’m pretty sure “discover” means “ruined” in Caucasian. Like how y’all “discovered” America, Tulsa and the electric slide.
** Cinco de Mayo is not Mexico’s birthday.
What Juneteenth Is
As Dr. Henry Louis Gates wrote for The Root in 2013 (Yep, we’ve covered Juneteenth for years), Juneteenth is “the most popular annual celebration of emancipation from slavery in the United States.” It commemorates the day when enslaved people in Galveston found out they were free.
To be clear, it is not the only celebration. Washington, D.C., has an annual Emancipation Day. Some cities commemorate the passage of the 13th Amendment with Freedom Day. Perhaps the most well-known celebration is is the Watch Night services, a tradition that dates back to 1862, when enslaved people gathered in churches on New Year’s Eve to wait for the Emancipation Proclamation to go into effect. Then they went to the club and ate collard greens and black-eyed peas.*
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*If you’re not Black, you probably don’t understand that joke.
What Juneteenth Is Not
- Juneteenth is not the Black 4th of July. It does not commemorate the end of slavery. The use of Black bodies as white people’s wealth-building human chattel didn’t officially end until the ratification of the 13th Amendment. Also, America’s actual independence day is July 2, 1776. Don’t worry, we know you people don’t know a lot about true history.
- Juneteenth is not reparations: Making Juneteenth a holiday does not absolve the country of its past, nor does it make up for any of the injustices. Black people were gonna celebrate anyway. If anything, white people should be thanking us for a day off.
- Juneteenth is not the racism vaccine: Celebrating Juneteenth does not make you an ally or an anti-racist any more than going Christmas shopping with two friends means you’re the three wise men.
- Juneteenth is not yours: Do not infiltrate your capitalist customs into Juneteenth. There will be no mattress sales or special edition Crown Royal bottles. We don’t need a line of Hallmark Cards or 10 percent off collard greens. Don’t try to improve it, take it over or make it “more inclusive.” In other words, don’t treat Juneteenth like you treat Black music, Black art or Black neighborhoods.
- Juneteenth is not “the cookout”: Cookout invitations are still invite-only. The last edition of the Regional Executive, Administrative, and Legislative Newsletter for the International Council for Cookout Arts and Sciences (REALNICCAS) announced a moratorium on cookout invitations until the first annual celebration of Reparations Day.
The 10 Juneteenth Commandments
As a white person, you may not have heard about the 10 Principles of Juneteenth, but trust me, they’re a thing in the Black community. They were developed in the late 1890s by Rev. Samuel Alouicious Lovelace, best known as the first clergyman to pray until the food got cold.
1. Thou shalt not have any holidays before Juneteenth. Juneteenth is the most American holiday. The only reason anyone would be against it is if they were still lamenting over the loss of slavery (so everyone with a Confederate flag). Plus, when those slaveowners sent the Declaration of Independence to King George, most of America (Black people, women, Native Americans, white people who didn’t own land) were not included in the “all men are created equal part.”
2. Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor: No calling the police. Just for this one day, don’t be afraid when a Black person is cooking out in the park or walking around existing. This day is about freedom, remember?
3. Thou shalt not whitesplain: Telling us how you already knew about Juneteenth doesn’t mean anything. You’re supposed to know. Black people know about Columbus Day, St. Patrick’s Day and President’s Day but we don’t brag about it.
4. Thou shalt not take the Juneteenth’s name in vain: No one needs your input. Perhaps the best thing you can do to honor Juneteenth is to keep its name out of your mouth. This thing existed without you for a century and a half.
Take this, for instance:
Absolutely no one asked for that.
5. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s anything: Don’t ask a Black person for anything on Juneteenth. Leading the Juneteenth celebration at work is not part of Keisha in accounting’s job description. Plus, it’s kinda racist. Would you ask your Native American friend to give a talk on Thanksgiving? Or Columbus Day? Or Independence Day?
Also, there’s this thing called “Google.”
6. Remember Juneteenth and keep it holy: Don’t disrespect Juneteenth by wearing kente cloth or cornrows. And please don’t attempt to celebrate by singing slave songs. Negro spirituals are not made for Caucasian vocal cords or acoustic guitars. We don’t need a Juneteenth anthem.
Juvenile, Frankie Beverly and Maze already handled that.
7. Lean not into thine own understanding: You don’t have to teach anyone about this holiday. If they’re Black, they don’t need it. If they’re white, I’m sure they’ll get by like their kinfolk did for the first 155 years they didn’t know about the holiday. If they’re any other person of color, they rolled their eyes and said “What does this motherfucker want now?” when they spotted you heading toward them.
This is unnecessary:
8. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s Blackness: Again, Juneteenth is not the cookout. You don’t get a one-day pass to use the n-word or to wear blackface on Juneteenth. If you regularly use the n-word, take a day off.
9. Thou shalt not steal: This includes labor, land, wealth, elections, opportunity, education, due process under the law, the right to not be murdered by police officers, voting rights...
I’m just saying, try something new.
10. Thou shalt purchase gifts for thou Black neighbors: Just kidding. I know you don’t have any.
There you have it. Now you can celebrate Juneteenth like a true American. And if you feel the urge to switch something up, hold it in your mouth and think of the lyrics to the Juneteenth carols:
Back that azz up.
And make sure you’re right before you let go.