“Nobody’s free until we’re all free” – Fannie Lou Hamer

Today, June 19th – Juneteenth – we celebrate the true Independence Day of the United States. 

155 years ago today, enslaved African Americans across Texas learned that they were free – over two years after the emancipation proclamation. Today, we remember the evils of slavery and the continued fight for Black liberation. Since its inception in 1865, Juneteenth has been a day for the African American community in the United States to come together to celebrate their Blackness; to celebrate resistance and resilience, while continuing to fight for racial equality and institutional change. While the abolishment of slavery gave the legal right to exist for all people, we must recognize that true equality still has yet to be realized in our country. And while we celebrate the freedom of enslaved African Americans, we must remember that the impacts of slavery still remain in our society to this day. 

We may celebrate how far we’ve come, yet we must remember that our work is not done.

The use of systemic and institutional manners of disenfranchising Black people in this country – through Jim Crow and segregation – were targeted and legal attempts at maintaining White Supremacy. The 13th Amendment to our constitution, for example, which states that “neither slavery nor involuntary servitude, except as a punishment for crime whereof the party shall have been duly convicted, shall exist within the United States, or any place subject to their jurisdiction”, provides a legal loophole that has been used to oppress Black communities through mass incarceration and modern-day state-sponsored violence. We must recognize that the uprising of the recent weeks due to the videotaped killings of Black people in this country are just the latest, and most visible, legacies of anti-black violence, racist policing, and institutionalized White Supremacy, all of which remain as legacies of slavery in the United States.

Today is a day to celebrate freedom and a historical step that was taken towards equality. But for many of us, it must also be a day to reflect on the various forms of legalized oppression that continue to exist. We must consider the ways in which today’s laws and institutions have been structured as a result of a legacy of slavery and work to undue the harm that these policies create. The end of slavery was never the end of oppression towards Black communities. We must continue in our fight for equality by systematically dismantling White Supremacy, an institution that was built through legal channels to create a racial hierarchy that exists to this day. 

For our non-Black Allies who wish to celebrate ‘Juneteenth’, here is a list of ways you can celebrate:

  • Continue to educate yourself on structural racism and the institution of White Supremacy. In order to undo a system that was designed to oppress people on the basis of skin color, we must understand how it was systematically created. This Anti-Racism Toolkit, created by Maya Batres, is full of resources to educate yourself.
  • Engage in the difficult conversation. Remember, we are here to listen and to learn. No one is perfect. You are not expected to know everything. We all start from somewhere. But we have to start. And engaging in difficult conversations with honesty and vulnerability is a necessary step.  
  • Support Black Businesses. Economic disparities between Black and White Americans are a legacy of slavery. Download the app: EatOkra find Black-owned restaurants in your community that you can support. Spend your money like it matters, using the site Intentionalist.
  • Support Black Artists. Buy Black art. Commission Black artists. Don’t just celebrate Black art, purchase it.
  • Sign Ms. Opal Lee’s petition to make Juneteenth a National Holiday.
  • VOTE. Support policies that work to undue systemic inequities.

For Black folks in our community, celebrate however you’d like. Take care of yourself. Honor yourself and honor your resilience.

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