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Eight ways white people can avoid being jerks on Juneteenth

Juneteenth flag with caption: "Eight ways white people can avoid being jerks on Juneteenth"

This task, not being a jerk, does not come easily to us white folks.

We tend to make it about us. We expect praise or thanks when we actually do something that benefits people of color. When challenged on our white supremacy, we get defensive or accusatory. White women weaponize our tears.

From one white person to another, I thought it might be helpful to learn how to celebrate Juneteenth in culturally appropriate ways. Consider this your primer, an ERA of actions! Educate, Reparate, Activate.


1. Learn about Juneteenth and why it’s important

Google it. It's a part of all of our history. Look for articles written by Black people or from reputable news sources about Juneteenth. Here’s one from the AP. Here’s a cheat sheet from Black news source The Root. Learn from the National Museum of African American History & Culture. Read “Juneteenth, Explained” by Fabiola Cineas in Vox.

“It absolutely is (white people’s) history. It absolutely is a part of your experience. ... Isn’t this all of our history? The good, the bad, the ugly, the story of emancipation and freedom for your Black brothers and sisters under the Constitution of the law.” -Dr. Karida L. Brown, sociology professor at Emory University

Protest signs, including "Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere" by Dr. MLK Jr.
2. Watch videos and movies about Juneteenth and other Black history

Yesterday I saw “The Blackening,” a comedy/horror film about college friends who get together to celebrate Juneteenth. It’s not for the faint of heart, but an excellent Black-written and -produced film with social commentary about racism. If you liked “Get Out,” you’ll like “The Blackening.” Here are some other recommendations:

  • Juneteenth—a short film

  • Juneteenth: Faith & Freedom

  • 18 films to watch to celebrate Juneteenth

  • 17 documentaries, movies, or specials to watch for Juneteenth

  • Empowering Movies and TV Shows to Watch that Celebrate Juneteenth

Search streaming platforms for Black-centered shows. Some I’ve enjoyed recently: “All Rise,” “Abbot Elementary,” Lizzo Beeating's “Watch Out for the Big Girls,” “Being Serena,” “I May Destroy You,” “Insecure,” and “The Good Fight.”

3. Attend Juneteenth activities

Find out what’s happening in your city or area to celebrate Juneteenth. Google or search on social media: “Juneteenth what’s happening near me.” Here are some activities in my home state, Oregon (founded as an anti-slavery state but the only state admitted with an “exclusionary clause”). Show up, be quiet, cheer, support, and learn. Don’t make it about you, and don’t expect thanks for showing up.

Black band playing music


Start out by reading this excellent article by Dr. Rashawn Ray and Andre M. Perry about why reparations are important.

For me, it’s about generational wealth and recompense for the violence and hatred done to Black Americans. Today, the average white family has roughly 10 times the amount of wealth as the average Black family. White college graduates have over seven times more wealth than Black college graduates. Native Americans, Jewish people, and people of Japanese descent have all received some form of reparation from the U.S. government, but not descendants of the enslaved.

In addition to advocating for reparations from the government and business, here are a few small ways we can make reparations:

4. Buy Black

So many opportunities to buy Black! Are you looking for a new:

  • Doctor

  • Dentist

  • Realtor

  • Hairdresser

  • Lawyer

  • Business coach (I highly recommend Liz J. Simpson!!)

  • Employee

  • Contractor

  • Electrician

  • Child or elder care provider

  • Fitness coach

  • Photographer

  • Consultant

  • Surveyor

  • Baker

Look for Black professionals in your area and support them.

Black man who is a tailor or dressmaker

5. Support Black businesses

Black-owned businesses are growing rapidly, but inequities remain. The national average annual payroll for employer businesses is $1.25 million, more than four times the average annual payroll for Black-run businesses. It’s harder for these businesses to secure credit and investors.

You can help by buying Black, writing reviews, building connections, and investing in the Black community (see #4). My city has a Black-owned business directory. Does yours? August is National Black Business Month, so get started!

6. Support and amplify Black artists

As an active consumer of arts, culture, and letters, I love to support Black artists. It’s easy! Here are a few suggestions, in addition to the resources in #2 above:

Listen to Black musicians. I found a Juneteenth playlist on Spotify this morning. Some of my favorite Black artists are Lizzo, Nina Simone, Sweet Honey in the Rock, Beyonce, Soweto Gospel Choir, Rhiannon Giddens, Andra Day, Stevie Wonder, Ladysmith Black Mambazo, Aretha Franklin, Tina Turner, Mavis Staples, Alicia Keys, Janelle Monae, and Rihanna. Buy their records and stream them, whatever is your jam! My 16-year-old son loves soul and R&B. His favorites are Usher, Marvin Gaye, John Legend, Stevie Wonder, Daniel Caesar, Earth Wind and Fire, and the Weeknd.

Watch Black theater. This has become much easier in my city. We’ve seen some excellent shows at Portland’s Black-owned and -run theatre company, PASSINART A THEATRE COMPANY, such as “Black Nativity,” “Neat,” and “A Song for Coretta.” Major theatres are prioritizing plays written, directed, and acted by Black professionals. And color-blind casting means we’re seeing more diverse productions, an improvement for sure!

Read or listen to books by Black authors. If you know me at all, you know reading is my life! Here are just a few of the books I’ve read by Black authors in the last year and a half and highly recommend:

  • I Take My Coffee Black, by Tyler Merritt

  • Invisible Boy: A Memoir of Self-Discovery, by Harrison Mooney

  • Red Lip Theology: For Church Girls Who've Considered Tithing to the Beauty Supply Store When Sunday Morning Isn't Enough, by Candice Marie Benbow

  • My Ackee Tree: A Chef's Memoir of Finding Home in the Kitchen, by Suzanne Barr

  • God Is a Black Woman, by Christena Cleveland

  • White Women: Everything You Already Know About Your Own Racism and How to Do Better, by Regina Jackson and Saira Rao

  • Black American Refugee: Escaping the Narcissism of the American Dream, by Tiffanie Drayton

  • Obviously: Stories from My Timeline, by Akilah Hughes

  • Truth's Table: Black Women's Musings on Life, Love, and Liberation, by Ekemini Uwan

  • Finding Me, by Viola Davis

  • Vanguard: How Black Women Broke Barriers, Won the Vote, and Insisted on Equality for All, by Martha Jones

  • The Last Black Unicorn, by Tiffany Haddish

  • Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, by Isabel Wilkerson

  • The Lightmaker's Manifesto: How to Work for Change without Losing Your Joy, by Karen Walrond

  • We Should All Be Millionaires: A Woman's Guide to Earning More, Building Wealth, and Gaining Economic Power, by Rachel Rodgers

  • Girl, Woman, Other, by Bernardine Evaristo

  • Lakewood, by Megan Giddings

  • Embers on the Wind, by Lisa Williamson Rosenberg

  • The Girls in the Wild Fig Tree: How I Fought to Save Myself, My Sister, and Thousands of Girls Worldwide, by Nice Leng’ete

  • The 1619 Project: A New Origin Story, by Nikole Hannah-Jones

  • Wench, by Dolen Perkins-Valdez

Listen to other Black stories. Do you like podcasts? That’s a great way to hear Black stories. Check out all of the amazing Black storytellers on my own podcasts. These people are phenomenal and inspired me to no end. Read Black professionals’ perspectives on Juneteenth on LinkedIn.


7. Talk about Juneteenth with your white family, colleagues, and friends

Explain why it’s important for all of us to understand, not just Black people. Push back on the conservative talking points that Juneteenth is a fake holiday and celebrates “race-based separatism.” Congress voted overwhelmingly to make Juneteenth a federal holiday in 2021, although 14 Republicans voted against it.

Hard right conservatives have been fighting hard against racial justice efforts across the United States. In Texas, the birthplace of Juneteenth, Governor George Abbot just signed a bill banning diversity, equity, and inclusion offices at public colleges and universities. School boards are touting “critical race theory” as the latest evil.

It’s a culture war out there, and we all need to be reaching out to the other white people we know and explaining why racial justice is important. Initiate conversations. Educate your children, friends, and family members. Point out exclusion wherever you see it. Write to your company executives and local legislators advocating for Juneteenth to be a paid holiday for all. Push back on performative allyship, like Akilah Cadet, DHSc, MPH writes about in “This Juneteenth, Black People Deserve Actual Liberation, Not Performative Allyship.”

Use your voice and influence to advocate for policies and practices that promote racial equality. Write to your elected representatives, engage in peaceful protests, or join advocacy groups that work towards dismantling systemic racism. Be the light.

8. Volunteer and give back…or give money!

Consider volunteering your time or resources to organizations that focus on racial equality, social justice, or community development. Look for opportunities to support initiatives that promote education, mentorship, or economic empowerment. Give money to organizations that support racial justice, civil rights, or other initiatives that address systemic inequalities.

Remember, celebrating Juneteenth is about recognizing and honoring the struggles and achievements of the African American community. Approach the day with respect, humility, and a willingness to learn and grow.


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