Juneteenth: What I Learned from Black Women About How White People Should Approach the Day

Many times, white folks like myself tend to trip over our own two feet on important and significant days in Black American history. Many of us truly want to show support and love, but we end up doing harm instead. We center ourselves, or misspeak, or fail to show the respect that is warranted. Despite our best efforts and intentions, we still manage to do harm.

I’ve done harm, myself. A merciful thing I have learned from Black women who have chosen to put in the labor of educating me is that we don’t have to be ashamed when we do unintentional harm. We just need to resolve to not do it again, and to continue listening to Black people as we unpack and unlearn what white supremacy has taught us. We don’t have to be ashamed, embarrassed, or defensive. We just have to be willing to humble ourselves and have the conversation.

Black women have taught me so much over the years, through helping me correct my own mistakes and through the free education they provide online. When it comes to Juneteenth, I’ve learned a few things that I’d like to share with my fellow melanin-deficient friends:

#1. “Happy Juneteenth” isn’t something we should say.

We shouldn’t wish our Black friends Happy Juneteenth unless we have checked in on their feelings about the day. Juneteenth has a grave and complicated historical significance. Happy Juneteenth isn’t our phrase. Just as many of us have learned that we shouldn’t say Happy Memorial Day to veterans if we aren’t veterans ourselves, we need to learn that it’s not our place to say Happy Juneteenth.

#2. It’s not our day to show how anti-racist we are.

Today is not the day to advertise our allyship or performatively demonstrate what we’ve done for Black people and Black communities. Today isn’t about our anti-racism journey. Those of us with platforms should try to use those platforms in a way that amplifies Black voices and helps educate other white people about the day.

#3. We can show better support with our money and social capital than we can with our words.

There is always a sense of pressure — especially for those of us with platforms — to speak on days like this. But the truth is, sometimes we can be a better source of support by using our money and influence. Make a point of shopping Black Owned Businesses today. Send anonymous tips to your favorite Black creators (I know that many Black creators who create mainly race-related educational content have their Venmo and PayPal linked in their bio for this very reason). If you’re not in a position to give, use your social media accounts to amplify Black creators. Follow, Like, and Share their content. It helps more than you know.

#4. Be okay with being quiet today.

If we are engaging meaningfully with our Black friends every other day of the year, if we are showing them through our actions, our words, and our votes that we love and support them, they will know that we love them today, too. We don’t have to shout from the rooftops that we are acknowledging Juneteenth today (although, as I said above, a carefully and respectfully crafted social media post can be a nice show of support). Sometimes truly loving and supporting our Black friends is engaging in quiet reverence, and listening while they speak instead.

To every Black woman who has come alongside me, to teach, to correct, to instruct, thank you from the bottom of my heart. To my white friends who want to know how to be better at supporting your Black friends, neighbors, family members, and loved ones, visit my Instagram or TikTok page to find links to the accounts of several Black women who make wonderful educational content on the topic.

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