What is Juneteenth, Why it Matters & What You Can Do!

Happy Woman with Folded Arms for Juneteenth Resources Article

I am educating myself about issues of race and colonialism: it’s a journey, and I know I have more to learn. I wrote this article both for myself to understand these issues more deeply—and I hope that by doing so I provide a lens and encouragement for others to do the same. And please know that I’m also open to suggestions for improvement.

A little article context

This article is aimed at readers who are white and of European descent (which is me) as well as non-American people of colour who may not know about Juneteenth.

When I first planned this article, I was going to include a list of things we can do to support and celebrate Juneteenth. But as I wrote, and learned more about what it meant to be an ally, I discovered that one of the best things we can do is highlight and center black voices—not mine/our own.

By the time I had done that there were so many resources, and because a good first step is to educate ourselves, my recommendation for Juneteenth is to dedicate some time to deeper learning.

So below you’ll find a brief description of Juneteenth, some quick thoughts from me, and then resources for you to go deeper! There’s something for everyone including a helpful graphic, book recommendations, a podcast, articles and more. And I wrap-up with a few anti-racist quotes for you.

Are you already an ally and looking for things you can do? Here’s 106 Things White People Can Do for Racial Justice

How I first became aware of Juneteenth:

I live in Canada, a neighbour to the USA, and I first became aware of Juneteenth in 2020 after George Floyd’s death at the hands of police officers. That’s because we only get to hear what the media considers important, and that year, in that context, news outlets finally decided that Juneteenth was worth making a big deal about.

So, what is Juneteenth?

Juneteenth is a (new in 2021) federal holiday in the United States that celebrates and remembers the emancipation of African-American slaves. It is often observed by celebrating African-American culture. Originating in Galveston, Texas, it has been celebrated annually on June 19 (June nineteenth -> Juneteenth) in various parts of the United States since 1865.

Fabiola CineasObviously there is a lot more to it than that, and I recommend you read this article to get a deeper understanding: Juneteenth, explained at Vox written by race reporter Fabiola Cineas.

Fabiola shares how slaves in some parts of the US didn’t learn they were free until months (and up to 2 years) after they were officially emancipated! Or how Juneteenth has traditionally  been seen as part of “Black” history when it should be seen as American history—and what that means. And much, much more. It’s a really interesting read and I thoroughly recommend it. I also include a link below to a podcast interview between Fabiola and Ibram X. Kendi (also found in her article).

So, why does Juneteenth matter?

I think this is a powerful question for each of us to consider: because it makes us think and figure it out for ourselves—a powerful way to learn!

Here are a few of my thoughts so far:

  1. In the last few years, the deeply embedded racism in our society has been highlighted and terribly showcased by the murder of George Floyd and many more black and indigenous peoples. Juneteenth is a powerful reminder of our shameful past. While you and I may not have done any of these things, our ancestors did. And we all continue to benefit from the effects of slavery:
    • According to this article in the National Library of Medicine “approximately 10 million slaves lived in the United States, where they contributed 410 billion hours of labor.” Those people were not paid, yet they worked (often to death) for the benefit of white colonists.
    • Consider what America would be like if slaves and forced labour had not cleared the land, built the roads and railways, planted, tended and picked the crops that made America such a massive economic force.
  2. It’s become clear that despite legal equality, people of colour still do not get equal treatment in countries where white people are the dominant race. Statistically people of colour are much more likely to be stopped by police, arrested, have a gun drawn on them by police, experience poverty, racism, discrimination in schools, banking (redlining), the workplace, health centres and more.
    • Here’s an article about tennis star Bianca Williams speaking out about the police car-stop where both she and her partner were handcuffed (in London, England) with their baby on the backseat.
  3. While prejudice, stereotyping and assumptions is something we all do—every skin colour, race and creed. It is however largely white people (and largely men) who are in positions of power. So if like me, you’re a white European settler, consider that just because you’re not racist doesn’t mean that:
    1. There aren’t many other people who are still racist, many in important and influential positions making policy for the rest of us.
    2. We don’t have unconscious prejudices and assumptions passed on from our parents, grandparents, history books (biased stories of what happened), the media (black female stereotyping: the Jezebel, Mammy & angry “Sapphire”).
What are your thoughts? What would you add?

Resources Section

For a more in-depth look at Juneteenth and racism/anti-racism please check out these resources:

Books to learn more about Diversity, Racism and Becoming an Ally

The book links are to Bookshop.org (which supports small bookstores and is al alternative to Amazon!). As always I encourage you to support your local (Black) bookseller—even if it means paying a little more or waiting longer to receive your book).

A Telling Story…

The book link below is to Amazon (to access more information and add to your wishlist, but as always I encourage you to support your local (Black) bookseller—even if it means paying a little more or waiting longer to receive your book).

The book Sally Hemings by Barbara Chase-Riboud is a fictionalised account of Sally, Thomas Jefferson’s mistress of 38 years whom he loved and lived with until he died—and did not free upon his death! I do have some issues around the portrayal of Sally, yet this story is thought-provoking and gives great insight into those times. For example, a scene seen through the eyes of European visitors has Jefferson’s slave children (who even look like him) serving the white family including his white children at the dinner table. It shows the ridiculousness of treating one race as better than another.

TIP: Read the afterword first, where the author tells how Thomas Jefferson scholars tried to stop the book being published (which in itself is shocking).

Some Excellent Voices and Opinions

A Fascinating Podcast

This Vox Conversations podcast is from June 2021. Fabiola Cineas interviews Ibram X. Kendi on how the last year has changed us, how we define and fight racism and how we can all work to make change. Enjoy:

I admire the work of Ibram X. Kendi. Here are some links to explore further:

Educator and Teacher Hedreich Nichols

Hedreich Nichols was recommended to me by fellow coach Abena B. Hedreich is an educator/teacher who writes for a blog called Cult of Pedagogy. Her articles on Equity and Inclusion are interesting and well-written. This article aimed at teachers (but questions are still relevant) helps to identify your blindpsots.

One person's journey to becoming anti-racist

Click to see larger

Last Resource: Journey to Anti-Racism

Shared with me by my co-worker Natasha Kong, and inspired by the work of Dr. Ibram X. Kendi, this circles diagram shows the creator’s journey toward becoming Anti-Racist.

This creator of this graphic says Feel free to use, copy and share so please do!

Lastly, a Few Quotes to Inspire
  1. “Racism is so universal in this country, so widespread, and deep-seated, that it is invisible because it is so normal.” Shirley Chisholm
  2. “The beauty of anti-racism is that you don’t have to pretend to be free of racism to be an anti-racist. Anti-racism is the commitment to fight racism wherever you find it, including in yourself. And it’s the only way forward.” Ijeoma Oluo
  3. “Racist ideas love believers, not thinkers.” Ibram X. Kendi
  4. “No one is born hating another person because of the colour of his skin, or his background or his religion. People learn to hate, and if they can learn to hate, they can be taught to love, for love comes more naturally to the human heart than its opposite.” Nelson Mandela
  5. “If tolerance, respect and equity permeate family life, they will translate into values that shape societies, nations and the world.” Kofi Annan
  6. “It is time for parents to teach young people early on that in diversity there is beauty and there is strength.” Maya Angelou
  7. “In the end anti-black, anti-female, and all forms of discrimination are equivalent to the same thing: anti-humanism.” Shirley Chisholm

Wrap-upFierce Kindness Logo

Well, that was probably a lot to think about! I hope you found some useful, interesting or thought-provoking ideas and resources.

If you have comments, suggestions, ideas or more great resources, please add yours in the comments below.

If you liked this, you may also like:

Change the world. Start with you!

Image of Happy Woman standing with Arms Folded by krakenimages via Kraken Images


  1. Margaret

    Hi, this is Margaret from the Cult of Pedagogy team. We’re so glad that you liked the article, “Uncovering Your Implicit Biases: An Exercise for Teachers” by Hedreich Nichols. Hedreich is a fantastic author and guest writer for Cult of Pedagogy, which is run by Jennifer Gonzalez.

    • Emma-Louise Elsey

      Hi Margaret, that is great to hear 🙂 Warmly, Emma-Louise


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