The Juneteenth holiday marks the end of slavery in the United States. The holiday is celebrated in mostly predominantly Black American communities and some predominantly non-African-American communities. Specifically, this day marks when Major General Gordon Granger arrived in Galveston, Texas on June 19, 1865, and declared General E.O.C. Ord had given him orders that all slaves were granted their freedom. Juneteenth, June 19th — celebrated as the day that Texas slaves were emancipated — is often a day off work for many white people whose employers offer this as an option. Although this is marketed as a special time to celebrate “the end of slavery”, Juneteenth is a day on, not a day off. It’s not intended to give white people in America a time to “rest easy” without giving any thought or attention to the slavery which has continued throughout history.
Juneteenth is an important day, but it is also a day when white allies must ensure that they don’t do anything that will harm their Black friends and family. It’s a day on. I don’t mean that in the sense of “you have to do something today, so you can’t take a break.” I mean it in the sense of putting yourself out there, being vulnerable, and committing to doing better. This doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate! It just means that when you’re celebrating, you should be aware of the fact that this is not your holiday and you should be careful not to take up too much space or make anyone feel uncomfortable.
Juneteenth is a day to reflect on the progress we’ve made as a nation and the work that remains to be done. It’s a day to celebrate the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans and recommit ourselves to righting wrongs—both past and present. And it’s a day to honor those who continue to fight for justice, equality, and freedom.
Because Juneteenth isn’t about just one day of action—it’s about a year-round commitment to fighting for racial justice. And whether you’re a leader or an activist or just someone who wants to make the world better, being part of that means being willing to show up every time in whatever capacity you can. So if you’re going to celebrate Juneteenth this year, make sure your celebration isn’t just an excuse to take a break from your activism—make sure it’s an opportunity to reflect on what you’ve done so far and what needs work next.
When Juneteenth falls on a weekend, as it does this year, it’s tempting to see it as an opportunity to take a day off. But I encourage you to look at it differently: Juneteenth is a day on, not a day off. The reason this is so important is that Juneteenth is not just a holiday—it’s an opportunity for white allies to show up and work toward dismantling white supremacy and racism in all its forms. If you’re white and have been wondering how you can do that, here are some ideas:
The holiday itself is about turning the mirror back on white America. It is not celebratory for Black Americans, but instead a call to action and reflection. Juneteenth was established as a day when slaveholders were finally removed from office, and all slaves were freed, but belittling it or making it an excuse not to do real work is erasing the lessons of Juneteenth altogether. There are no days off in the struggle against racism. Juneteenth is a day to celebrate the survival of the Black community after 200 hundred years of slavery. It’s a day to clarify misconceptions about the Black community and give a voice to those who continue to be oppressed by the system. Juneteenth is not a day off, it is a day on, and white allies need to do more than just acknowledge its existence. They must strive to educate themselves on its importance and take actions that support Black lives.
This article is a guest post by anti-racism educator Samantha Jackson. You can learn more by visiting samanthaakemijackson.com