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While Juneteenth is meant to celebrate the free of the final enslaved people in Texas, it will soon be taken over by corporations trying to commercialized the now-national holiday. Photo by Morgan Casey

Profiting off of Black people, one national holiday at a time

Juneteenth is now a national holiday

While that sentence seems so randomly placed at the start of an article, not even offering any nuanced introduction or backstory, so was President Joe Biden’s decision to make Juneteenth a national holiday. 

For those that have yet to learn, Juneteenth is the celebration of freeing of the last Black people still enslaved in the Deep South, finishing the work of the declaration of the Emancipation Proclamation and the signing of the 13th Amendment. It took an additional two years for the final enslaved people residing in Galveston, Texas to be set free by Union soldiers on June 19, 1865 (hence the importance of Juneteenth rather than the day of the Emancipation Proclamation or the 13th Amendment signing).

Biden announced his decision to make Juneteenth a national holiday on Thursday afternoon, a mere 48-hours before the now-national holiday. For federal employees, this meant having Friday, June 18 off since Juneteenth falls on a Saturday this year. For everyone else, it seems like you are out of luck.

That is inherently the issue with Juneteenth’s national holiday signifier. Juneteenth is now another opportunity for rich, white people to get a paid day off while most BIPOC work. On their day off, they might go out to eat somewhere or go shopping. All the while, they are being served by predominantly Black or other POC minimum-wage workers who do not have the luxury of enjoying the national holiday title of Juneteenth.

The commodification and commercialization of national holidays is nothing new. Whether it be Memorial Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, or the host of other national holidays, American culture instantly turns holidays into an opportunity to spend. Memorial Day is more known for its sales than for honoring the military lives lost across the years. As embarrassing as this might be to admit, it took a Google search for me to learn that Labor Day is supposed to celebrate the success of the Labor Rights Movement that began during the height of American industrialization. I merely know it as an opportunity to go to the beach and buy jeans from Old Navy at discounted prices.

It did not take long for people to start making jokes about offensive sale taglines that at least one brand will inevitably use (and live to regret it). The J.C. Penney department store has a head start on commodifying and commercializing Juneteenth; they already have an entire Juneteenth product line (most of which is already sold by actual Black-owned businesses). 

In classic and even historical American fashion, white Americans have found yet another way to profit off the backs of Black Americans. White Americans are feigning recognition of the generational trauma caused by slavery as a way to get a day off work and to get better deals on goods and services. 

Even Biden’s Thursday remarks after announcing the decision reeked of false recognition. Towards the end of his 11-minute speech, Biden stated: “Juneteenth represents not only the commemoration of the end of slavery in America more than 150 years ago, but the ongoing work that has [to be done] to bring true equity in race and justice in American society.” Does suddenly deciding 48-hours beforehand that Juneteenth is important enough to make it a national holiday show commemoration? Does this decision show the comprehension of the pain Black people still feel today because of slavery?

All the making of Juneteenth a national holiday does is open the floodgates to white people and corporations to take Juneteenth for themselves and brand it as a vacation and an opportunity to spend. Despite the appearance of reforms addressing institutionalized racism coming from the Biden administration, they are only appearances. The certification of Juneteenth as a national holiday is only important to those who did not inherently find worth in Juneteenth. It is only for those that find worth in Juneteenth through its commercialization and commodification.

There are people much more qualified than I that could discuss and are discussing the issues with making Juneteenth a national holiday, including University of Maryland, Baltimore County’s own Africana Studies professor Dr. Tammy Henderson. Though, it is worth noting, that not all Black people are experts on Juneteenth or the inner mechanisms of institutionalized racism. Black Americans are also not required to educate white people, something many allies fail to understand. So, before you bother your Black friend or coworker about Juneteenth, maybe seek out online information sources about Juneteenth or how to be a better ally in general.