TOP STORIES How to properly celebrate June in the era of...

How to properly celebrate June in the era of commercialization

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Audiences react to a performance during a June 19 celebration in Times Square in New York’s Manhattan borough on Sunday.

Alex Kent/AFP via Getty Images


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Alex Kent/AFP via Getty Images

Audiences react to a performance during a June 19 celebration in Times Square in New York’s Manhattan borough on Sunday.

Alex Kent/AFP via Getty Images

In years past, June 19 was mostly celebrated by southern blacks, especially black Texans, who celebrated the day with intimate gatherings, black hymns, and comforting meals.

It is now a federal holiday, celebrated from coast to coast (with exceptions) in different ways.

What changes when an informal celebration becomes an official holiday? For starters, there are more merchandise and more government-sponsored events to choose from.

Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, editor of the Black Agenda essay collection, spoke with morning edition host Steve Inskip on how people should properly celebrate the day and support black Americans throughout the year.

Gifty celebrates the holiday despite being the daughter of immigrants whose ancestors did not live in the US in 1865.

“June is something that isn’t necessarily part of the history of all blacks in America, but it’s part of the history of black America,” Gifty said. “And I think it’s worth celebrating every time.”

Here’s how Gifty recommends people do it.


Interview Highlights

Should white people celebrate June?

White people should celebrate this holiday the way black Americans do. By that I mean if your celebration looks like a takedown or a discussion about black Americans and how they choose to celebrate and how they choose to stand up for their truth, then I don’t think it’s actually a celebration with blacks. Americans. Just don’t interrupt black people who just want to have a good time.

On how the celebration of June 16 has changed over the years

I think it’s great that there are aspects of Black American history that are celebrated in this way. I think so [Ohio State University professor] Dr. Trevon Logan said it’s the best [in a recent op-ed in Bloomberg]: June 10 should remind Americans that emancipation is necessary but not sufficient. There must be a real fight against how racial injustice still affects the lives of black Americans and black people in America today.

On the commercialization of June

I think the commercialization of June is often due to the lack of black people who actually have a say in how a company or organization celebrates June Day.

I don’t think any black people would say, “Please bring June flavored ice cream.” Okay, I’m looking at Walmart, right?

On what’s wrong with Walmart’s June Mood flavored ice cream

I mean, why do you take the emancipation celebration in parts of the US and try to quickly sell it as, “Here’s something you can easily digest, literally.” And I think that’s the problem.

You wouldn’t do that with other major milestones in America, and I think even then a certain level of caution is required. Because the reality is that while Juneteenth has become a commodity, black Americans and blacks in America are still struggling. So, you are making money off the alleged black liberation and freedom when that freedom and liberation has not been fully realized.

On how companies and organizations can prioritize blacks

Yes, this is America, so commodification and commercialization is inevitable, right? You know, just go to Times Square, for example. I think my whole point is that organizations that really want to engage deeply with Juneteenth also need to go deeply into how racial injustice takes place within their own organizations.

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