How to properly celebrate Juneteenth in the age of commercialization

Onlookers react to a performance during a Juneteenth celebration in Times Square, in the Manhattan borough of New York, on Sunday.
Alex Kent/AFP via Getty Images

In years past, Juneteenth was primarily celebrated by southern Black folks, especially Black Texans, who commemorated the day with intimate gatherings, Black anthems and comfort food.

Now it’s a federal holiday, observed from coast-to-coast (with exceptions) in different ways.

What changes when an informal celebration becomes an official holiday? There’s more commodification and more government-sponsored events to choose from, for starters.

Anna Gifty Opoku-Agyeman, editor of the essay collection “The Black Agenda,” spoke with Morning Edition host Steve Inskeep about how people should appropriately commemorate the day — and support Black Americans throughout the year.

Gifty marks the holiday even though she is a daughter of immigrants whose ancestors were not in the U.S. in 1865.

“Juneteenth is something that is not necessarily part of the story of all Black folks in America, but it’s part of Black America’s story,” Gifty said. “And I think that is worth celebrating every time.”

Here’s how Gifty recommends people do that.

Interview Highlights

Should white people celebrate Juneteenth?

White people should celebrate this holiday in the way that centers Black Americans. What I mean by that is, if your celebration looks like taking away or speaking over Black Americans and how they’re choosing to celebrate and how they’re choosing to stand in their truth, then I don’t think that’s actually celebrating alongside Black Americans. Just don’t interrupt Black folks who are just trying to have a great time.