A Proposal for Justice on Juneteenth

From “day off” to day of reparations

Pax Ahimsa Gethen


Black and white image of a diverse group of people socializing at picnic tables. Below is a colorful “Juneteenth: Senses of Freedom” logo and the  credit: “Collection of the Smithsonian National Museum of African American History and Culture, Gift of Milton Williams Archives, @Milton Williams”.
“On June 19, 1865, Union troops arrived in Galveston, Texas with the news that the more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the state were free. This day came to be known as Juneteenth, now officially a federal holiday.” National Museum of African American History & Culture: nmaach.si.edu/Juneteenth

I posted earlier this week that I’ve been feeling stressed about celebrating Juneteenth tomorrow in light of the resurgence of white supremacy in the U.S. The truth is, I feel some resentment at white employees getting paid time off for a holiday that commemorates the end of slavery, when Black folks still make so much less money and are marginalized in so many other ways.

This is not about me specifically. As a contractor, I get no paid holidays or sick leave whatsoever. But thanks to rent control and the financial support of my fully-employed spouse, I will not suffer hardship from taking an unpaid day off. The same cannot be said of many other Black folks in the U.S., who are living paycheck to paycheck or out on the streets.

I realize that it would be impractical to suggest that only Black employees get Juneteenth as a paid holiday. I imagine such a proposal would be met with demands — joking or sincere — that only veterans get Veterans Day off, or only Christians get Christmas Day off. I would respond that these are not comparable identities, but perhaps only Native Americans should also get paid time off for Thanksgiving and Indigenous Peoples’ Day (or Columbus Day, as most cities still insist on calling it).