For many, corporate America’s embrace of the Juneteenth holiday is hollow

As a diversity consultant, de Marshall coaches Wall Street banks on how to become more suitable workplaces for people of color. You might think she’ll be thrilled when her clients ask for help with plans to celebrate Juneteenth.

Not much, it turns out.

“Blacks aren’t excited about this,” said Marshall, CEO of Diverse & Engaged Consulting Group.

distance killed by police George Floyd last year sparked mass protests and ignited a racial reckoning in the United States, and American businesses embraced Juneteenth as a way to honor black Americans and show their commitment to a diverse and inclusive workplace.

A portmanteau word from the date June 19, Juneteenth commemorates the day in 1865 when Union Army General Gordon Granger marched to Galveston, Texas to liberate the last enslaved black Americans—months after the Confederacy surrendered in the Civil War and more than two years after President Abraham Lincoln formally announced the end of slavery .

While some black Americans appreciate corporate America’s belated recognition of Juneteenth by making it a paid holiday, others, like Marshall, complain that it appears to be an empty gesture — particularly when many companies aren’t living up to the diversity promises they made at the height of the Floyd protests. .

People hold a Juneteenth banner at a protest in Brooklyn, New York on June 19, 2020 © John Minchillo/AP

“What is more important to residents that this is meant to honor him? I don’t think they will be very excited about the Juneteenth event happening. They will be excited when there is real change happening in the organization,” Marshall said.

Regardless, Juneteenth is now a cornerstone of many companies’ racial justice efforts, with Lyft, Colgate and BP, among others, touting their accreditation of the holiday in social impact and diversity reports.

About 9 percent of companies will exit Juneteenth this year, according to a survey by employer consultancy Mercer, compared to 55 percent for Martin Luther King Jr.’s Day. Thursday President Joe Biden I signed a bill Make June as a federal holiday, the nation’s 11th day.

The campaign to establish MLK Day began shortly after the assassination of the civil rights leader in 1968 and was finally signed in 1983.

The controversy over Juneteenth’s federal holiday status has raged as the United States struggles with how to remember its history of institutional racism. Republicans in 20 states have introduced legislation to limit public schools’ use of critical race theory, an academic strategy used to examine institutions from the perspective of race. Conservatives fear that debate about the United States’ legacy of discriminatory policies may fuel anti-American sentiment.

“Even today, as conservatives try to erase history with their attacks on critical race theory and understand the effects of systemic racism, we stand here and acknowledge the truth,” Ed Markey, a Democratic senator from Massachusetts, wrote on Twitter earlier this week. “We’ll make June # a federal holiday.”

Marc Anthony Neal, professor of African and African American Studies at Duke University, noted that while black Americans in southern and southwestern states celebrate the holiday with family reunions, cooking, and group parties, “there was no national following before the killing of Floyd in late May 2020.

People in Leesburg, Virginia rally against the teaching of critical race theory in schools © Andrew Caballero / AFP via Getty Images

“For a lot of companies, it’s been a drop in fruit,” Neil said of the companies’ rise in Juneteenth. The date came last year in the midst of the Black Lives Matter protests, and as many companies were scrambling to publicly address racism for the first time.

“If Juneteenth was in October, that wouldn’t have happened,” Marshall said.

Several companies that were among the first to designate Juneteenth as a company holiday by providing a day off or offering overtime pay, including Nike, Square and Mastercard, said they plan to do the same this year.

But overall, the festivities were remarkably silent. GM, which last year suspended a nine-minute shutdown — the length of time former Minneapolis police officer Derek Chauvin kneeled on Floyd’s neck — to honor Floyd on Juneteenth last year, said its plans this year included “volunteering and community engagement.”

Vacation opponents pointed to the financial cost of being absent from work. Ron Johnson, Republican Senator from Wisconsin prevented Legislation last year Juneteenth estimated the cost at $600 million a year for federal employees alone. The US Office of Personnel Management said most federal employees will take the new Juneteenth holiday on Friday, as June 19 falls on Saturday.

Dakasha Winton, a black executive and head of government relations for insurance company BlueCross BlueShield of Tennessee, said the educational focus of many of the corporate Juneteenth celebrations makes them worthwhile.

“Even if it’s your first time doing something, you at least take steps to do something, and that’s the key,” Winton said.

The diverse working group of New York-based public relations group RF Binder has voted to add Juneteenth to the list of paid holidays and to rescind the homage to 15th-century Italian explorer Christopher Columbus to make way for it.

“To forgo Columbus Day in Juneteenth, there’s something very meaningful about it,” CEO Amy Bender said. “Columbus Day celebrates the Western world invading a country and taking it away from the Native Americans, and that’s probably not a good concept.”

For Marshall, recognition of Juneteenth only makes sense for black employees when they are part of a coherent plan for diversity, equity, and inclusion.

“This day not only celebrates the past,” Biden said shortly before the holiday was signed into law. “It’s a call to action today.”

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