How to move corporate Juneteenth holidays beyond virtue signaling

Good morning, Broadsheet readers! Justice Sonia Sotomayor argues that the Supreme Court went too easy on President Trump in its decision upholding DACA, Land O’Lakes CEO Beth Ford writes about another Court decision, and we commemorate Juneteenth. 

– Commemorating Juneteenth. Today, June 19, is Juneteenth, which celebrates the date in 1865 when slaves in Galveston, Texas learned they were free—more than two years after the Emancipation Proclamation. As Emma reported earlier this week, Juneteenth is the oldest commemoration of the end of slavery in the United States, but hasn’t been honored as a holiday or taught in history classes throughout much of the country.

That’s changing this year, as protests over police brutality and racial discrimination and injustice sweep the country.

Twitter and Square were first to announce they would make June 19 a paid holiday for employees last week and were soon followed by at least 200 other U.S. companies. Some said they would recognize the holiday this year, while others vowed to make it permanent.

Tamika Nunley, an assistant professor of American history at Oberlin College who studies slavery, gender, and the Civil War, told Emma that employers’ marking of the day is more than a show of solidarity, since the original Juneteenth proclamation, in part, sought to establish the employer-laborer relationship and warned former slaves against being idle. Employers’ signal that Juneteenth is meant for celebration, not work, is a powerful message, Nunley says.

Whether that message lasts beyond this 24-hour period, however, depends on whether companies make broader, earnest commitments to racial justice, she said.

Too many companies are engaged in performative allyship, as my colleague Karen Yuan reports in this story, which features insight from black employees who shared their workplace experience for Fortune’s Working While Black project.

“We have to advocate for ourselves, and we’re made to feel we’re asking for far too much. Real allyship is as rare as a desert oasis,” Racquel, 30, told Fortune. “Example: A new CRO hired a white woman to work under me for 30{4bae5313c1ffa697ce99995897f7847f1ebf3bca0fb7c37396bb602eb24323d3} more pay. My manager used a rote Google search to address my concerns until I went to the head of HR myself. Three weeks after I was given back pay and promoted, I was laid off.”

“There are too many missed opportunities by white people to become allies,” says Tonja, 49, who wrote in. “It’s great if you want to be an ally, but we need to know that you have our back when we need it most and will not back down or shy away from the difficult conversations that take place when it comes to promoting black people. At my age, I should not have to wonder if I will be able to retire in less than 20 years, but it is a constant struggle just to be seen.”

Nia, 25, told Fortune: “One white woman has directly advocated for me to managers. She has facilitated wider conversations about race because she knows people will listen to her. She takes the stage and gives it to me and the two other black people in our office. She has given me advice. She has bought me coffee on rough days recently. She realizes she can’t solve everything, but she tries and does what she can and is open to critique on herself. But this is one person. No one else has been like this.”

This is just a sampling of the stories Fortune has gathered as part of this project. You can read more here. Understanding the workplace experience of black employees is vital to ensuring this moment moves beyond one-off commemorations and virtue signaling press releases. Fortune is still collecting these first-person accounts; if you have one to share, you’re welcome to do so here.

On that note, have a meaningful Juneteenth.

Claire Zillman
[email protected]

Editor’s note: FORTUNE Brainstorm Health, our virtual health-care conference is taking place on July 7-8. Speakers include the CEOs and presidents of healthcare giants Johnson & Johnson, Moderna, Novartis, Aetna; co-discoverer of CRISPR-Cas9, Dr. Jennifer Doudna; healthcare venture capitalists like Sue Siegel; chief medical officers from IBM, Verily, Google Health; Thrive Global CEO Arianna Huffington; NBA Commissioner Adam Silver; and more. As a newsletter subscriber, you’re invited to use this code—BSH20HALF—when you register.

Today’s Broadsheet was curated by Emma Hinchliffe

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