Juneteenth is a special day in United States history, specifically for Black history. While Black history month takes place in February, Black history is a crucial part of history overall and should be taught year-round.
While certain topics can be difficult to approach with kids of any background—especially topics that involve historical trauma such as slavery—Juneteenth is a great way to begin that process. Juneteenth is a celebration of liberation. It's even known as "Freedom Day" by many.
Talking about Juneteenth with your kids is a great way to approach race education and navigate how to talk to your kids about diversity. Here's how to start.
What is Juneteenth?
If you don't know about Juneteenth yet, one of the best places to begin educating your kids is by educating yourself.
Juneteenth is now a federal holiday, and it is a day of celebration commemorating June 19, 1865, the day when slavery actually ended in America's south. Even though the Emancipation Proclamation technically outlawed slavery in the south two years prior, many enslaved people didn't see freedom until Juneteenth.
Juneteenth is a day of freedom and celebration. Many people engage in all kinds of festivities, including picnics, street fairs, cookouts, parties, and historical reenactments — similar to the ways many people celebrate July 4th. Think of it as another Independence Day, specifically about the historical ramifications of slavery.
Race and equality education
Educating your children about Juneteenth also includes educating them about slavery, racial inequality, and other difficult subjects throughout history.
Especially for white children, parents sometimes try to avoid these subjects so as not to make their children uncomfortable, but it's necessary to talk about these things so you can raise informed citizens who are aware of the world and how to participate in it productively. That's a part of why it's important to talk to kids about race.
Most white parents today were brought up in the era of white silence—while racism may not have been intentionally ingrained in you, your parents may have taught you not to "see" or talk about race, which is not what we should be passing on to our kids now. The mindset of colorblindness or "not seeing color" is not truly a mindset of equality, because it doesn't teach individuals what to do when people of color aren't experiencing that assumed equality.
Everyone needs to be conscious, educated, and comfortable enough with race conversations to recognize inequality and racism when it's happening instead of staying silent. This way, we know how to identify with people of all races and engage in conversations about race rather than avoiding them.
Instead of approaching race with your kids as a concept of equality through a lens that separates them from other races, be completely honest about the history and current issues surrounding race, and use empathy as a tool for education. Don't skim over racial differences with a generalized address of "fairness." Acknowledge that different races exist and experience life in the United States differently, explain and address racism and the privileges white children experience simply because they are white, and help them understand that this is unfair — and we need to work together to change it.
The best way to answer your kids' questions when you're talking about race is to make sure you're also educated.
Checking your biases
When it comes to educating your kids about any subject that's a bit out of your realm of expertise and life experience, it's important to check your own biases so as not to pass down micro-aggressive behaviors or ideas.
Do your own homework and think about the way you speak and the language you use. Listen to Black creators and educators for guidance and use your knowledge in future conversations. For some starting points, check out @theconsciouskid on Instagram, watch educational videos like "Kids, Race, and Unity" on Nick News, or listen to black-hosted podcast episodes like "How to Raise Anti-Racist Kids" with Dr. Nzinga Harrison on Good Kids. You can even find great sources for teaching Black history and racial conversations on TikTok — Lynae Bogues is one of many Black creators spreading awareness of America's racial past.
Approaching sensitive subjects appropriately
There is a time and a place for all types of conversations, including serious conversations. When you talk to your child about Juneteenth or any sensitive historical subject, it's important to use language and terminology that they can understand and that are age-appropriate.
Each child and age range will have a different capacity for understanding difficult topics. And while it can often communicate the severity and immediacy of injustices, it's usually best to avoid graphic language or gratuitous anecdotes.
For example, it's important to make kids aware of very real situations that occur and have occurred as a result of racism—like the Black Lives Matter movement, George Floyd, and the history of slavery and segregation—but it's also important to remember that they are children. You absolutely should not attempt to hide any truth from them, but try to present the core facts without information that could be too graphic, such as specific details of violent acts. While young kids need to be educated early about race, racism and racial violence, this specific aspect might be something that can wait until they're teens.
Listening to the news together, watching coverage of Black Lives Matter demonstrations, watching child-targeted programs about race, and introducing children's books that talk about race are good ways to create opportunities for racial conversations. Make sure to engage with your kids, ask questions, and discuss their understanding of the issues afterwards — this gives them a chance to build context, apply what they've learned to personal situations, and build empathy and inclusive thinking with your help.
How to teach Juneteenth at home
One thing to note about Juneteenth is that, due to its date, kids aren't usually in school to learn about it, which means it's up to the parents to navigate how to talk to children about race. Luckily, there are so many great techniques to explore when considering how to talk to kids about Juneteenth, and you can pick whichever ideas work best for your family.
One great way to embark on hands-on learning is going on field trips to historical sites and museums where your kids can have a primary learning experience. Museums like the African American Museum in Philadelphia are great places to visit.
If you'd rather start the educational journey right at home, there are plenty of books you can read and discuss together. Penguin Random House even released a Juneteenth reading list specifically for that purpose.
Talking about Juneteenth
The best way to create an educated, inclusive and humanitarian population is to educate our kids first. And whether that starts with Juneteenth or any other special day, you have the power to raise amazing children who work to make the world a better place.
A version of this post was published June 17, 2021. It has been updated.