In light of the police killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, Tony McDade and Rayshard Brooks, as well as the killing of Ahmaud Arbery, Juneteenth has quickly made its way onto the radar of tech companies.
On June 19, 1865, slaves in Galveston, Texas, became aware of their freedom. This was about two months after Confederate Gen. Robert E. Lee surrendered in Virginia and more than two-and-half years after President Abraham Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation.
In the last couple of weeks, many tech companies have announced plans to make Juneteenth an official holiday for employees or recognize the day in some other way. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Square and Twitter, was the first major tech CEO to announce that Juneteenth would be a paid holiday for employees. Since then, companies like Facebook, Google, Amazon, Uber and Lyft have announced their own respective plans to commemorate the day.
To embrace the meaning of #Juneteenth this year, we’re making it a paid day off. We encourage employees to spend it in a way that allows them to stand up against racism, whether that’s by learning, participating in a community action, or reflecting on how to make change. (1/3)
— dara khosrowshahi (@dkhos) June 17, 2020
Today, Lyft announced its plans to host a Juneteenth panel about the importance of Juneteenth and share a Juneteenth bike route map via Citi Bike. This is in addition to giving employees the day off.
"At Lyft, we recognize that we have more work to do beyond a single action, and celebrating Juneteeth is just one step in our journey," the company wrote in a blog post. "We are committed to do our best in both material and public ways."
Other plans by companies include encouraging employees to use the day as a time to learn about racial injustice or to officially commemorate the day on Google Calendar. It’s worth noting that Apple added Juneteenth to its iOS calendar back in 2018.
Recognition of such a historic day is good. But the way these companies are publicly announcing their plans, seeking press as they do, suggests their need for some affirmative pat on the back. It’s perfectly acceptable to do the right thing and not get credit for it. It shows humility. It shows that a company is more interested in doing right by its workers than it is in saving face.
Sure, had these companies not gone public with their respective Juneteenth plans, it’s possible other companies would not have followed suit. But beyond deciding to celebrate Juneteenth, making statements about standing with the Black community and donating money, companies need to ensure they take more than just actions to combat racism in tech.
Instead, as Hustle Crew founder Abadesi Osunsade has said, tech companies need to go beyond one-off actions and form habits around racial justice work. Forming habits around hiring Black people, promoting Black employees, paying Black employees fairly, funding Black founders and making room for Black people in leadership positions is what will lead to concrete change in this industry.
Meanwhile, in response to recent events of police violence, many tech companies have made paradoxical statements. Many of the statements of support are devoid of meaning when you consider how some companies fail to create diverse workforces, respond to hate speech on their platforms and/or continue to hold contracts with police departments.
Today, Facebook announced it would spend at least $100 million annually with Black-owned suppliers. Earlier this month, Reddit founder Alexis Ohanian stepped down from the company's board of directors to make room for a Black person. Meanwhile, folks over at the Kapor Center for Social Impact are encouraging staff to use Juneteenth as a day of service in the Black community. These are all steps in the right direction -- steps that can result in lasting change in the tech industry. Let's see more of those.
"Yes, Juneteenth is just one day, and we have yet to see how the nation will respond to the injustices in the months and years to come," Kapor Center Chief People Officer Matt Perry wrote in a blog post. "Here’s to hoping the actions that we take this Juneteenth can be a catalyst for sustainable change… and action."
Full disclosure, TechCrunch recently decided to make Juneteenth a holiday and I’m here for it.