Just a couple of years ago it was an event most white Americans and a lot of Black Americans had never heard of: Juneteeth or June 19th, the day enslaved Texans finally got the word about the Emancipation Proclamation. It was 1865, two years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation. Union Army Major General Gordon Granger issued General Order #3 in Galveston Texas to the 250,000 Black men and women who had only known lives as “property” under a brutal system. There was uncertainty that day about how their former owners would accept the news, but there was also relief and joy. The hopes and dreams of the newly freed that first Freedom Day are the foundation of the Juneteeth observance.

Juneteenth has long been a cultural staple in Texas and in some other local Black communities. It grew from a Texas-wide remembrance and those local events to widespread unofficial observances acknowledged by nearly every state in the country. Last year, President Joe Biden made it official, signing into law Congressional legislation naming Juneteenth as the 12th federal holiday.

In the wake of George Floyd’s murder in 2020, Juneteenth became something else — a significant part of corporate and community efforts for diversity and inclusion. A way into dialogue about ongoing thorny issues of racial justice and the legacy of systemic racism.

I’ve always appreciated Juneteenth’s history and its expression of African American culture. I’m offended that Juneteenth is also the subject of tacky and disrespectful marketing. Juneteenth ice cream anyone? Walmart debuted its special ice cream to swift and angry backlash. Even TMZ, the C-list entertainment gossip show, recognized the product as “the latest entry to the Tone Deaf Marketing Hall of Fame.” Walmart apologized, shortly after the cancellation of the Juneteenth Soul Food Festival in Arkansas which featured a panel of white judges. I’m too weary to list the myriad other gaffes and missteps.

So, I have mixed feelings about the newfound attention and resultant commercial hoopla that now surrounds Juneteenth. On the one hand, I want to make sure that two years late emancipation is uplifted as the pivotal piece of American history it is. More likely if many decide to honor it every year. On the other hand, I don’t want to lose what made previous Juneteenth celebrations special — the intimacy of the grassroots gatherings featuring commemorative speeches, parades and communal feasts with focused attention on the meaning of the day. And I also don’t want Juneteenth to be thought of as a kind of miracle balm to treat the deep wounds of racial hate.

But I do want it to be an antidote to the venomous racist and false rhetoric against teaching and discussing the truth about nation’s racial past. I take pleasure in knowing that today’s inaugural observances of Juneteenth are in effect overriding legislation shutting down these uncomfortable but necessary conversations. A fitting tribute to those whose journey to emancipation is now stitched into America’s fabric of history.