In the institutional world of expanding inclusion (having in place structures, processes, and policies that remove racial barriers erected to exclude traditionally marginalized racial groups from more inclusive participation in institutional and structural power building, sharing, and wielding), holidays offer many potential pitfalls. Institutions want to honor different traditions in ways that are not merely performative. Unfortunately, cultural and institutional biases act against inclusion.

Institutions usually follow holiday schedules set forth by the federal government – Christmas, 4th of July, Presidents’ Day, etc.  These holidays are paid for by institutions and enshrined within institutional cultures. As such, they advantage workers who share those holiday cultural traditions. 

But what about those workers whose celebrate different holidays?

For those holidays that are not institutionally mandated, employees are left to individually negotiate with employers as to whether and how they can access celebratory time. Some employees may have workplaces that offer flexibility: switching out holidays; working additional hours to have the time off; or using vacation or PTO time. But even that flexibility imposes an additional “cultural tax,” if you will, not required of those who celebrate the institutionally mandated holidays. And, as these types of accommodations are usually not institutionalized, workers do not have the protections offered those who celebrate within U.S. cultural traditions – another “cultural tax.”

When institutions try to acknowledge holidays outside of those institutionally mandated, they may offer make-shift acknowledgements: asking/requiring employees who celebrate previously unacknowledged holidays to educate others on them; posting blurbs about unacknowledged holidays in company newsletters; asking/requiring employees to bring potluck “holiday dishes” or to share stories. None of these is equivalent to the benefits that other employees receive from their holidays being embedded in institutional cultures and norms.  These expectations can be seen and/or felt as condescending or performative, and they certainly do nothing to address the “cultural tax” that employees are asked to assume.

To be truly inclusive in acknowledging and celebrating holiday traditions, institutions should reexamine their policies to ensure that employees whose traditions are outside of federal/state U.S. cultural norms are not paying a “cultural tax” for the privilege of having the same protections that other employees have: the privilege of celebrating holidays that are culturally relevant for them without having to do anything extra. 

Written By A. Adar Ayira for

Baltimore Racial Justice Action’s Racial Equity Practices (R.E.P.),

A Monthly Newsletter for 21st Century Institutions.