Billy Porter Criticized for Kiss at Juneteenth Celebration

Actor Billy Porter kisses U.S. President Joe Biden's hand as Vice President Kamala Harris and Second Gentleman Doug Emhoff look on during a concert marking Juneteenth on June 10, 2024. Credit - Kent Nishimura—Getty Images

Billy Porter is receiving backlash for greeting U.S. President Joe Biden with a kiss on the hand at the White House’s early Juneteenth Holiday celebration and concert on Monday. The holiday celebration, hosted by Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, included singers Gladys Knight, Patti LaBelle and rapper Doug E. Fresh.

Porter, a Tony, Grammy and Emmy nominee, sat in the front row, beside Harris’ husband, Douglas Emhoff. The Pose star reached over Harris and Emhoff to kiss Biden’s hand.

The moment has caught the attention of social media, particularly since he is set to co-write, co-produce, and lead act in a forthcoming biopic about the famed writer, James Baldwin.

With books like Notes of a Native Son, and many open letters and essays addressing American politics and ideals, Baldwin was deeply connected to the civil rights movement, arguing that in order for white Americans to celebrate freedom, they must also reckon with their history of slavery and racism.

In a 1963 letter to his nephew, Baldwin wrote of the United States: “the country is celebrating one hundred years of freedom one hundred years too soon.”

Baldwin was also notably critical of Israel, and found much solidarity with the struggle of the Palestinian people.

For much of the concert, Porter danced beside the President and vice president, swaying to the variety of musical acts performed on the White House’s South Lawn.

In 2021, President Biden named Juneteenth an official holiday, which commemorates the emancipation of America’s enslaved people, and in particular when enslaved people in Galveston, Texas, learned of their emancipation.

One tweet about the incident with Porter said, “James Baldwin challenged white supremacy at every turn. Billy Porter kneels and kisses it at every turn. They are not the same!”

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