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Of Juneteenth store brand Juneteenth themed ice cream paper plates and party supplieseven selling a June 19 watermelon salad, many big companies and brands are facing backlash for their efforts to commemorate the federal holiday enacted last year.
Following its backlash on social media, Walmart pulled its special edition ice cream commemorating June 19 from shelves, with many critics calling on the retailer to capitalize on the holiday for profit.
“There were several missteps with this. When you collectively look at all of these missteps — the branding, the marketing, the visual rhetoric — you realize there were no black creatives in the room who had a voice at the table,” Christina Ferraz, founder and chief consultant of marketing agency Thirty6five, told NPR.
Last month, the retail giant apologized for selling its “Celebration Edition: Juneteenth Ice Cream” under its Great Value brand.
“The June 16 holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence. However, we have received feedback that certain items have caused some of our customers concern and we sincerely apologize for this,” the company said in its statement. at NPR.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis has apologized and removed its June 19-themed watermelon salad from its food court menu ahead of the June 19 Jamboree celebration.
“As a museum, we apologize and recognize the negative impact that stereotypes have on black communities. Salad has been removed from the menu,” the museum said in its statement. “We are currently reviewing how best to pass on these stories and traditions during this year’s June 19 celebration, as well as making changes to how future food selections are made by our food service provider.”
But while companies are constantly working to get their Juneteenth items off the shelves, experts say companies selling and promoting Juneteenth-branded products are tone-deaf – saying they only profit from the suffering of black people.
“When a company comes in, uses that extra marketing market, and then capitalizes on it and sells it, what we see is modern colonialism,” Ferraz said.
Experts say the true meaning of commemoration can easily be lost through consumerism and widespread consumption.
The importance of Juneteenth and what it represents
Whether you call it Freedom Day, Emancipation Day, or just Juneteenth, the annual commemoration is significant in United States history – marking our country’s second Independence Day.
“Juneteenth is an important cultural resonance for the African-American community, but also, of course, for much of the rest of the country,” said Ravi Perry, professor of political science at Howard University.
On June 19, 1865, Major General Gordon Granger—who had fought for the Union—arrived in Galveston, Texas, with nearly 2,000 soldiers to announce that the more than 250,000 enslaved blacks in the state were finally free.
Granger’s announcement came about two months after the Civil War ended and nearly three years after President Abraham Lincoln issued the Emancipation Proclamation.
During his visit, Granger issued General Order No. 3, informing the people of Texas that those who were enslaved were now free, according to the National Archives. Juneteenth gets its name by combining both “June” and “nineteenth”, the day Granger arrived in Galveston with his announcement.
“The people of Texas are informed that, pursuant to a proclamation of the Executive Branch of the United States, all slaves are free. This implies absolute equality of personal and property rights between former masters and slaves, and the link existing until now between them becomes that between the employer and the hired workforce”, we read in part in the ordinance.
Big brands are still working to diversify
Over the past two years, major brands and businesses have become noticeably more inclusive. A number of major brands have featured more black and other minorities in their ads and marketing materials to take a stand against racism.
Last year, McDonald’s teamed up with multi-platinum rapper Saweetie as the fast-food chain introduced its “Saweetie Meal.”
Cadillac has partnered with actress Regina King as a brand ambassador and star of its campaign for the new Escalade SUV line. And Chase Bank has partnered with comedian Kevin Hart as a spokesperson, promoting financial literacy among communities of color.
Major brands and companies continue to partner with black and brown celebrities in an effort to maintain and expand their consumers of color.
“With the uprising, advocacy and demands following the murder of George Floyd, there has really been a spotlight on the importance of highlighting and making space for black people, especially black women” , Alfredo Del Cid, head of learning and development at consulting firm Collective, told NPR in 2021.
NPR’s Sharon Pruitt-Young contributed to this report.