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From Juneteenth with the store brand Juneteenth themed ice cream paper plates and party itemsuntil the sale of a Juneteenth watermelon salad, many large companies and brands are facing backlash for their efforts to commemorate last year’s signed federal holiday.
Following its backlash on social media, Walmart pulled its special edition of ice cream off the shelves to commemorate Juneteenth, with many critics calling the retailer for capitalizing on the vacation for profit.
“There have been several missteps in this one. When you collectively look at all of these missteps – the branding, the marketing, the visual rhetoric – you understand that there were no black creatives in the room who had a voice at the table,” Christina Ferraz, founder and chief consultant of the marketing agency Thirty6five, he told NPR.
Last month, the giant retailer apologized for selling it “Celebration Edition: Juneteenth Ice Cream” under its Great Value brand.
“The June holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence. However, we have received feedback that some items have caused concern for some of our customers and we sincerely apologize,” the company said in its statement to NPR.
The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis apologized and removed its Juneteenth-themed watermelon salad from its food court menu ahead of its Juneteenth Jamboree celebration.
“As a museum, we apologize and acknowledge the negative impact stereotypes have on black communities. Salad has been removed from the menu,” the museum said in its statement. “We are currently looking at how we can best convey these stories and traditions during this year’s Juneteenth celebration, as well as making changes to how future food selections are made by our food service provider.”
But while companies are continually working to remove their Juneteenth items from the shelves, experts argue that companies that sell and promote Juneteenth-branded products are deaf, claiming that they are only profiting from the suffering of blacks.
“When a company comes in, it uses that extra marketing gear and then capitalizes and sells it, what we’re seeing is modern colonialism,” Ferraz said.
Experts say the true meaning of the commemoration can easily be lost due to 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 US history, marking our country’s second day of independence.
“Juneteenth is a significant cultural resonance for the African American community, but also, of course, in much of the rest of the country,” said Ravi Perry, professor of political science at Howard University.
On June 19, 1865, Maj. Gen. 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 had been 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 the announcement of him.
“The people of Texas are informed that, in accordance with a proclamation by the United States Executive, all slaves are free. This implies an absolute equality of personal rights and property rights between former masters and slaves, and the link thus far existing between them becomes that between employer and wage-earner “, reads in part in the ordinance.
Big brands are still working to become more diversified
Over the past couple of years, big brands and companies have become noticeably more inclusive. A number of big brands have featured more blacks and other minorities in their advertisements and marketing materials as a way to take a stand against racism.
Last year, McDonald’s teamed up with multi-platinum rapper Saweetie as the fast food chain unveiled its “Saweetie Meal.”
Cadillac teamed up with actress Regina King as a brand ambassador and star for her campaign for the new Escalade SUV line. And Chase Bank partnered with comedian Kevin Hart as a spokesperson, promoting financial literacy among communities of color.
Major brands and companies are continuing to partner with black and brown celebrities in an effort to retain and expand their consumers of color.
“With the riot, the defense and the demands after George Floyd’s murder, there has really been a spotlight on the importance of highlighting and making room for blacks, especially black women,” Alfredo Del Cid, head of learning and development at consulting firm Collective, he told NPR in 2021.
Sharon Pruitt-Young of NPR contributed to this report.