By: Priscilla Wiredu
In May 2022, Walmart gained notoriety over the introduction of a new product launch. The Great Value Juneteenth ice cream. This limited edition ice cream included flavours of red velvet cheesecake and was created in celebration of Juneteenth. Juneteenth is an important holiday as it commemorates the liberation of Black slaves in America.
The box of ice cream included a label stating: “Share and celebrate African-American culture, emancipation and enduring hope.”
The product launch received many negative reviews that prompted an apology from Walmart and demanded the frozen dessert to be pulled from shelves.
Indeed, it was a distasteful marketing scheme, but this is not uncommon.
The Commercialization of Juneteenth and Black Culture as a Whole
The Juneteenth ice cream launch is another prime example of how corporations use out-of-touch practices to not only stay relevant in modern society, but as a means to generate increased profit in order to appear “woke.” Black consumers have deeply expressed that their cultural identity and experiences are being exploited, and want this racist cycle to end.
Of course, this is nothing new – from Rock n Roll to soul food, facets of Black culture have always been manipulated to gain a profit, and the effort to show support for the Black community is always low, resulting in exploitative and even insensitive practices.
Corporations enact “performative allyship” to gain an acceptable reputation from the masses, yet they fail at strengthening the bond between them and their targeted demographic.
The Juneteenth ice cream debacle prompted many social media users to mock Walmart and call many corporations out on their lazy attempts to capitalize off Black people and their culture.
Is it Getting Worse?
With Juneteenth becoming a publicly recognized holiday, some believe that this is an opportunity for businesses to not only make money from the holiday, but reinforce harmful stereotypes and fetishize symbols of Black liberation and Black pride.
There have been many more incidents when it comes to businesses profiting off of Black heritage. For instance, a children’s museum issued an apology after it was revealed that their “Juneteenth-themed” menu included a watermelon salad.
Similarly, an Arkansas, known as a Juneteenth soul food celebration was cancelled when a leaked poster for the event depicted non-Black hosts. The practice of “using the aesthetic without the creators” is almost a knee-jerk response to Black people who deserve respect and recognition for their talent.
Juneteenth was not meant to primarily focus on the emancipation of slavery, but rather a commemorative day to acknowledge Black struggle, Black pain, and to remind everyone of the mistreatment Black people continue to endure after slavery. This holiday rightfully gives the Black community an idea of where they originated from, and the resilience they should continue to embody in the future.
Corporations evidently do not see it from this perspective, as well as many non African-Americans; they prefer to look on the “bright side” of Juneteenth, which is to celebrate the freedom from slavery, and to conveniently forget the struggle and fights Black people had to put up with to ensure that freedom was guaranteed as a basic human right.
The symbolic representation of ice cream can be interpreted as a dessert that is sweet which counteracts the realistic struggle that originated from the true meaning of the holiday.
Businesses choose to ignore the issues that arise from exploitative marketing schemes in relation to holidays like Juneteenth. They see it as a quick and easy money-making opportunity that can be achieved with a fraction of the effort put in to make amends and reconcile.
Black people retain the right to reclaim Juneteenth and its meaning. Many people have been doing so, with more Black-owned events, movies, and other forms of media making an impact in their spaces. However, it demands the question; “What does being free and Black in America mean right now?”
Yes, slavery has been a topic of the past, but many attitudes feel that it was a mistake. Even today, Black people have put up with modern-day lynchings, police brutality, and a lack of resources from the government in their neighbourhoods. It reiterates that Black “freedom” is conditional and delusive.
When it comes to reclaiming Juneteenth, there has to be control over your own narrative. Black media outlets have collections of Black peoples’ stories showcasing struggle, pain, fear, and toughness.
Free Press, a media advocacy organization, provides transparency with their Media 2070 project. The project provides Black people with the opportunity to tell their stories.
These Black stories are told whole heartedly, uncensored, and in a real setting that press on issues surrounding racial discrimination and injustice. But among these difficult stories lies something incredible, hope for a stronger future.
Emancipation Day provides inspiration among Black people to progress in crafting their voices and create a new system of representation. A space for Black people to enjoy each other’s company, listen to each other, and create solidarity, all while reconstructing what the media’s portrayal of them is. With these practices, communities can embrace Black identity as the years progress.
Priscilla Wiredu is a writer for this year’s Black Voice project. An alumni of York University, she graduated with Honors where she studied Social Sciences. She then went on to get an Ontario Graduate certificate in Creative Writing from the Humber School for Writers, and a college certificate in Legal Office Administration at Seneca College. She is currently studying for the LSAT in hopes of going to law school. Her main goal as a Black Voices writer is to ensure Black issues and Black Pride are enunciated through her works.