America loves to co-opt a revolution and sell it back to people like they’re doing us a favor, which is I guess why we’re now seeing “Juneteenth” branded party napkins on shelves with “woke” sayings like “It’s the freedom for me.” Really, y’all? What in the name of Kwanzaa is this?
I know all holidays get commercialized. But we just got Juneteenth recognized as a national holiday last year, commemorating the emancipation of enslaved African-American people. Walmart wasted no time before trying to profit off Black people’s supposed “freedom” with Great Value Brand’s Juneteenth ice cream flavor? (They would give us the most off-brand ice cream to commodify our liberation.)
The “Celebration Edition” ice cream series, packaged in red, green and gold, honestly feels like a sugary spit in the face of Black people everywhere. The risk of making Juneteenth a federal holiday is that a celebration we hold as dear and sacred is being diluted and cheapened with red velvet and cheesecake—a combination that many social media users have agreed sounds tasty, but is pandering all the same, as red velvet cake is a cultural staple in the Black community.
The biggest issues and questions we have are 1) Who trademarked the word “Juneteenth?” 2) Are you serious? 3) Why when an ice cream is created to celebrate African American “liberation” does it have to be a Great Value Walmart brand? Did our freedom come at a bargain? 4) Are the profits really just going right back into Walmart’s pockets?
The brand’s slogan read, “share and celebrate African-American culture, emancipation, and enduring hope.” At a time when Black people are still being hunted, killed, discriminated against, and dying at alarming rates, this gesture feels like rubbing salt in an already inflamed wound. And all I can do is let out a deep ancestral sigh. What’s particularly concerning is not only that Walmart, Dollar Tree, Party City, and Amazon wasted no time finding ways to commercialize Juneteenth, but they did so with stereotypical phrases, pandering marketing, and racially insensitive products.
On Monday, following the backlash, Walmart said they planned to pull Juneteenth products. “Juneteenth holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence,” they wrote in a statement released to Fox Television Stations. “However, we received feedback that a few items caused concern for some of our customers and we sincerely apologize. We are reviewing our assortment and will remove items as appropriate.”
Of course, commercializing holidays is nothing new. We have commercialized literally all of them. And for decades, Black and Brown people have voiced their dissatisfaction with how Martin Luther King Day, Kwanzaa, and Cinco De Mayo have been exploited for capital gain. It’s particularly insulting, however, to slap the Juneteenth name on party plates and T-shirts to profit off a holiday that celebrates the end of slavery for Black people. All of it reeks of colonization.
On the contrary, there are many Black-owned alternatives to white corporate brands, such as Blissfully Southern’s Cream-a-licious red velvet and cheesecake ice cream, Miiriya, Free to Be Black’s Juneteenth t-shirts, and the entire Black-owned Juneteenth section on Etsy. And I promise none of them include party napkins that say “It’s the freedom for me.”
This story has been updated to include a statement from Walmart.