Culture | June 22nd, 2022
The Commercialization of Juneteenth: Appreciated or Appropriated?
By: Jaden Bowen
While we, as students, can thrive under a curriculum that teaches us about Black culture and history, many others have not had the same opportunity and are unaware of much of the “Black Experience.” One of the biggest examples of this divide is the celebration of Juneteenth. Despite it being historically present for over a century, as of June 17, 2021, President Joe Biden signed a legislation which officially recognized Juneteenth as a federal holiday. While it is celebrated annually, the lack of knowledge within the marketing territory has caused a rift with Black consumers— who are calling out commercialization.
Commemorating Juneteenth has been touch-and-go for brands, who continue to struggle to properly, and respectfully, market the holiday. In fact, governments and businesses chose to celebrate on June 20 this year instead of June 19, because it falls on a Sunday. The commercialization of Juneteenth has raised concerns among Black consumers who feel as though their cultural experiences are being exploited through companies’ failed approaches to marketing themed products.
Forbes says, “The challenge is to show consideration and support to the African American community while avoiding exploitive practices deemed opportunistic or even insensitive.”
Though this should seem easily attainable, corporations continue to lose the battle between them and their targeted audience. The use of social media platforms has not aided these efforts. Instead, they are undermining companies’ ability to promote their products and pressuring them to remove them.
The most recent example of backlash occurred with Walmart, which was forced to get rid of its store-brand ice cream after receiving public outrage on social media. Their “Celebration Edition: Juneteenth Ice Cream” was considered “tone-deaf” by the public, who took to Twitter to criticize the product. Following its removal, content creators on social media apps mocked corporations’ approach to Black-related holidays, acknowledging the concerns about marketing performative products that feed into stereotypes to capitalize off Black people.
First-year broadcast journalism major, Jalynn McDuffey, shares her apprehension with Juneteenth’s publicity, fearing that it will “water down the true meaning of the day.”
“I feel like people will treat this as a day to celebrate the freedom we have in America, when it’s memorialized to address why our promises of equality and freedom are still being postponed,” McDuffey says.
Unfortunately, it is not only the Black community that has felt the sharp blow of harmful commercialization within their group, but the LGBTQ+ community as well. Pride Month, which is also held in June alongside Juneteenth, has become its own branded holiday.
Companies alter their social media layouts to resemble pride flags and advertise colorful products to show support considering various setbacks in the movement but are then chastised for removing them as soon as the clock strikes 12 a.m. on July 1. For queer Black individuals who experience two forms of misrepresentation at once, it can be quite damaging, seeing as both groups have already been marginalized.
Chazriq Clarke, a Florida A&M University graduate who has openly advocated for both the Black and LGBTQ+ communities, does not believe that businesses should profit from both groups’ experiences.
“As someone who is both Black and queer 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, I find it comical how all of a sudden ‘we matter’ yet, every other day, it’s racism here, homophobia there, and discrimination everywhere,” Clarke says. “I appreciate the sentiments behind changing the logos to Pride and Juneteenth colors, but when you try to sell [merchandise] based on them, it becomes unrecognizable of what your intentions are.”
“If you really care about us, fight for us and support us outside of Pride month, Juneteenth and Black History Month.”
Now that Juneteenth has become publicly recognized as a federal holiday, Black people are left to examine whether they embrace this newfound acknowledgment as a step forward, or as a newly developed obstacle. Corporations’ themed items, which feature raised fists, the colors of the Black Liberation flag, and watermelon-flavored products, continue to misrepresent and perpetuate stereotypes that endanger the Black community.
Janelle Sears, 19, thinks that the official federalization was signed in light of the events that occurred in 2020 to try and “make-up” for the wrongs done to Black Americans.
“It is definitely strange to me that everyone gets the day off when the holiday is specifically for the ancestors of enslaved peoples,” Sears says. “It’s counterproductive to give the ancestors of the people responsible the chance to ‘celebrate.’”
Without the proper knowledge of what is being celebrated, it’s impossible for companies to showcase anything of significance that appreciates instead of appropriates Juneteenth or any other Black American holiday. Respect for Black culture and history should be the first priority when trying to connect with Black consumers.
To corporate America: try again next year.