Juneteenth Controversy: Cherlisa Starks-Richardson was dismayed to find that her community’s popular children’s museum was offering “watermelon salad” in honor of Juneteenth. Starks-Richardson, who frequently brought her daughter to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum as a child, anticipated the museum to focus more on teaching the public about Juneteenth
which commemorates the emancipation of enslaved African-Americans — rather than offering themed cuisine. She said that historically, watermelon has been exploited as a racist stereotype against African-Americans.
Starks-Richardson, a schoolteacher in the Indianapolis region, stated, “People were quite insulted by that.” “Everyone is attempting to make money out of Juneteenth. However, we do not need the food. I desire education. I want people to comprehend the significance of Juneteenth.”
Since issuing an apology, the Indianapolis Children’s Museum has removed the salad from its food court. The museum stated in a statement that it frequently depends on a food vendor to design “thematic menu items” and that museum employees did not evaluate the “inappropriate” name and label on the salad.
Last year, President Joe Biden signed a law establishing Juneteenth a national holiday. Since then, several groups and large shops have attempted to capitalize on Juneteenth by introducing new items.
The Indianapolis Children’s Museum’s watermelon salad, Walmart’s swirling red velvet and cheesecake flavored ice cream, and Dollar Tree’s Pan African-themed plates and napkins, according to inclusion experts, miss the target while celebrating Juneteenth. By excluding any historical context with these products, the corporations do not appear to have considered how they may perpetuate stereotypes or harm Black people, according to experts.
Some social justice activists say the initiatives are more theatrical than sincere because they don’t address underlying injustices protestors marched for in 2020 following George Floyd’s murder. Police brutality, voting rights, and restitution were discussed. Amara Enyia, a Movement for Black Lives policy specialist, called Juneteenth products “tone deaf”
Enyia said organizations should use Juneteenth to reassess their recruiting and promotion processes for Black candidates and workers. “What consumers want isn’t a new ice cream flavor, salad, or other symbolic gesture,” Enyia added. “Black people want structural and systemic reforms to harmful and unjust structures”
Some experts say Juneteenth-themed foods and products show corporations are trying to commercialize a holiday Black Americans have celebrated since 1865, when Union Major General Gordon Granger announced the end of slavery in Galveston, Texas, in accordance with President Abraham Lincoln’s 1863 Emancipation Proclamation. Black families celebrate the occasion with cookouts, music festivals, prayer sessions, and rodeos. Some eat and drink crimson to symbolize the blood spilt during slavery.
Stephanie Leonard, a Howard University management professor who focuses in workplace diversity, equality, and inclusion, said firms shouldn’t profit from the culture of oppressed groups if they don’t promote and include them. She suggested corporations may undertake more study and create a Black-led committee to educate the public about Juneteenth. She labeled it “tokenism” when one or two Black employees decide how to celebrate Juneteenth.
“Organizations can’t just make ice cream or watermelon salad,” Leonard added. “It seems theatrical and desperate. This company doesn’t appreciate its Black staff or consumers.”
Walmart was criticized on social media last month for selling “Celebration Edition: Juneteenth Ice Cream” “Share and celebrate African-American culture, emancipation, and eternal optimism,” the label said. Pan African hues and black and brown hands decorated the ice cream tub.
One critic suggested Walmart should mark Juneteenth by promoting Black-owned brands.
Walmart removed the ice cream after apologizing. Walmart says Juneteenth celebrates freedom and independence. “We’re sorry that a few products worried some consumers. We’ll delete things as needed from our assortment.”
Dollar Tree was criticized on social media for a Juneteenth merchandise line with Pan African colors and the phrase “Celebrate Freedom.” Lauren Tucker, an inclusive leadership expert, said large businesses don’t honor Juneteenth. Tucker equated the items to “checking a box” for the holiday.
Tucker says businesses that sell red foods without historical context “don’t get it”
Tucker said the songs express both Black Americans’ anguish and liberation. Without contextualizing these meals by context, history, you perpetuate grief, dissatisfaction, and show you don’t care about history.
Tucker said corporations should hire independent experts, investigate Juneteenth, and survey customers before releasing Juneteenth merchandise. “Marketing and business need to take our history more seriously and help people understand what these events mean to us as Americans,” Tucker added.