The Commodification Of Juneteenth: Gatekeeping Our Celebration

Photo: Getty Images

That photo of Walmart’s Juneteenth flavored ice cream sitting in a freezer — the hallowed red velvet flavor at that — did something to us all. Who didn’t take a deep sigh when they saw it? Or stumble over their own fingers trying to copy the link and send it to their group chats?

Whether it sparks curiosity or outrage or both, we really need to talk about how quickly these white-owned companies ran to get Juneteenth merch made and onto store shelves. Unfortunately, many of these corporations ran to the courthouse to attempt to trademark the word “Juneteenth” and commodify the holiday rather than reflect on what the day truly means. 

But should we be surprised?

Our nation is a capitalist society that urges spending — even when you can’t afford it. It romanticizes and pushes us towards the elusive idea of the “American Dream” to keep us laboring.

It prints “it’s the freedom for me” on can holders despite Civil War-era laws still being on the books in Mississippi that overwhelmingly prevent Black voters from getting to the polls on Election Day, or you can insert whichever item on our list of things we absolutely have the right to be mad about there.

And we have community members who fought to get Juneteenth officially marked as a federal holiday. There’s a lot there. It’s understandable how monumental it is to see this country, essentially close down for a day in honor of this celebration. 

And, some may say there needs to be a push to protect our celebration. At the very least from capitalist opportunities that seek to further drive the Black dollar into white-owned corporations. Just for one day. 

Photo: Getty Images

Some of us see the visibility of this day as an opportunity to educate while we celebrate, some want us to gatekeep what’s ours to avoid further commodification of our culture by others.

If we’re going to buy into capitalism on Juneteenth, and as a community, have new, widespread merch and Juneteenth items for sale, can we agree to let Black-owned businesses be the ones to reap the economic fruits of such, at the very least? 

Like if we’re going to make red velvet cheesecake the official Juneteenth ice cream flavor, we need to ceremoniously put in our orders to Chef Liz Rogers' So Creamalicious every year or at any of these Black-owned ice cream businesses

Or if we’re hosting a Juneteenth kickback, can we agree to get some table cloths and home decor from AphroChic and any other Black-owned home goods businesses and keep it pushing?

If we are still working to change the way our society as a whole is run, let us, as a family, make the commitment to each other to use this sacred day as a way to boost our own selves.

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