An Open Letter to Walmart Executives
May 23, 2022
Dear Walmart Executives:
We ask that you immediately pull the Great Value brand of Juneteenth Ice Cream, which includes the wording “Share and celebrate African-American culture, emancipation, and enduring hope,” from all Walmart shelves.
As we are sure you know, Juneteenth references June 19, 1865, the day that more than 250,000 enslaved Black people in the United States were freed by executive decree. In 2021, President Biden finally signed into law Senate Bill 475 (S. 475), making “Juneteenth” a federal holiday. While it only became a federal holiday less than one year ago, Black Americans have observed this day for over 150 years.
It is a day of commemoration. A serious day. It is neither fun nor frivolous but rather a memory of a very dark and devastating period in American history.
Would you launch an ice cream called January 27? The day the world remembers the Holocaust. Or April 7, the day that memorializes the genocide in Rwanda. Of course not.
So why Juneteenth? Clearly, from the slogan on the packaging, you intended to share in the emancipation celebration of Black Americans. But launching an ice cream by its name creates more pain than support. So what went wrong here?
At BRIDGE, we are dedicated to helping organizations identify and dismantle the structures that contribute to the lack of Diversity, Inclusion, and Equity in companies. We hope you and other brands use this as a learning moment and a moment to hold yourselves and others more accountable.
It is critical that brands include “listened to” diversity voices at every step of the product development cycle as standard operating practices – from concept all the way through sales. For example, if Walmart had just one “listened to” Black voice – a voice that is not overpowered by the majority - involved in the development of this unfortunate product, we don’t believe this ice cream would have ever made it to the shelves. Instead, you would have been guided to find a more authentic and genuine way to stand in support.
Additionally, we cannot stress the indisputable importance of not capitalizing on the culture or history of any under-represented community, in this case, the history of Black Americans. Capitalism cannot be achieved through the appropriation of culture or at the expense of a culture.
The images of sports and music on the packaging extends the stereotypes of Black people and misrepresents the seriousness of the day. Choosing the image of two hands in the middle of a high-five to represent the sentiment of how Black people might feel after being freed from slavery clearly does not capture the essence of the impact that is being memorialized with Juneteenth, but rather diminishes it.
And red velvet is not just a flavor on Juneteenth. It is used intentionally to symbolize the bloodshed of those who lost their lives during enslavement. A sobering reminder, and at this time, a memory to be respected, not a flavor to be co-opted.
Furthermore, placing a TM and claiming ownership of the word “Juneteenth” further exacerbates the lack of understanding of laying claim to something that represents so much to an entire population. Juneteenth simply cannot be owned.
Many companies, like yours, have communicated their commitment to DEI. This commitment needs to extend out from the DEI officer across the entire organization – from the C-Suite to customer service. A DEI commitment must also ensure that your DEI professionals are included in conversations and the development of products and services around cultures that are not yours. This commitment needs to embrace DEI practitioners to help remove systemic and institutional barriers that contribute to the gaps in belonging, representation, inclusion, diversity, and equity.
We at BRIDGE stand ready to help you with your efforts should you so choose. We would be more than happy to share ideas on how you might support Juneteenth with other programs. But first things first, we ask considering all of the above, that you please remove the Juneteenth ice-cream product from your shelves.