Walmart’s attempt to celebrate Juneteenth with a special edition private-label ice cream has created a massive social media backlash, with the retailer facing criticism for trivializing and cashing in on an event that commemorates Black people’s emancipation from centuries of slavery.
Bridge—a group formed earlier this year by marketing and diversity, equity and inclusion executives from Unilever, Discover Financial, NBC Universal and WPP’s GroupM among others—issued an open letter to Walmart executives on May 23 calling on the retailer to remove the product from its shelves. (The Unilever board member was not aware of the letter prior to its publication.)
At issue is Great Value Celebration Edition Juneteenth ice cream, which on its label includes an exhortation to “share and celebrate African-American culture, emancipation and enduring hope.” Critics on social media portrayed it as a tone-deaf effort by a giant retailer controlled by a wealthy white family to cash in on the June 19th holiday with an ice cream flavor almost identical to one sold by a Black-owned brand.
Juneteenth, Bridge’s letter said, “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?”
“We are reviewing our assortment and will remove items as appropriate,” Walmart announced in a statement. The “Juneteenth holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence,” the retailer stated. “However, we received feedback that a few items caused concern for some of our customers, and we sincerely apologize.”