Let’s Break it Down | This June, Move From Commodification to Amplification
June has become a bit…complicated. 2022 will be the second year that Juneteenth is observed as a federal holiday, and a few weeks ago we had the first indication that there would be some corporate shenanigans. Walmart released a suite of Juneteenth products, including ice cream and drink holders with sayings like “It’s the Freedom for Me,” and then quickly recalled the line after facing backlash. In addition to the blatant commodification of the day and appropriation of Black slang, many pointed out that Juneteenth had a ™ symbol next to it, suggesting at the very least an attempt to trademark the holiday. I wondered whether this fiasco was the price for demanding the visibility and representation Black people deserve. Will Black Americans each year endure corporations trying to sell their version of Juneteenth™ ice cream for financial gain, while those same corporations stay silent or actively contribute to the disenfranchisement, discrimination, and death of Black people?
As I grappled with my own feelings about this dichotomy, I considered another community for whom June is quite complicated. In the U.S., Pride is the June celebration of the LGBTQ+ community commemorating the 1969 Stonewall Uprising. Much like Juneteenth, Pride was celebrated within the LGBTQ+ community long before it received mainstream recognition. (The first federal recognition came in 1999, 30 years after the Stonewall Uprising, when President Bill Clinton declared June “Gay and Lesbian Pride Month.”) And, in the years since, there have been concerns over the commodification of Pride as well. As corporations donate money to support Pride parades, many have worried about “rainbow-washing,” highlighting the hypocrisy of organizations who outwardly support Pride with rainbow-designed logos and social media banners, all while donating to campaigns against LGBTQ+ equality. This is put into especially sharp relief this year: in the first three months of 2022 there were nearly 250 anti-LGBTQ+ bills filed, attacking the community’s right to exist and access resources that should be undeniable basic needs. Since then, things have only gotten worse.
I’m under no pretense that this dichotomy will change any time soon. That said, I have a few suggestions for how organizations can navigate June with a little more grace — not only to avoid these blunders, but to be sure the right voices are being centered and commemorations lead to meaningful change.
When companies change their logo for Pride, or give employees Juneteenth as a paid holiday, they are sending a signal that says, “we care about and support these communities.” That’s why it’s so jarring to learn when those same organizations are lobbying against legislation that would ensure equity and equality for these groups, investing in politicians who actively spew hate against them, or endorsing company policies that disenfranchise employees with those identities. Being honest means your values need to align with the messages you send out. So, before changing that logo to a rainbow symbol or posting a heartfelt Juneteenth message, make sure your policies and practices tell the same story. If they don’t, ask why, and begin to take action to make things right.
Amplify ideas and existing celebrations from the community.
It is noteworthy that both Juneteenth (first celebrated in 1865) and Pride (first celebrated in 1969) existed within-community long before they received acknowledgment from the federal government. To put it simply: everyone else is joining a party that has been in progress for a long time. So, instead of trying to come up with new and clever ways to acknowledge these key moments for Black and LGBTQ+ folks, listen to what those in the communities are already doing, and amplify those efforts. This may mean offering to match employee donations to groups advocating for Black and LGBTQ+ rights, or supporting programming that your ERGs want to bring to your organization by providing an ample budget and clearing the calendar to encourage broad participation.
Reinvest in the community you’re amplifying.
In a capitalist society, mainstream celebrations and money-making efforts will likely always have an uneasy alliance. This June, consider using that reality for good. Your company will likely benefit, whether financially, in reputation, or both, by outwardly commemorating these days. So consider ways you can reinvest that money and clout back into the Black and LGBTQ+ communities. For example, this year, Skittles again committed to donate $1 (up to $100k) to GLAAD for every rainbow-less bag of candy sold, turning what might have otherwise been a performative gesture into something substantive. There are non-financial ways to support as well. For example, if your Juneteenth statement on Twitter amasses you lots more followers, devote your page on the 19th (and 20th, the federally-recognized day this year) to sharing stories from Black employees, content creators, and leaders. Make sure that all those people are hearing from the right folks on that day.
Maybe the clunkiness of Juneteenth ice cream and Pride whoppers (that come with “two equal buns”) is a necessary step toward figuring out how to commemorate and acknowledge groups and experiences that have been historically marginalized in our society. For all the potential pitfalls, I am excited and hopeful about the opportunity for more and more people to learn about these important moments in our nation’s history. Happy Pride, and Happy Juneteenth.
June 8, 2022