Nicquel Terry Ellis, CNN, June 15, 2022
Cherlisa Starks-Richardson was disappointed when she learned that the beloved children’s museum in her community was selling a “watermelon salad” in celebration of Juneteenth.
Starks-Richardson, who often took her daughter to the Indianapolis Children’s Museum growing up, said she expected the museum would be more focused on educating the public about Juneteenth — which celebrates the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans — instead of serving themed foods. To make matters worse, she said, watermelon has historically been used as a racist trope against Black Americans.
“People were very offended by it,” said Starks-Richardson, an educator in the Indianapolis area. “Everybody is trying to capitalize off Juneteenth to make money. But we don’t need the food. I want education. I want people to understand the purpose of (Juneteenth).”
The Indianapolis Children’s Museum has since apologized and removed the salad from its food court. In a statement, the museum said it routinely relies on a food vendor to create “thematic menu items” and that the “inappropriate” name and label on the salad was not reviewed by museum staff.
Other organizations and major retailers are also receiving backlash for their attempts to monetize Juneteenth with new products since President Joe Biden signed a bill declaring it a national holiday last year.
From the Indianapolis Children’s Museum’s watermelon salad to Walmart’s swirled red velvet and cheesecake flavored ice cream to Dollar Tree’s Pan African-themed plates and napkins, inclusion experts say corporations are missing the mark with Juneteenth. By failing to provide any historical context with these items, the companies don’t appear to have considered how they could promote stereotypes or offend Black people, experts say.
Some social justice activists also insist the efforts are more performative than genuine as they don’t address the systemic inequalities that demonstrators marched for in 2020 after the death of George Floyd. Among the issues were police violence against Black people, voting rights and reparations.
Amara Enyia, a public policy expert for the Movement for Black Lives, said the Juneteenth product lines are “tone deaf” and “devoid of any real impact.”
Enyia said companies should be using the Juneteenth holiday to reexamine their hiring and promotion practices to ensure they are being more inclusive of Black applicants and employees.
“What people are demanding is not a new ice cream flavor or a new salad or any other symbolic gesture that really is just about generating profit from a commercialized holiday,” Enyia said. “What Black folks have demanded are structural and systemic changes to the systems in this country that have been harmful and oppressive.”