What can businesses do to ethically acknowledge the Juneteenth holiday?
This op-ed was originally published by NJ.Com. It was written by Yla Eason, an assistant professor of professional practice.
The celebration of Juneteenth was born out of two occurrences — the ending of slavery and the final announcement of such. It was also born out of an insidious bit of treachery to withhold that unannounced freedom information from the enslaved for two years after ‘Emancipation’ so plantation and farm owners could continue to harvest their crops and benefit from this undeserved free labor. It should be categorized as an employer theft of services case.
Fast forward to today when a major retailer takes an ice cream flavor sold in its stores by a Black-owned business, copies its red velvet flavor, cuts no licensing deal with the owners, renames the product after the freedom event of their ancestors, and proudly takes credit for their cultural celebration concept. Walmart did not appropriate Juneteenth, they just ripped off “Creamalicious.”
How can brands/companies get involved without appropriating or profiting in an irresponsible manner? Let’s start with making sure that the people who profit from the holiday or celebration are the people for whom the event is meant to acknowledge. It’s a simple formula, if it’s a Black event, make sure that Black creatives, inventors and businesses will make money from it. Empower and enrich the Black people who will be buying the products or services.
Let’s honor Black labor that has never been compensated for the years spent working to build the commerce of tobacco and cotton that grew the country to its grandeur and wealth today. Make sure the progeny of those exploited people “eat.”
Rather than take from the community, let’s have businesses give back by adopting the 15% Pledge. As the creator of this pledge says: “Black people make up 15% of the U.S. population. So, we asked businesses to dedicate 15% of their shelf space to Black-owned brands.” That’s the proper way for brands to celebrate Juneteenth.
Yla Eason is an assistant professor of professional practice at Rutgers Business School.
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