Walmart says it is reviewing its Juneteenth-themed ice cream following backlash online, and “will remove items as appropriate,” the company says.
The flavor was part of Walmart’s special edition commemorating June 19, the newest federal holiday, which recognizes the official end of slavery and the celebration of Black culture. Many criticized the gesture as a form of cultural appropriation.
In photos circulating online, the ice cream’s container has green, yellow and red accents and says, “Share and celebrate African-American culture, emancipation and enduring hope.” The ice cream is also available in a swirled red velvet and cheesecake flavor.
Among those who expressed their concerns was Gwen Kelly of Chicago, who first saw images of the Juneteenth ice cream circulating on her Twitter feed Sunday night. Kelly worked at Walmart for about 12 years, including as senior executive in the global office of culture, diversity and inclusion from 2015 to 2018. In a LinkedIn post this week, she questioned whether the diversity executives or Walmart’s corporate Black associate resource groups were involved in the decision-making process.
“I would have taken guidance from those who have celebrated Juneteenth for a long time … it’s part of their family tradition,” Kelly told NBC News.
One Twitter user highlighted the question of whether Black people’s perspectives were taken into consideration.
“Can you imagine a company creating an ice cream flavor commemorating the end of the Holocaust?” the user tweeted. “Companies should really think through how they recognize #Juneteenth.”
“This is why it’s important to hire diverse perspectives,” the user added.
Walmart issued a statement to NBC News about the controversy.
“Juneteenth holiday marks a celebration of freedom and independence,” the statement read. “However, we received feedback that a few items caused concern for some of our customers and we sincerely apologize. We are reviewing our assortment and will remove items as appropriate.”
Some on Twitter also pointed out that the special edition ice cream was similar to a flavor called Right as Rain Red Velvet Cheesecake released by Creamalicious, a national ice cream brand owned by Liz Rogers, a Black chef.
President Joe Biden last year proclaimed June 19 a federal holiday, which recognizes how enslaved Black people in Galveston, Texas, received knowledge of their freedom more than two years after the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation.
Kelly, among others online, also expressed her concern over the trademark symbol next to the word Juneteenth on Walmart’s product label. “Juneteenth” appears to have been trademarked by Balchem Corp., a chemical manufacturing company headquartered in New York, in September, just a few months after Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday.
“Does that mean Walmart is trying to trademark Juneteenth for financial gain?” she said. “I don’t know that. I don’t know what that means, but I think that there’s an explanation that is needed there.”
Kelly also said she appreciates Walmart listening to the conversations on social media and working to address the issue. The retail chain also sells Juneteenth-themed clothing and plates.