3 ways to mark Juneteenth — without cultural appropriation

For many black people in the United States, “Juneteenth”, or June 19, was a date that well recognized the compound cultural trauma of generational black slavery in America and its extension. beyond the Emancipation Proclamation, issued in 1863. Over 250,000 blacks remained captive for another two and a half years, until June 19, 1865.

Promulgated last June, June 16 has become a federal holiday and another American commercial enterprise.

Corporate initiatives or products dressed in red, yellow, green and black pan-Africanist hues, which since 1900 have carried the message of solidarity across the African diaspora – illustrate this new reality of priority market value. Walmart recently released “Celebration Edition: Juneteenth Ice Cream” and party favors met with immediate resistance, much like the tribal-esque product packaging marketed earlier this year by Bath & Body Works for Black History Month – which one individual described as “close and embarrassing”.

With June 19 having become a federal holiday, Sybil R. Williams, director of African-American and African Diaspora Studies at American University, said she observed a symbolic recognition celebrated through cultural appropriation, commodification and commercial consumption. Because the federal holiday is “not a continuation of the African American call for redress, it rings hollow,” she said.

What is cultural appropriation?

Williams said cultural appropriation is essentially about power. “It allows the majority or dominant group to say ‘look what we’ve done for you’, while it picks up features of language, fashion, artistic and spiritual practice – all markers of culture – and gives prominent visibility all the time, tucking that culture into its own power structure.

This type of product marketing, Kim Kardashian’s cornrows, and the rise and normalization of “blaccent,” even in the workplace, are classic examples of cultural appropriation, Williams said.

Instead, business leaders can take steps to strengthen existing organizational DEI and ESG initiatives, Williams said.

Invest resources to learn the original story

Employers can invest in contextual historical exploration of cultures, Williams said. Invest in the community that created this culture. Know the particular cultural nuances of the original stories and how this group processes its history, then consider the message at this point in that history for your organization, she suggested. She said that’s where a speaker series can develop cultural awareness.

Practicing Appreciation Without Consuming

Once something is decontextualized, it is exploited, Williams explained. Monetized cultural appropriation for commercial consumption is no way to celebrate June 19, or anything culturally significant.

It is possible to appreciate and explore cultural identities, such as discourse patterns and fashion models, for example, in their original natural context and with the permission of the original groups, and it’s critical to make sure that happens because that’s where the power is transferred, Williams said. Employers can consider ways to understand and respect this.

Optional legend

Sybil R. Williams, Director of African-American and African Diaspora Studies, American University

“Nothing about us, without us.”

For June 16, 2020, an Amazon facility offered chicken and waffles, “a meal steeped in stereotypes“, reported the New York Daily News. Employers can avoid similar missteps by gathering feedback from the groups most affected, which are usually those furthest from equity.

Talk to black employees, Williams said; ask “What would you like to see that promotes real black engagement in this endeavor?

James C. Tibbs