This year marks one year since Juneteenth was declared a federal holiday, and we’re already being bombarded with insincere displays of solidarity from corporations seeking to capitalize on the day.

There have been dozens of Juneteenth-related filings for trademarks with the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, including: “June(tea)nth,” “Juneteenth Strawberry Soda,” “Big Poppa Juneteenth,” and “Financial Juneteenth.” Many of the individuals and companies behind these requests appear to be Black or Black-owned, but one filing came under fire after its products hit shelves at the world’s largest retailer, Walmart. 

In May, images of the megastore’s painfully out-of-touch Juneteenth products went viral. The products included a red velvet-cheesecake flavored ice cream, plus paper plates, and drink koozies that read “It’s the Freedom for Me.” These problematic products incorporated colors of the Pan-African flag: red, green, and black. Yes, you might find flags and Black-owned merch featuring these colors at our Juneteenth celebrations (that’s our prerogative), but the official Juneteenth flag is red, white, and blue for a reason. The Juneteenth flag features the same colors as the U.S. flag to symbolize the fact that those who were enslaved, and their descendants, are American — something that entirely too many white Americans still need to be reminded of. The company that made the Juneteenth ice cream for Walmart, Balchem Corporation, filed to trademark the word “Juneteenth” in September 2021; according to the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office, Balchem abandoned the trademark on May 23 — after online backlash.

Sadly, it’s unsurprising that these brands are scrambling to profit off the holiday or acknowledge it in other cringe-inducing ways. Companies are happy to shill rainbow merch during Pride month and launch major sales on MLK Day weekend. But it’s worth remembering what Juneteenth is actually about: It commemorates the day that Black residents of Galveston, Texas, who remained enslaved after the Civil War had ended learned that they were free.

Juneteenth should be “a day to remember what it must have felt like for people who had been treated as property, who feared more than anything the loss of relatives and family members because they were seen as property through sale, through inheritance, the normal operations of the property system,” historian Annette Gordon Reed, author of On Juneteenth, said in an interview on NPR last year. It should be about celebrating the “great sense of release and a great sense of hope that existed in those people” when they finally gained freedom.

Ninety-five-year-old Opal Lee began campaigning for Juneteenth to become a federal holiday in 2016. In 2020, less than a month after the killing of George Floyd shook the world, Juneteenth became a “new” buzz-worthy date for corporations to add to their social media calendars. A year later, in the wake of global protests against anti-Black racism and all that such discrimination enables — the many killings of Black people at the hands of police, a justice system that has failed Black people since its inception, and the seemingly endless ways that systemic racism disrupts and destabilizes the lives of Black people — we didn’t get policies or reparations. We got a holiday. A holiday that many Black people were already honoring and would have continued to honor regardless of whether or not a piece of paper was signed to declare it legitimate.

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