Community members call over-commercialization of holidays like Juneteenth, Pride month ‘problematic’

Published: Jun. 17, 2022 at 7:04 AM EDT
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CLEVELAND, Ohio (WOIO) - Juneteenth is the newest federal holiday, but that doesn’t mean the Black community wants to see Juneteenth ice cream, T-shirts and streamers sold on every aisle.

At the same time, many in the LGBTQ+ community have been fighting to keep big brands out of pride, saying it takes the attention away from the month’s true meaning.

“This is not helpful to the cause,” said Eric Odum. “This is not pushing any sort of positive message. This is not connecting people to resources. It’s simply getting money in their pocket using a different theme or skin depending on what the holiday is so I don’t feel supported by this at all.”

Pride is a celebration of how far the LGBTQ community has come, and it all started with the Stonewall Riots.

“Queer people were tired of police harassing them,” explained Avery Ware. “That was our most marginalized uprising standing up and fighting back against major forces and now it has been commodified to T-shirts at Target, and I love me some Target, but we’re kind of losing the plot here.”

Many members of the LGBTQ community are sick and tired of seeing ads like this one that Burger King released this year. The ad shows a Whopper with two top buns and two bottom buns.

“What? This is ridiculous,” said Odom. “I’m very surprised like you have two tops and two bottoms here that’s basically what you’re saying. Yeah, it’s tone deaf, they clearly don’t have anyone in the community because I feel like one of us would’ve been like perhaps not.”

“First, I laughed because some of these things you just have to laugh at to kind of keep from crying like it’s ridiculous,” said Ware.

“Could there have been a different way for them to approach this? One-hundred percent,” said Christian Contessa. “Do I understand what they’re trying to go for? Yes. Do I personally find it a little bit humorous? I do.”

This month, retail giant Walmart faced backlash after they released Juneteenth and Pride ice cream.

“What? They’re taking away the meaning of these holidays like Pride started as a riot, like Juneteenth is, I just yeah, it’s anything to make money,” said Odom. “They don’t actually care about either of these communities.”

Juneteenth commemorates June 19, 1865, the day federal troops arrived in Galveston, Texas to make sure the last of the enslaved people in the United States were freed.

“Juneteenth is also a very radical holiday” explained Ware. “It’s a celebratory holiday, but it’s founded on a very radical principle and that’s what we try to capture in our festival.”

Avery Ware is a Black queer activist. Ware is planning his own Juneteenth celebration on Saturday called the Mx. Juneteenth: A Black and Queer Liberation Celebration. He says the over commercialization of Juneteenth is exactly what he was afraid of when he found out it was becoming a federal holiday.

“We did not advocate for, we did not celebrate, we’re not excited about it because we foresaw that things like this year happened would happen,” Ware said. “It would lose the plot it would lose the spirit. It would sanitize it and water it down.”

The Indianapolis Children’s Museum apologized after it was called out for adding a racially insensitive dish to their menu, Juneteenth watermelon salad. The item has since been removed.

“I was like this feels racist, this feels racist,” said Ware. “Juneteenth and watermelon what you trying to say?”

“I think it’s very stereotypical,” said Alyssa Roberts. “I think it’s an easy thing to go for.”

“What? Again, it feels like a lot of these spaces don’t have people within the communities that they market to, and it ends up making them seem very disconnected from the very people that they’re attempting to market to,” said Odom.

A recent report found that dozens of companies that are either sponsoring Pride parade or are marketing Pride have donated anti-LGBT legislators over the past year.

“It’s just very hypocritical and oppressive,” said Ware.

“It makes me feel really upset because you can’t just slap something on one month a year and say that you’re doing something good,” Roberts said.

Some members of the LGBT community still believe that visibility of any kind is important.

“I do think seeing something as sort of known as Burger King or these fast-food restaurants doing something of this nature though is sort of nice to see,” said Contessa. “I know especially as youth especially living in rural areas and things of that nature the only way to experience any sort of queer representation is through media.”

Ware said there are ways companies can responsibly be a part of Juneteenth and Pride.

“If you want to celebrate Pride and Juneteenth in the right way you can give money to some Black trans people that are dying at unacceptable rates,” said Ware. “You can give your money to grassroots organizations. You can shut your mouth and be quiet and just let other people take the center stage but if you want to use your money you can put it directly in people’s pockets.”

Ware’s Juneteenth celebration will be held this Saturday from noon to 6 p.m. at Blk Punx Press Studio. The event will have drag, music, food, games, free vaccine boosters, HIV, AIDS and STI screenings and other community resources. Ware says it’s a safe space for the community and allies to come.

19 News reached out to Walmart and Burger King about these ads, but we have not heard back.

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