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Where are retailers on the Juneteenth learning curve?

T-shirts, flags, decorations and party favors have all become even more widely available this year to celebrate Juneteenth, which became a federal holiday only last year. Not unsurprisingly, there has been some backlash to the efforts, as well.

The day commemorates June 19, 1865, when enslaved African Americans learned of their emancipation. The move to become a federal holiday came after corporations pledged to stand up against racism in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder in Minneapolis.

Last month, Walmart was lambasted across social media for appearing to trivialize the event with its release of “Celebration Edition: Juneteenth Ice Cream.” The retailer quickly apologized and pulled the product.

Critics of those seeking to commercialize the holiday believe retailers and other marketers should either sell merchandise from Black-owned businesses or invest in campaigns supporting Black communities when recognizing the day.

“This is a serious and reflective moment — I am excited and grateful for the recognition,” Ramon Manning, chairman of the board at Emancipation Park Conservancy, a nonprofit, told The Associated Press. “However, I feel like it also brought back everybody else out of the woodwork who are opportunists more so than folks who are looking at the history of this country and looking at where a group of people have come from.”

Others, however, feel the day should be celebrated similar to the Fourth of July. Jeanetta Williams, president of the Salt Lake City branch of the NAACP, told Utah’s KSL-TV, “It’s a jubilee, it’s a time that we can all come together and celebrate”

Regardless, many critics weren’t surprised at the commercialism because holidays tend to create selling and marketing opportunities.

James Monroe Iglehart, a Tony-award winning actor, told the Daily News, “Anything that becomes a holiday, anything that gets out in the public and becomes popular, somebody’s going to try to commercialize it. I mean, last time I checked, the word Christ was in Christmas, but we don’t hear much about that. We got Santa Claus and a bunch of other things. Easter’s got an Easter Bunny.”

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