In the United States, much of current civilized existence is predicated on capitalism. Capitalism is king in the West, and many holidays and traditions celebrated in America have strong connections deeply entrenched in the ideal of consumerism. Even the biggest holiday, Christmas, which many Americans observe, has now become more about consumption than beliefs or religious affiliation. In many ways, in the U.S. and the world, affection has become synonymous with how grand or large a present or gift is given or received between people. While this statement is a generalization and is not necessarily always the case, this state of life and the dynamic between capitalism and existence has begun to shape the way American society thinks and lives. In a society driven by monetary gain, it is expected to see a corporate advance into new ways of pushing their products. One of these methods is reflected in the recent federal holiday, Juneteenth, which was established as a holiday last year.
What Is Juneteenth?
Juneteenth is a recently established national holiday that marks the date in which the last slaves in the U.S. were freed. After the Civil War and the victory of the Union over the Confederacy, much of the last slave owners and Confederates retreated to Texas and refused to release their slaves. “Freedom finally came on June 19, 1865, when some 2,000 Union troops arrived in Galveston Bay, Texas. The army announced that the more than 250,000 enslaved black people in the state were free by executive decree. This day came to be known as “Juneteenth,” by the newly freed people in Texas.” Finally, last year, on June 17, 2021, Juneteenth was recognized as an official federal holiday, marking the date as a second independence day for the slaves freed from abuse and oppression. The legacy of this date is both connected to light and dark. The past and horror Black people were forced to endure defines much of the significance of this day.
Although, the freedom and independence from centuries-long slavery is the single light that shines in this valley of darkness. Juneteenth is a bitter-sweet holiday, as it is a reminder of not just the freed slaves, but also America’s past and its once socially accepted allowance of the enslavement of a race of humans. A year after 1865, freedmen in Texas held a celebration called, “Jubilee Day.” “In the ensuing decades, Juneteenth commemorations featured music, barbecues, prayer services and other activities, and as Black people migrated from Texas to other parts of the country the Juneteenth tradition spread.” The evil past of this day will forever be linked to the significance of Juneteenth. With that being said, there is a growing public recognition of this day. Perhaps this national holiday can represent the rightful freedom that all people are entitled to rather than the pain and suffering that came as a result of a past society’s inhumanity.
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The Commercialization of Juneteenth
With Juneteenth’s recent federal recognition as a national holiday, it is no surprise that corporate America is pursuing the commodification of this festive celebration. “Last month, Walmart rolled out, then swiftly apologized for, “Juneteenth ice cream,” after social media backlash. The retailer’s website offerings include Juneteenth paper plates, napkins and party supplies, but also a black tank top modeled by a White woman with the words “Because my ancestors weren’t free in 1976,” an apparent mistaken reference to American independence in 1776. It is out of stock.” These tasteless decisions to attempt to profit off a day with such a dark past reflect the business models that corporations employ today. “Juneteenth, marketing experts say, presents tricky but predictable pitfalls for national brands: How do they serve consumers hoping to celebrate a culturally significant event without appearing mercenary?” The answer to this question is readily apparent; they can’t! These corporations do not care about helping people or even the significance of a day like Juneteenth. All they care about is their financial bottom line. For that reason, corporations like Walmart sell insensitive shirts to commemorate Juneteenth without attempting to benefit those who are most impacted by this holiday. This corporate greed attempts to dishonor the importance of the legacy of what Juneteenth stands for.
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What This Corporate Exploitation Signifies About American Society
The corporate exploitation of Juneteenth signifies the growing issue with American society: it values financial gain above all else. In a nation where corporations and people place the importance on the accruement of currency over respect for the past suffering of the United States’ ancestors, citizens highlight American society’s emotional disconnect. There is a profound disengagement from the harsh reality of the U.S.’s past permittance of slavery and how this nation’s history continues to affect society. Unfortunately, the societal focus on money has led to the desensitization of Americans towards others’ torment. In this nation, much of the focus and agency of freedom is placed upon the individual and their ability to provide for themselves.
This communal viewpoint has led to corporations jumping at the chance to profit off of a holiday that should be honored rather than transformed into another chance for consumerism. The legacy of Juneteenth is symbolic of that of the United States. America’s past is muddled with suffering, yet it is founded upon principles of equality and liberty for all. This same appreciation for the U.S.’s core values should apply to Juneteenth, as this day should inspire pride in all Americans. This day marks the beginning of a national transformation in the country. For the sake of those who suffered the horror of slavery, Juneteenth should be regarded with the respect it deserves, and not the dishonored by becoming just another holiday defined by commodification!
By Thomas Jacobs
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Thomas Jacobs is an avid writer, Cinema aficionado, and filmmaker. He graduated with Dean’s Honors from the University of California, Santa Cruz with a major in Film and Digital Media. His passion is directly tied to the appreciation and creation of film and television, and this fact is reflected in his intent to be a writer for the acclaimed entertainment journal, The Hollywood Insider. His beliefs mirror the core goals and mission statement of The Hollywood Insider by sharing an admiration for quality entertainment as well as bolstering a sense of positivity and equality among all humans. Thomas believes that Cinema is an advantageous promoter of civil and social empowerment, and he shares a mutual societal view with The Hollywood Insider, that people should not be judged by the color of their skin, but the content of their character.