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Businesses bet on Black culture amid demands for racial justice. Now experts warn Juneteenth is next be whitewashed

Summary List PlacementThe world mourned after witnessing the-now viral video of the murder of an unarmed George Floyd.As a result, protesters took the streets, enraged at the failure of the local and state governments responsible. The racial unrest was only the beginning of a larger conversation the country would hold about the systemic racism that has plagued it from its conception. Black communities called out racial violence and discrimination in workplaces, and neighborhoods, and schools - where American education often leaves out their history. Demands for change also came with calls for corporate reckoning.  Black consumers were now demanding multi-million private corporation...

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Summary List Placement

The world mourned after witnessing the-now viral video of the murder of an unarmed George Floyd.As a result, protesters took the streets, enraged at the failure of the local and state governments responsible.

The racial unrest was only the beginning of a larger conversation the country would hold about the systemic racism that has plagued it from its conception. Black communities called out racial violence and discrimination in workplaces, and neighborhoods, and schools – where American education often leaves out their history.

Demands for change also came with calls for corporate reckoning. 

Black consumers were now demanding multi-million private corporation and public institutions to take accountability for their part in systemic discrimination that persists today.

Major corporations courted these same consumers by using Juneteenth, a once relatively unknown holiday left out of many history books to now become a federal holiday. 

But critics say the new wave of corporate support is just a repeat of political powers using holidays for consumption rather than to educate.

“I remember the fight for Martin Luther King Day over the years. And now this is a sales day,” Earl Fowlkes, President of the Center of Black Equity, told Insider.  

“Juneteenth is another opportunity for businesses to sell to Black folks and wrap it up,” he added.

Prior to 2020,companies seldom marketed to Black consumers for Juneteenth

Juneteenth 2019 Milwaukee Wisconsin

Few Americans outside of Black communities knew much about the Juneteenth holiday before last year. Just 45% of Americans reported that they had only just learned about it until 2020, according to a survey by YouGovAmerica

Now a majority, 59%, believe that it should become a national federal holiday. This week, Congress officially passed legislation to approve the addition  that is currently awaiting President Joe Biden’s signature. 

And companies see the potential high earnings when courting the Black community’s $1.2 trillion annual spending power. 

“It is the commercial world adjusting itself to continue to attract as many black consumers as possible, ” Jared Ball, professor at Morgan State University and author of the book, ‘The Myth and Propaganda of Black Buying Power’ told Insider. 

While only accounting for 14% of the population, Black consumers accounted for over $500 million in revenue, including product categories ranging from feminine hygiene to refrigerated drinks, according to a Nielson report. 

As racial unrest surged, Black consumers have leveraged their influence to demand that companies start reflecting the diversity of both their customers and their workforce. 

It’s great that we are being marketed to, but are these companies hiring us, are these companies contributing to our historically Black colleges and universities? Are you recruiting our people? Earl Fowlkes, President of the Center of Black Equity

 Earl Fowlkes, President of the Center of Black Equity

However, critics like Ball argue this buying power does always equal the political power needed to start real change. 

He points to the rush of Juneteenth advertising as examples of companies trying “to protect themselves as a class from a potential uprising, from more potential criticism coming from black communities about the relationship that businesses have to black communities.”

In a study conducted by the Collage Group, 62% of Black consumers responded that America’s institutions are responsible for both maintaining and reinforcing racial inequalities within the country.

And more than 65% of respondents agreed that companies needed to do their part in putting more pressure on local and state governments. 

Many companies have used the Juneteenth holiday to show solidarity with the Black community amidst the racial injustice alongside notable influencers that posted black squares on their timeline in support. 

In total, companies have pledged $50 billion toward racial equity following the murder of George Floyd and the protests, according to a recent study conducted by Creative Investment Research.

But skeptics question how these pledges will be used to make real change impacting Black communities.

It’s great that we are being marketed to,” Fowlkes said. “But are these companies hiring us, are these companies contributing to our historically black colleges and universities? Are you recruiting our people?

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Major corporations like Nike, Twitter, Google, and others all announced that Juneteenth would be a corporate holiday, with others like Netflix sharing new diversity reports that included initiatives to support staff from marginalized backgrounds in light of the conversation sparked by Black consumers.

But Fowlkes simply wants to know “are they contributing to the neighborhood?”

“Ultimately that’s going to be the way that we teach these businesses how to market to us,” he said. “It’s not just having some nice commercials for the community.”

Critics told Insider Juneteenth ads are enough to address racial inequality in the US

People put their fists in the air as Lift Every Voice and Sing is performed at the intersection of H St NW and 16th Street NW near the White House, an area renamed Black Lives Matter Plaza, while celebrating the Juneteenth holiday June 19, 2020Corporations made grand commitments that promised the start of change, but already many haven’t proven that they have lived up to their word. 

Of the $50 billion pledged, only $250 million has been spent or committed to a specific initiative. Influencers have even been accused of discreetly removing black squares from their timelines after news around the protests began to die down.

As a result of what many have called performative allyship and corporate co-opting of Juneteenth, many notable figures have pushed Black consumers to use their buying power in supporting their own Black-owned businesses. 

However, while Black consumerism is being directed toward marginalized businesses, some activists say it still isn’t enough. 

“None of these actions will address the inequality that Black people continue to suffer,” Ball told Insider. “That inequality is not borne out of financial literacy or illiteracy, shopping or consumption habits.”

Juneteenth represents the resilience of a people once deemed not human and whose unpaid labor was used to build the foundation of the United States. 

As it transitions from a community gathering among the newly freed to a federal holiday with company paid-time off, travel, and retail sales, Fowlkes says the commodification of liberation does not help the movement. 

“There are elected officials who don’t support many of the things that are important to Black folks, yet they’re willing to push Juneteenth through,” he said, cautioning that, in the end, the image of solidarity becomes a tool of capitalist conquest at the expense of a culture who has already been deprived of basic human rights.

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