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Walmart apologizes for Juneteenth ice cream after being accused of ‘capitalizing off the culture’

“So what type of toppings do you put on this mess?” read one tweet. “Crushed souls and shackle-shaped sprinkles? It’s a no for me.”
Darian Alexis McNeal shared the image of Walmart's Juneteenth-themed ice cream which went viral on Sunday.
Darian Alexis McNeal shared the image of Walmart's Juneteenth-themed ice cream which went viral on Sunday.Darian Alexis McNeal

I scream, you scream, Twitter is screaming at Walmart’s new ice cream.

The big-box retailer apologized to customers this week after being accused of attempting to commodify a Black holiday with a new ice cream flavor. Swirled red velvet and cheesecake make up the flavor profile of “Celebration Edition: Juneteenth Ice Cream,” which has left a bitter taste in the mouths of many Black social media users.

Images of the new flavor went viral over the weekend after Darian Alexis McNeal, a 39-year-old phlebotomist with Duke University Health System, shared pictures of a tub of the ice cream on her social media. McNeal (who goes by the name Electris Jones on social media) says she went to Walmart on Saturday night to buy lunch and school snacks for the week.

“My son asked for ice cream, and we walked down the aisle. I love sherbet, and that’s what I was looking for when I saw the Juneteenth Ice Cream carton,” McNeal told TODAY Food.

“My initial reaction was absolute laughter,” McNeal added. “Not because I thought it was funny, but disbelief that someone somewhere approved not only (of) selling the item but the colors and graphics on the item. Who thought this was a good idea, and who asked for it! Until recently, Black hair products were locked behind glass in Walmart. Now, they are 'Celebrating Juneteenth'?"

To express her dismay, McNeal turned to Facebook.

"Dear Walmart, Ummm... k. Thanks I guess," she wrote in a post shared alongside images of the ice cream tubs which feature Pan-African colors. "Modus Operandi. Capitalize off the culture. With all of the Black-owned brands why not promote their products. Give them room on the shelves. Give them production to expand. When we said Recognize our work. Thats what we meant!!"

The ice cream, which retailed at $5.99 a carton, is not available on the Walmart site, and the company said in a statement to TODAY, "We are reviewing our assortment and will remove items as appropriate."

In its statement, Walmart apologized for the product, writing, “Juneteenth holiday marks a commemoration and celebration of freedom and independence. However, we received feedback that a few items caused concern for some of our customers and we sincerely apologize.”

Currently, Walmart sells a number of Juneteenth-related items including clothing, utensils and decorations.

“Would you like some Juneteenth Ice cream on a Juneteenth plate as you sip your beer in a Juneteenth Koozie?” tweeted comedian Roy Wood Jr.

Still, the ice cream has left McNeal and other critics with questions and feelings of frustration.

“So what type of toppings do you put on this mess?” a Twitter user posted on Monday. “Crushed souls and shackle-shaped sprinkles? It’s a no for me.”

"Walmart backed Juneteenth ice cream is in the same vein as what’s happened to BLM, and Pride, and Anti Work," tweeted another person. "As our ideas become more 'mainstream' we have to think of how to protect them from being recuperated and de-radicalized.

"Do they even know what Juneteenth is? Why we celebrate? The history and symbolism attached?" McNeal remarked to TODAY. "No, they saw an opportunity to make money and jumped on it."

Juneteenth celebrations date back to 1865 and commemorate the emancipation of enslaved Black Americans. The holiday also highlights one of the greatest injustices in United States history. While President Abraham Lincoln had declared over three million enslaved people residing in the Confederate states free via the Emancipation Proclamation in 1863, it took over two years for the news to reach those enslaved in Texas.

For generations, Juneteenth was largely only celebrated within the Black community, and primarily in the South. Despite various attempts to grant the holiday legal observance, it was only this past year in the aftermath of the killing of George Floyd that the U.S. government ruled to formally recognize Juneteenth. After the passing of the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act on June 15, 2021, Juneteenth became a federal holiday.

McNeal told TODAY that, instead of seizing a chance to make its own Juneteenth-themed ice cream flavor to profit off of, the retailer could have promoted a red velvet cake ice cream created by a Black-owned company, Creamalicious, which is already available in its stores.

"If they really wanted to celebrate Juneteenth giving space to the Black creatives, Black creators, the Black voices, the ones that don't always get seats at the big table would’ve been so much better," McNeal added.

On the other hand, there were some folks on Twitter — albeit a small minority — who couldn't get behind the outrage, mostly because they saw this coming when Juneteenth became a federal holiday.

"Y’all fought for Juneteenth to be a national recognized holiday and now it’s going to be commercialized like every other holiday. What did y’all think?! I’m not fighting over ice cream lmao pls," wrote one Twitter user.

"I prefer when Juneteenth was only acknowledged by certain Black people, namely in the South," tweeted another person. "Now we gotta listen to y’all cry about paper plates and ice cream like y’all didn’t know that was coming."