Last Friday the country celebrated Juneteenth—a name derived from “June” and “nineteenth”—to honor the day in 1865 that slaves in Galveston, Texas were informed of their freedom (although slavery had been abolished by the Emancipation Proclamation more than two years prior). Juneteenth was first recognized in Texas before it was observed nationwide.
This year, given the proximity to massive global protests against police violence spurred by the killing of George Floyd, major companies and brands commemorated Juneteenth in a much more prominent way. Some, like the NFL, Target, Allstate, Nike, and Twitter, decided to make it an annual paid holiday. Other brands observed Juneteenth in their own ways: Amazon and Google canceled all “unnecessary” meetings and urged employees to take time to reflect; Uber, Lyft and Citigroup gave employees the day off; General Motors called for a moment of silence; and JPMorgan closed their offices early.
In tumultuous times such as these, brands have been forced to re-imagine and reinvent themselves from the top down. How does diversity fit into the company’s strategy and overall mission? Where does its commitment stand in relation to people of color, race, gender, and sexual orientation? What causes will they be involved in and in what capacity? We’ve covered the role of brands in taking on serious moral issues before, from Covid-19 to racism to irreversible errors in judgment, but clearly fighting systemic inequality will continue to be an uphill, and soul-searching, battle for individuals and companies alike.
Of course, some brands will find themselves on a steeper learning curve such as Snap, which released a controversial Juneteenth filter encouraging users to “smile and break the chains.” Tesla and SpaceX CEO Elon Musk said that his companies would formally recognize Juneteenth as a holiday before later adding that it wouldn’t actually be a paid day off. While many brands have yet to declare Juneteenth an official company holiday, Musk’s declaration after the fact seemed especially tone deaf.
As a (tongue-in-cheek) headline in TechCrunch stated, “Tech companies just found out about Juneteenth…” While that may feel true (perhaps it even is true), it’s a start.