Large corporations reduce minority holidays and celebrations by commercializing them to diversify their demographic and make a profit.
Companies pander to racial and queer minorities who seek representation from mainstream society to make money off them, instead of authentically supporting their communities.
"They're going to gear up advertisements around the time of holidays and events to try to rack in some more money, which is just strategy," Gabrielle Van Saun, a fourth-year marketing and human resources management student, said. "But I do think it is a little exploitative."
Juneteenth, which is celebrated on June 19 and commemorates the emancipation of African American slaves, was made a federal holiday in 2021.
The following June, Walmart received negative responses for selling “Juneteenth Ice Cream” and other Juneteenth-themed items such as party plates. However, this disingenuous promotion of a minority group doesn’t end here.
Like the Black community, the LGBTQIA+ community has made huge strides to be treated with respect while fighting to live authentic lives with the same freedoms as their heterosexual counterparts.
Companies like Walmart and CVS, tend to supposedly align with LGBTQIA+ ideologies, but then abandon or ignore the community when it faces pushback from anti-LGBTQIA+ groups or the government.
For example, consumers and employees alike took to social media this summer to condemn Disney for not joining the conversation about Florida’s “Don’t Say Gay” bill.
Companies use performative activism on marginalized groups such as people of color and queer people as a supportive front on the surface.
Performative activism is a term that gained traction after the rise of the Black Lives Matter movement in 2020. It is a tactic used by large corporations to gain attention and monetization without having to devote themselves to the actual cause.
25 big-name companies, like Wells Fargo and AT&T, donated a collective $10 million to anti-LBGTQIA+ politicians in recent years after promoting rainbows in June, according to an investigation by Popular Information.
Performative activism takes awareness away from the cause and directs focus on the “activist,” further diluting the message of that group.
This issue is not one-sided, however. The sole reason these large corporations are successful is because of the consumer, who also plays a part in holiday commercialization.
“(Consumers are) the ones who start the trends to begin with to allow themselves to be exploited in some sense," Van Saun said. "So, if the trends are started in the first place by someone, whether it's a business, an influencer, whoever, then consumers allow themselves to buy into that."
The role consumers play in their own exploitation should be acknowledged as well. This want for representation and inclusion can make us blind to who we decide to give our money to further continuing the cycle of holiday commercialization.
"It's hard for me to say that I'm not a consumer myself, but I think we have to be more cognizant of at least understanding the role we play in the matrix and not living outside of the matrix," Jabari Evans, assistant professor of race and media, said.
Religious holidays differ from cultural holidays because they are not new to commercialization and have been commercialized for decades. Holidays such as Easter, Halloween and Christmas have grown to place importance on gifts, candy and consumerism.
These holidays that are rooted in Paganism and Christianity continue to lose their original meaning as they become more affiliated with bunnies, jack-o-lanterns and Santa Clause and focus on fun instead of the original meaning of the holidays.
Although this isn’t as harmful as how cultural celebrations are treated, holidays rooted in religion still become globalized and merchandised, detracting from their original values.
“Now that we’re in an era of social media where you can self-commodify yourself and we’re consumers of ourself and we’re selling of ourself, it’s tough,” Evans said. “There are the powers that be that exist in these big media conglomerates that are able to project images onto us, but we also project images onto ourselves.”
If these companies wish to be supportive in the fight to make racial minorities' voices heard during celebratory days or months, promoting minorities' businesses and investing in their communities is more momentous than coming out with an ice cream flavor and plates like Walmart did.
Instead of rainbow-washing products, companies could hang a flag or poster representing the LGBTQIA+ community to symbolize their support without profiting off them with gimmicky items. Religious holidays can be interpreted and celebrated differently, but the core essence of each should be acknowledged more.
Most of the holidays mentioned are exclusive to the U.S., where white, heterosexual people predominately hold positions of power. When there is a day or month commemorating minority accomplishments, culture and contributions while also acknowledging their struggles, there can be a feeling of appreciation.
"I would say as a Black student at a predominantly white school, I do feel appreciated with those holidays just because I feel like it opens up a spotlight and conversation to talk about the things that we do go through as minorities," Nicole Smith, a first-year broadcast journalism student, said.
However, representation can feel insincere when you witness your holiday or celebratory month become bastardized by largely white-owned corporations and media.
To combat this, we need to understand what these holidays mean to ourselves and others and realize that these periods of commemoration are not meant to exploit weaknesses, but to celebrate strength.