Capitalizing On Blackness
How Society Seeks to Profit off of African American Culture

In May 2022, Walmart made headlines for a very public faux pas: it developed and sold Juneteenth Ice Cream, marketing it on the container as “Our Story: Share and Celebrate African-American culture, emancipation, and enduring hope.” The behemoth company’s attempt to commemorate Juneteenth suffered quick backlash, particularly on social media. It wasn’t that the swirled red velvet and cheesecake ice cream didn’t sound delicious; it was that Walmart, a white-owned company, was appropriating Black culture for a profit, and the people were tired of it.

The prevailing sentiment was that if Walmart wanted to commemorate a Black holiday, if they were truly for the Black community, why didn’t they support existing Black-owned ice cream companies, supporting those like Creamalicious, which already had an ice cream flavor called “Right as Rain Velvet Cheesecake?” Why create a copycat flavor? The answer to this is simple: they saw an opportunity to profit off of Black people celebrating the end of slavery, and all they saw were dollar signs.
The truth is that our society has mastered the art of making a profit off of Black culture. The commercialization of Juneteenth is a prime example. What used to be a day celebrated in the local community park, a humble picnic of fried chicken, potato salad, white bread, watermelon and red soda pop eaten on a worn blanket crowded with friends and family has become so much more. It wasn’t big and grand. It was a simple, sincere day of reflection and gratitude memorializing the emancipation of our ancestors from slavery. It was personal to our people, a symbol of cultural pride.

...once U.S. society became aware of [Juneteenth], what has happened to nearly every other aspect of Black culture happened to this one: they became aware of it, they saw it, and they commercialized it.

Hence, we have situations like the Walmart fiasco.

While the spotlight was shined on Walmart for its tone deaf attempt to commemorate Juneteenth through the sale of a special edition ice cream flavor (as well as Juneteenth t-shirts, water bottles, wine bottles, glasses, and party supplies), this white-owned company is far from the only one to recognize how much profit can be generated off of Black culture.

Popular hair care product companies like Carol’s Daughter, SheaMoisture and Cantu are white-owned, and profit millions each year off of Black women’s commitment to maintaining their crowning glory, not to mention the Asian-owned stores that make billions off of selling Black hair care products and weave. Clothing companies capitalize off of Black streetwear. The music industry commercializes Black experiences set to rhythm and rhymes in Hip-Hop and rap music.

Pop culture widely profits off of the use of African American Vernacular English in their creative expression in television, music, film, and sports. The list of those who consistently capitalize off of Blackness is endless.

How should we, as consumers, respond to the ever-growing list of non-Black companies who inundate the marketplace with commodified Blackness? Here are a few tips.

1. Recognize your power. The bottom line that all companies are interested in is profit. The 50 million Black people in the United States spend more than $1 trillion a year. Translation: we have immense spending power in the marketplace. It is because companies recognize this that they make such moves as Walmart did to try to get a piece of that $1 trillion pie. They recognize that Black people have the power to either drive or dry up profits for a product or service in a particular industry. You will never make the right purchasing decisions if you do not view your dollars the right way.

2. Buy Black. If you’ve heard it once, you’ve heard it a thousand times, but do you really do it? When you’re deciding on which brand of coffee, bread, shoes, or accessories you’ll buy, do you check the source? With the ready access we have to the internet, finding out whether a company is Black owned or not before you spend your money there can literally take only seconds. Whenever you have the opportunity to do so, do the research, identify the Black sellers, and buy Black. Wield your power wisely.

3. Develop new Black-owned brand loyalties. We’re not suggesting that you be loyal to companies that have low-quality products, sparse selection, or poor customer service. We are saying that when you find a Black-owned company that provides comparable products and services relative to the white-owned brands you’ve been loyal to in the past, be willing to develop new loyalties. Yes, it will be an adjustment, but it will be worth it. Do it for the culture.

4. Make some noise. When a powerless people makes noise, no one listens. However, when a people that spends $1 trillion annually in the marketplace makes noise, people who want to make a profit off of them will listen. Use the power of your voice strategically. Add your voice to others’ encouraging stores to stock more products from Black-owned companies. Chime in on social media about your discontent when non-Black companies appropriate Black culture to earn some bucks. Send letters and commentaries challenging companies that profit off of Black culture to reinvest in Black communities.

Whatever you do, make some noise! The Walmart Juneteenth fiasco should have been proof positive that when Black people make noise, companies listen and respond.

Interested in learning more about money management and building wealth? Start with the Black Money Tree! The Black Money Tree is a personal finance philosophy delivered through a curriculum that empowers Black people with the education, support and resources they need to understand and build wealth and to achieve both individual and collective economic sufficiency for generations to come. The Black Money Tree is produced by Jerome Love in partnership with the Texas Black Expo. To listen, visit