Intent Rewind

Juneteenth/ Windrush Day

This week marks the commemoration of both Juneteenth (19th) and Windrush Day (22nd) – two incredibly poignant and transformative moments in the history of Black people in the US and UK. As an African-American transplant from Texas who came to the UK nearly 20 years ago, I have a strong connection to Juneteenth. Before it became an official federal holiday and a commemoration of the emancipation of enslaved people throughout the US, it was a regional celebration – a remembrance of the brutality of slavery and how slaveowners purposely kept the outcome of the Civil War and the Emancipation Proclamation from slaves. It wasn’t until the arrival of troops in Galveston (Texas) on 19 June 1865 that the 250,000+ enslaved Black people learned that they were free, Juneteenth was the first thing that came to mind when I heard about Windrush Day. Like many immigrants to a new country, I spent months and soon years immersing myself in all aspects of my new home, learning about the history and culture of the UK. And of course, there is no British culture without the contributions of the Caribbean.
Today at Intent Health we are commemorating Juneteenth and Windrush Day. While both holidays were designed to celebrate and commemorate the history, culture and resiliency of the Black diaspora , they are still rooted in racism and discrimination. Once freed, former slaves still faced violence and systemic disadvantages which persist today. The brave passengers of the SS MV Windrush, invited to the UK to help rebuild Britain after the Second World War, encountered prejudice, poor treatment and institutional racism including the actions of the Conservative government in trying to deport descendants of that generation.

So, seeing businesses and brands attempting to capitalise on these relevant cultural moments for marketing purposes has given me a moment of pause.

As part of our Intent Rewind series, we’re looking back on how brands can learn from past missteps to show respect and consideration while also building trust with multi-cultural audiences.
Are Juneteenth or Windrush Day marketing or campaign opportunities?

Are Juneteenth or Windrush Day marketing or campaign opportunities?

The short answer is ‘no’. However, that doesn’t mean they aren’t significant days in the cultural calendar or that they shouldn’t be mentioned by businesses and brands. However, both Juneteenth and Windrush Day share a complex mix of trauma and triumph. Therefore, it would likely be interpreted as insensitive, opportunistic and crass to market products or services that attempt to capitalise on the suffering of people.

Ways to celebrate and remember with respect

Actions speak louder than words

After the events of the last few years, audiences expect brands to go beyond platitudes and pledges into planning and progress against clear priorities. Instead of a targeted drop or social media post, brands should think carefully about how they are demonstrating commitment to inclusion and representation. A good example is Novartis’s Beacon of Hope programme, a 10-year $33.7m collaboration with 27 historically Black colleges, universities and medical schools and other organizations to create actionable solutions targeting the systemic racism that drives inequitable health outcomes in the US.
Acknowledging these days through action, such as investment in long-term programmes or diversifying the supply chain by working with Black-owned businesses, is a valuable way of demonstrating allyship.

Work to amplify authentic representation

As many brands have discovered, it is unwise to post content celebrating key cultural dates such as Juneteenth and Windrush Day when your own ‘house’ is not in order. A good indicator of representation is to examine who within the company creates and shares the Juneteenth and Windrush Day posts. Too often, companies want the credit of a commitment to diversity, equity and inclusion without making any of the necessary substantive and long-term changes internally. Where are the Black team members in your business? Where are the senior leaders of colour? Are their voices regularly heard and represented in the business, or are they called upon opportunistically to contribute the ‘Black voice’ or share content.

Instead, businesses should be working to ensure they are recruiting and retaining talented people of colour to develop authentic representation throughout the company.

Whatever you do, do it with genuine respect

Both Juneteenth and Windrush Day are significant not just to Black people, but to the history of the respective countries in which they’re celebrated. Therefore, both should be treated with the utmost respect and positioned as opportunities to learn about OUR history and build awareness and knowledge for everyone. Many Black people are aware of their own history – it’s often passed down through our families and friends, and within our communities. Yet many others within wider society are only starting to become aware of the historical and cultural implications of these days. If you’re going to acknowledge the date, then take the time to put together content which builds knowledge, enhances understanding, wrestles with uncomfortable truths and shows how relevant both days are to our current world.