The Complicated History Of Red Velvet Cheesecake Ice Cream

The first Juneteenth celebration occurred on June 19, 1865 in response to federal troops marching into Galveston, Texas to demand the liberation of all Black people who were still enslaved two and a half years after President Lincoln had already issued the Emancipation Proclamation, per History. Over the more than a century-and-a-half since then, Juneteenth has come to be seen as a celebration of both "African American freedom" and Black "education and achievement", according to the Juneteenth website. 

Although the Juneteenth website makes no reference to the eating of red-hued foods as a Juneteenth tradition, red velvet cake is one of a number of red foods that have found their way into Juneteenth celebrations, according to Adrian Miller, a culinary historian, and author, via The Washington Post. As cookbook author Nicole Taylor explained to The Washington Post, "for Black people, red is the color of joy." That being said, red velvet cake, itself, is not a longstanding tradition among Black Americans, but rather, a "relatively recent" addition to the panoply of foods associated with Southern cuisine and/or its arguably Northern derivative, soul food, according to Miller, as well as Atlas Obscura's Gastro Obscura.

An even newer Juneteenth tradition, assuming the concept of a "new tradition" is not an oxymoron, is red velvet cheesecake ice cream. Although red velvet cheesecake ice cream presumably existed long before 2022, it is only since May 2022 that it came to have made an indelible mark on Black history. 

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Red velvet cheesecake ice cream made headlines for complicated reasons

Cool, plush, and creamy, and featuring the color red as well as "red" in the name, red velvet cheesecake flavored ice cream captivated the attention of social media for a brief but indelible moment in late May of 2022. That was when Walmart launched it as the flavor of its Juneteenth-themed dessert promotion, making it available in pint-sized containers festooned with colors associated with the pan-African flag (per Ad Age). It proved a regrettable move, as Walmart quickly admitted (via The Washington Post), and not because red velvet cheesecake ice cream isn't a legit red-hued food that Black Americans might enjoy. 

Rather, the promotion was perceived, including by many in the Black community, as nothing more than greed-inspired appropriation, where both greed and appropriation are relevant but also inextricably intertwined. In terms of greed, Walmart was criticized for exploiting Juneteenth for profit. In terms of appropriation, Walmart was accused of stealing the idea for red velvet cheesecake flavored ice cream from the Black-owned business, Creamalicious, which launched in late 2021, according to its founder, Liz Rogers, via Woman's World

The truth is somewhat more complicated, of course, with Rogers telling Insider that she doesn't "cook with politics" and bears no ill will toward Walmart for its Juneteenth promotion. In addition, Rogers clarified that Creamalicious ice cream is actually sold in Walmart stores, per Black Business.