Calgary company pulls Black Lives Matter gelato in face of criticism
Some accused the company of commodifying the larger movement
A Calgary gelato company is apologizing for a recent campaign, quickly pulling a Black Lives Matter-themed gelato from its website and social media channel just hours after its launch.
Righteous Gelato, formerly known as Fiasco Gelato, debuted a chocolate mint chip gelato online on Friday, writing that $5 from each $12 jar sold would "support efforts to combat systemic racism and advocate for racialized and marginalized communities."
But the campaign was quickly met with backlash online, with some accusing the company of profiting off the Black Lives Matter movement, especially as the organization chosen to be a recipient of the profits is not affiliated with Black Lives Matter.
The special edition chocolate gelato features an illustration of three Black people, wearing masks emblazoned with the words George Floyd gasped before his death at the hands of police — "I can't breathe" — and holding Black Lives Matter signs.
Janelle Cooper, a Calgary artist who previously ran a Black theatre company called the Ellipsis Tree Collective, said she felt pain when she saw the image.
"I think it really sends a terrible image. It sends a message that this is the right way to do it — it's using Black issues, Black struggles, Black lives, Black pain, Black death, as a commodity," Cooper said. "It's capitalizing off our pain, off our lives."
In a statement provided to CBC News, Righteous Gelato CEO James Boettcher said that "in our intention of doing the right thing, we did the wrong thing.
"Yesterday, Righteous launched a Black Lives Matter gelato with the intention of standing in solidarity and donating more than 100 per cent of our profits in the process to organizations that support inclusion and diversity," Boettcher said.
"While our intentions were from a place of love, we truly failed, and we are wholeheartedly sorry."
Cheryl Foggo, an Alberta-based author who has written about the Black experience in the province for decades, said she thought the image was a spoof when she first saw it.
"Black communities and Black people are deeply traumatized by brutality and racism. And when we have to try to process murders such as what happened to George Floyd, that sends us into a tailspin of grief and it is deeply traumatizing," Foggo said. "So to have people try to make a profit off of that pain, is not helpful at all.
"What would've been better for them to do is to reach out to some people in the Black community and ask how they could help."
It was only a matter of time before this egregious type of commodification of the struggle happened. I got to say though, if you’re going to be tone deaf and build a brand through controversy, go all the way. <a href="https://twitter.com/hashtag/BlackLivesMatter?src=hash&ref_src=twsrc%5Etfw">#BlackLivesMatter</a> <a href="https://t.co/vXNNzRscVI">pic.twitter.com/vXNNzRscVI</a>—@EricPetersAB
Others criticized the fact that a white artist, Mandy Stobo, was chosen to produce the art for the gelato. Stobo said the response to the product represented a "wake-up call."
"To those who called me out for this: You're absolutely right, and thank you. I recognize that I should have declined their ask and instead encouraged them to provide a paid opportunity to a BIPOC artist," Stobo said in a statement. "Thank you for educating me, even though it's not your job.
"I hear you and will do better. I hope you accept my heartfelt expression as a sign of my intention to help and do good."
humbly, sincerely, with love and with kindness - Mandy <a href="https://t.co/3qeDwmntmp">pic.twitter.com/3qeDwmntmp</a>—@BadPortraits
Dooshima Jev with the United Black People Allyship Movement said the campaign from Righteous Gelato was disappointing, but hopefully could represent a case study in advertising and marketing amidst the larger movement.
"This is a beautiful learning experience. This experience, honestly, should go down in the marketing history of this movement," Jev said. "Because this is exactly what we're talking about. This is not just a fight for Black people. This is a fight for human life."
Righteous Gelato said it would donate 100 per cent of its profits from its online store for all of the month of June to organizations focused on Black lives, committing to working with leaders in the Black community in the future.