Supporting black businesses is one thing. Doing so by serving a meal redolent with stereotypes is quite another.

It’s a lesson Amazon learned on Friday, when the management at a Chicago warehouse for the retailing giant ordered in fried chicken and waffles to celebrate Juneteenth, the holiday commemorating the day that the last slaves in the U.S. were finally freed, in 1865.

“On Juneteenth, a day to celebrate some level of Liberation and Freedom won by Black people, Amazon is ‘standing in solidarity’ and ‘honoring the Black community’ by giving us, majority Black workforce at DCH1, Chicken and Waffles,” an employee group posted on Facebook. “As people throughout the world are rising up against cops, corporations and this anti-Black capitalist system we live under, Amazon mocks us with this racist form of ‘celebration.’ So much for supporting your Black/African-American employees. Where’s the Solidarity in that? We demand a paid holiday, not some damn chicken.”

The meal was a mainstay in racist portrayals of blacks dating back to derogatory minstrel shows in the early 1900s, as The Wire noted in 2014. Such fare also played prominently in the 1915 silent film “Birth of a Nation,” which depicts the formation of the Ku Klux Klan.

Reaction against Amazon and titan trillionaire founder Jeff Bezos was instant.

“Are you f**kin serious right now with this?” read one of the numerous comments on the post. “Are they going to throw in grape soda and watermelon? Is Bezos gonna come out in blackface and do a minstrel act? Please tell me these people are not that stupid.”

Amazon said that its intentions were to support a black-owned business by sending out for lunch from a place that was also an employee favorite. Diverse local leadership made the restaurant decision, Amazon told CNBC.

The offering was outlined in a sign posted in the employee break room on Thursday, obtained by CNBC, that said Amazon would be “honoring the black community by supporting local black businesses” with chicken and waffles on Juneteenth.

“The leader who put on this event had good intentions to honor Juneteenth by supporting a local small business owned by a member of the black community,” Amazon told CNBC. “After receiving some feedback from team members at the site, they’ve since decided to remove the sign in question.”

Amazon is not the first entity to serve up racism under the guise of honor. In February 2014, the Christian Carondelet High School for Girls in Concord, Calif., apologized after offending parents and students with a similar meal intending to honor Black History Month, as KNTV-TV reported at the time.

CEO Bezos and his signature company have voice support for Black Lives Matter in recent weeks as protests against racism and police brutality enveloped the nation in the wake of the death of George Floyd and other unarmed black people at the hands of cops and vigilantes.

But employees and advocates said that and its ostensible support for Juneteenth rang hollow and that Amazon could better serve its workers by making Juneteenth a paid holiday and doing more to protect employees from coronavirus.

Its Staten Island warehouse was the site of a walkout in late March when employees said they would not return to work until the 855,000-square-foot facility had been thoroughly disinfected.

Christian Smalls, who organized the walkout, was fired, Amazon claimed, for defying his own quarantine and showing up to work. In May, an employee in that facility died.


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