A Calgary company that launched a Black Lives Matter gelato Friday is apologizing and pulling the product after receiving backlash about what some are calling a tone-deaf decision.
Righteous Gelato introduced the chocolate mint chip BLM gelato, saying that $5 from each $12 pint would support “efforts to combat systemic racism and advocate for racialized and marginalized communities.”
The product featured art by a white person, showing three people carrying BLM signs and wearing masks that said, “I can’t breathe.” Its profits were earmarked for ActionDignity, which is not affiliated with BLM.
Reaction poured in on social media, with many saying the company was commodifying the BLM movement.
Leaders in the Black community said the screw-up could have been avoided with a simple conversation.
Kay L with BLM Calgary questioned if the product was real, calling it tasteless.
“I was actually really, really shocked when I saw it. I didn’t think that someone or a company that big would be that tone-deaf, especially in this climate right now,” he said.
“People have died behind this movement. A lot of blood was shed behind this movement. A lot of people went to jail behind this movement. We’re not going to let nobody just jump on the bandwagon and try to profit off of what’s going on. That’s what I felt they were doing.”
L said the people behind the product may have had the right intentions but missed the mark completely.
“For future reference — if any other company, not just them — if you’re trying to do something in that light, reach out to the Black Lives Matter organization or another organization that’s fighting for freedom and see if they are OK with what you’re trying to do. If not, take a different marketing route,” he said.
Company says ‘you are right’
Righteous Gelato said it had 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.”
“While our intentions were from a place of love, we truly failed and we are wholeheartedly sorry,” said CEO James Boettcher on Saturday.
He said the company is listening to feedback, adding it stands against racism.
“You are right, we need to include more organizations doing specific work with the Black community and we will. You are right, we need to be leaders in education and are committed to working diligently with the BIPOC community so that we can make a bigger and more accurate impact in our city,” he said.
“You are right, in choosing to work with a friend and community builder, we could have chosen a Black artist, so we will. There is a need to highlight the great work of those who are underrepresented. You are right, chocolate as a flavour choice was ignorant. We can and we will put more thought into this in the future.”
Mandy Stobo, the artist from Bad Portraits who approved her art for the BLM product, posted her apology on Instagram, calling the situation a wake-up call.
“I recognize that I should have declined their ask and instead encouraged them to provide a paid opportunity to a BIPOC artist,” she said, noting that she will do better.
Boettcher said there are no quick fixes for racism and the company’s failures.
“Our company has always stood for doing what’s right and building community, and the events of the last month have given us new perspectives and opened our eyes to areas of the community that we have not yet served, namely the Black community,” he said.
“We are committed to amplifying the voices, providing more than equal opportunities to Black people and supporting organizations that fight injustice for the Black community.”
READ MORE: How to support local Black-owned businesses
Boettcher said Righteous Gelato’s next step is working with Black leaders.
“To fulfill our original goal of raising funds for the Black community, 100 per cent of our profits from our online store for all of June will be invested in organizations that you choose that focus on Black lives,” he said.
“We will also be removing all artwork and labels from those of you that ordered already because it is insensitive and disrespectful.”
‘I’m not ice cream. I’m a human being’
Dooshima Jev, director of Afros In Tha City, an online platform that celebrates Afrocentric culture, initially wasn’t surprised by the campaign — but that settled into frustration.
“When you are talking about advocating for Black children, it’s very important that you have very positive images,” she said.
Jev said it was insensitive to put a dying man’s words on a tub of chocolate gelato.
“I’m not a flavour. I’m not ice cream. I’m a human being,” she said.
“This is blood we’re talking about, OK? Do not attach your products to blood money.”
There are no excuses, Jev said. The company could have reached out to many, including her consultant team.
“This isn’t just about using artists of colour. This is about trying to develop compassion in your mentality about something that you’re not aware of,” she said.
“If you don’t know about something and you want to help something, what do you do? You ask somebody who knows about it, right? It could be your neighbour, it could be your friend. I mean, it could be Google.”
Jev said she doesn’t believe it’s her role to forecast what the company should do next.
“It’s not my job to tell you what I’d like to see. You tell me what you think you should see and we’ll hold you accountable,” she said.
She believes the company was making a stretch to connect BLM with gelato.
“If you sell ice cream, sell ice cream,” she said.
“If you want to feel good about something in your heart and you want to donate money somewhere, look for a cause that’s already doing the work. We don’t need you to be a hero.”
Tyra Erskine with ActionDignity said this is a learning experience for the organization.
“We will continue to build our capacity in anti-Black racism work to support the communities we work with,” she said.
“We stand strong with Black Lives Matter and the change they are fostering in our communities.”