An attempt to honor Juneteenth has backfired spectacularly for one Atlanta branch of the Swedish furniture chain, Ikea.
The branch sparked outrage with what employees are calling an intensely problematic menu curated to celebrate the holiday, which marks the emancipation of the very last enslaved Americans.
“To honor the perseverance of Black Americans and acknowledge the progress yet to be made, we observe Juneteenth on Saturday, June 19, 2021,” begins an email acquired by TMZ, which was sent to employees at the branch last week. “Look out for a special menu on Saturday which will include: fried chicken, watermelon, mac n cheese, potato salad, collard greens, candied yams.”
The selection, including items that have historically been used to demean African-Americans through stereotyping, resulted in multiple employees calling out of work in protest, according to a local news channel.
“You cannot say serving watermelon on Juneteenth is a soul food menu when you don’t even know the history. They used to feed slaves watermelon,” an anonymous employee told Atlanta’s CBS 46. “It caused a lot of people to be upset. People actually wanted to quit. People weren’t coming back to work.”
As many as 33 workers didn’t show up in response, CBS reported, causing the store’s manager to apologize via internal email.
“She said, ‘I truly apologize. The menu came off [offensive],’” the employee recalled.
But this wasn’t sufficient for forgiveness, and the worker said the controversy could have been easily avoided if only people of color had been included in the team that chose the menu. “None of the co-workers who sat down to create the menu, no one was black,” they added.
However, IKEA says that’s not true.
“There were Black co-workers involved in the creation of the menu,” a spokesperson said. “Out of respect for their privacy, we cannot go into more detail, and we take this as an important learning and shared responsibility.”
IKEA Atlanta released an official statement, which can be read, in full, below:
The following day, the store manager told CBS a new, revised menu was released. The updated version included collard greens, cornbread, mashed potatoes and meatloaf. And Sunday’s menu? “Fried chicken, mac ’n’ cheese, collard greens,” the employee said.