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April V. Taylor: Are Companies Unjustly Profiting From Racism and Black Death?

April V. Taylor

Since the ongoing protests erupted in Ferguson, Missouri and across the country about the death of unarmed black teen Michael Brown at the hands of police officer Darren Wilson, many people, companies and organizations have profited from the sale of t-shirts, wrist bands, and numerous other items, but is this ethical?  Many are beginning to speak out a say that it is not.  A recent article published by Colorlines points out that for-profit t-shirt company FCKH8 is one of the companies selling t-shirts and wristbands that is not ethically earning a profit from the Michael Brown tragedy.

The company recently released a video featuring kids from the same block where Michael Brown was gunned down.  The video advertises t-shirts with the slogan, “Racism is not over.  But I’m over racism.”  The shirts are being sold for $13, with $5 of that going to “charities working in communities to fight racism.”  However, the company does not identify these mysterious charities in the video.  They have since acknowledged that Race Forward is one of the organizations who will be receiving money.

There appears to be a deeper issue here than whether or not a company, organization or individual specifically identifies where the profits from items related to the death of Michael Brown and recent events in Ferguson will go.  The problem, as Colorlines points out, is that, “There’s an entire economy around black death – and this ad campaign illustrates it all too well.  Ironically, this economy’s profit margins depend on upholding the very racism this video claims to want to eliminate…Everything, it seems, can be distilled, packaged, bought and sold – including racism.”

In the video for FCKH8’s racism t-shirts, a white person does not appear in the video until the end, when a white man comes on the screen to tell white people they must do their part to help end racism, which includes purchasing one of the for-profit company’s t-shirts denouncing racism.  While what the kids say in the advertisement video is relevant and timely, one has to wonder how white people buying a t-shirt for a company to make profit will actually end the racism that has permeated every facet of American life for hundreds of years and if the sale of such items actually commodifies racism rather than eliminating it.

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