What Do You Think: T-Shirts?

Well, the weekend is here after what, at least to me, seemed like a particularly grueling week.  It’s time for us to relax a little from the every day grind, and what better way than with a conversation that goes outside the box a little bit?

Before we get to the question at hand, a quick word or two (which for me usually equates to a couple hundred, sorry) on these “What Do You Think?” segments.

The question I pose is going to be a reader generated question, and I actually like that as an idea.  One of my personal goals for this site is to continue to encourage some pretty good conversations we’ve been getting going here and even have a long running dialogue that extends from one post to the next over a period of time.  As reader DrGail noted in an email to me, one of the more predominant topics lately has been racism, race relations, and racial tension, and I think this is a healthy, if not a little dangerous topic for us to continue to tackle as time goes on.

Anyway, so I really like the idea of reader generated questions and I would ask of you good people to keep sending them in, you know, the kind of questions that don’t necessarily seek a definitive answer, but instead have the potential to spark some conversation.

Now, I’m going to continue to drop a WDYT post here and there through the week when I’m a little too pressed to do a real post, but as DrGail again suggested a while back, we should look at getting some of these open thread kinds of posts going on the weekend when the news is slow and perhaps people have the freedom to spend a little bit of time here and there getting engaged in discussion.

So this is what I would like to see happen: through the week, email me or leave in the comments of a post or whatever a question you think would make a great WDYT post, and on the weekends I’ll get it posted and our burgeoning little community can mull it over and talk it out.

If there happen to be multiple questions, I’ll pick from the one most likely to spark a lengthy and interesting debate.

This question comes from Dynamic who has a query that, on the surface, may seem pretty straight forward.  But I also think that it has the potential to touch upon some very important topics that are relevant to what’s going on in the news today, and one of my goals through the weekend, should this kick up some debate, is to see if I can’t guide us to those trickier questions.

Anyway, I’ve babbled on quite long enough, and it’s time to turn it over to Dynamic.  His question comes from the comments of this post.

Here’s a question for folks to consider whilst you take some needed time to yourself and your errands.

I work at Spencer’s Gifts, a store that prides itself on being fairly humourous and “edgy.” We sell a shirt there that shows portrait shots Hillary and Obama side by side, seperated by the words “Bros before Hoes.”

Full disclosure – I immediately purchased one even before we put them up for general sale on the floor, literally as soon as they came into our building. I thought (and think) they are hilarious.

I’ve had uniformly positive responses to the shirt when I’ve worn it or when I’ve pointed one out at work; there was one case where an African-American family misinterpreted it, but a brief explanation and they were a bit shocked but quite amused (which is exactly what Spencer’s is going for – you should see our Hillary Nutcracker and our excellent selection of fart machines :lol:). However, emails have begun flowing in from people who have a problem selling these tshirts, claiming they are both racist and sexist. Notably, these complaints have all (to the best of my knowledge) been internal to the company; although we’ve had one or two customers make snide remarks about Obama (a “black racist”) or Hillary (much worse terms), nobody has directed any serious vitriol at the shirt itself, or its slogan, in my store or when I’ve worn it (which is perhaps a bit too frequently :lol: ).

The complainents have taken their stories right to the top and emailed the CEO of Spencer’s (which is the perogative of any Spencer’s employee, it’s a very well run company) and asked him to reconsider selling the t-shirts.

My question is three-fold: do you folks feel that Spencer’s Gifts is crossing the line by selling that shirt; why or why not; and what do you feel that Spencer’s should do in regard to the shirt?

 What do you think?

4 Responses to “What Do You Think: T-Shirts?”

  1. DrGail says:

    It IS funny, although I see a distinct potential for it to offend some (and perhaps a great many) people. While my inner fuddy-duddy says that Spencer’s Gifts has indeed crossed the line and shouldn’t sell or promote the shirt, the rest of me thinks “why not?”

    At some point, we have to stop being so immensely sensitive to political correctness. Too often, anything that could potentially be considered offensive by anyone is suppressed. This incredible push toward keeping everything PC gives rise to unimaginable paranoia about anything that might smack of sexism, racism, sexual harassment, lack of patriotism, or (God forbid!) not child-friendly.

    This country used to stand for embracing people’s differences and achieving a kind of blending of those differences only through aggregation. Now it seems that homogeneity is the only safe course of action.

    You’re right, Kyle: it seems like a simple question on the surface but it’s really not. I’m curious what other people think.

  2. terry says:

    I look at that t-shirt and then look at other items in Spencer’s, and as a woman, I am much more put off by some of the other merchandise they carry.

    But if I chose to work there, knowing what Spencer’s is all about, it seems a little hypocritical to complain about that particular t-shirt.

    Sort of like choosing to work at Hooters and then complaining about the uniform??

  3. Both points are interesting. I didn’t even think about Terry’s point. Shorter, we all know what Spencer’s is about, and it’s one of those businesses where a certain thick skin is required one way or another.

    As for the shirt itself, you know, and here’s what to think about. DrGail’s point reminds me of the point of the pastor who is now heading up the Church the Clinton’s belonged to when they were in the White House. Briefly, that there’s a kind of language barrier that we’re all kind of afraid of crossing when we discuss things like race and gender.

    I am reminded of an instance years ago when I was out having beers with a friend, and I described my youngest brother as a “Mulato”. My friend raised an eyebrow over the rim of his beer glass and said, “You know you’re not supposed to say that, right? It’s a derrogatory term.”

    I didn’t know, it was just a term I learned when I was much younger and I kinda missed the memo that pointed out it was now a slur.

    On the flip side, there’s a difference between using words out of ignorance, out of parody (which this t-shirt does), and out of actual hate. What strikes me about the t-shirt is it reminds me of a usage of the same phrase in an episode of House, and in both cases it seems more like the vernacular is being parodied more than the people involved. Indeed, I think the true comedy of the shirt itself comes from applying such a colloquial term to what is often a very up tight and strict sphere of influence that has an incredibly tight control over its linguistics.

    I think what causes the humor here isn’t calling Hillary a “ho” but this comic juxtaposition of essentially two different worlds.

    In the end though, I think when we come to talking about these touchy boundaries that divide us, I think step one has got to be, look, we’re going to offend each other, but the real goal is to say what we really think, and then listen to what others actually have to say and digest what they think. You can never promise to not be offended, but you can make an effort to take the offense in stride and work through it.

    But because we don’t do this, because we get in a situation where red flags pave the barrier between races, people are only sharing what they really feel amongst their own, or, we’re just preaching to the choir.

    An excellent example in a different topic is Israel. People are so quick to claim any statement made that is in the slightest bit critical towards Israel is anti-semitism and in such a way, we can’t realistically talk about Israel and its role in the middle east and it shuts us off from solutions that could stabilize the region.

  4. Dynamic says:

    Thanks for putting that up, Kyle, I’m glad to get some input on the topic.

    Terry: You raise a good point; however, it must be noted that those of us who work at Spencer’s don’t control our inventory and we receive new shirts and supplies all the time. So while nothing may have offended you when you started working there, it’s entirely possible that we will receive something over the course of time that will offend you. So I can see that point – every since the new CEO took over, we’ve been getting more political humour, which I think is fantastic, but then it’s all political humour I agree with. If we started getting pro-Bush shirts, I might be offended too (not that I can imagine much of a market for such shirts 😆 )

    Dr. Gail: That’s along the lines of the way I see it too. I made a brief diary about this on DailyKos and was SWAMPED with offended people leaving my comments. I think my favourite was the guy who said he felt sorry for my wife or girlfriend, because I was clearly such a belligerent sexist (you can read the post and the comments here: http://www.dailykos.com/story/2008/3/28/51729/1583/192/485928 ).

    Kyle – I think you’re spot on. What gets me is that these people who are outraged genuinely believe they are helping the situation. But you know what it says to me, when people jump down my throat for sexism or racism – and bear in mind, I have been a dyed-in-the-wool, sieg-heiling RACIST in my past, I am familiar with what constitutes real racism in a way that many of these people never will be – it says to me that these people believe that they need to stand up for these other people because those people can’t stand up for themselves. And that is a far more insidious “ism” than any wordplay T-shirt ever could be.

    The analogy I’ve been making is the Irish alcohol joke. It’s a standing joke in every country on the planet that the Irish are ridiculous alcoholics; that we drink more in a weekend than most people do their whole lives; that we’d run the planet if nobody had invented whiskey; and so on. Now, most of us have had at least a brush with somebody who suffers from actual alcoholism, and it is in NO WAY a laughing matter. It is a terrible disease. So why is it ok to make that joke, but not the bros before hoes joke? The answer is that nobody thinks the Irish need defending – we can stand up for ourselves. In a very real sense, this artificial outrage is making things worse for African-American’s and women. Remember – less than 100 years ago, “Irish need not apply” signs were common in every city in America. Part of the rapid progress has certainly been the fac that the Irish look whitebread, by and large, but I feel at least part of the progress is also because we’re treated as regular citizens by the language – we’re entitled to our own sense of outrage and nobody gets outraged on our behalf, which means nobody is thinking of us as second-class citizens.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Connect with Facebook