Online store removes controversial 'It's okay to be white' t-shirt

Seller now asks that buyers wait three weeks for delivery due to 'unprecedented demand' 

Chelsea Ritschel
Thursday 30 May 2019 22:03
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Online store removes controversial 'it's okay to be white' t-shirt

An online store has removed t-shirts emblazoned with the slogan “It’s okay to be white” after public backlash.

The shirts were sold on Trade Me, a New Zealand auction website, by the manufacturer VJM Publishing, which claimed they were meant to be “funny”.

According to the New Zealand Herald, the item description reportedly read: “Wear this shirt as a white person to troll your local Communists, or wear this shirt as a brown person to troll stuck-up middle-class urbanites. Either way it’s funny!”

The slogan has previously been linked to the far-right and white supremacy groups.

After initial complaints, Trade Me’s head of trust and safety George Hiotakis originally told Newshub that it would not remove the shirt because it “did not breach its rules”.

“Items which marginalise individuals or promote one race at the cost of another cannot be sold onsite,” Hiotakis said at the time. “While we know there is some debate about this slogan, we don’t think these items cross that line.”

However, Trade Me has since removed the t-shirts, after acknowledging in a statement that the slogan was divisive.

“We knew there was some ambiguity associated with the phrase so it’s been a tough one for us to wrestle with,” Hiotakis said. “But we listen to our community and we will change our mind if we feel there’s a good reason to do so.”

Following the t-shirts removal, VJM Publishing has since started selling the shirts on Allgoods.co.nz, where the description reads: “The infamous ‘It’s Okay To Be White’ t-shirts that caused problems on TradeMe!

“It is in no way racist, hateful or divisive to say that it’s okay to be white!”

The description also adds that “due to unprecedented demand,” customers should allow three weeks for delivery.

On social media, people have continued to speak out against the t-shirts.

“This shirt is the perfect colour for dumping a milkshake on,” one person wrote.

Another said: “If I see you wearing an ‘it’s okay to be white’ shirt near me, ignore my gagging and laughing... It’s not you, it’s me…”

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In a statement to The Independent, a spokesperson for AllGoods said: "Firstly, AllGoods wholeheartedly condemns racism in any form. We actively monitor listings and remove obviously offensive, racist or illegal content in real time. AllGoods is a marketplace platform which supports thousands of New Zealand businesses, and millions of listings. While we do not retail the products ourselves, we absolutely recognise our responsibility in maintaining an inclusive environment. In the case of this particular product, the moderation team did not find it to be obviously offensive or racist upon original review.

"There is clearly a line somewhere between free-speech and offensive content. To remove any content that offends some people is obviously ridiculous, but to not remove content that is illegal or obviously inappropriate is also wrong. We feel removing content because some people interpret it in an offensive way is a slippery slope which stifles public debate and gives us as a platform more power than we believe is right. We do not feel that we have the authority, or right, to decide what people can or cannot say, outside of obviously inappropriate content.

"We continually review listings and sellers as they are reported to us and do review our position for particular cases."

The Independent has contacted VJM Publishing.

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