An ad for racist clothing was posted in the “Big Rapids Online Sales Group” on Facebook this Saturday, resulting in backlash from the community.
Haley Joe from Big Rapids designed hoodies that stated, ‘Masks are For Slaves’ and had graphics of slave shackles. While the number of hoodies sold was not specified, Joe would only comment that she sold “quite a few.” Joe is not a Ferris student, but said her boyfriend used to attend the university.
Joe explained that the hoodie design is supposed to show her anger at COVID-19 mask mandates. The shackles are supposed represent, “slavery of the mind.” The post has since been removed from the group.
Byron Brooks is a Graduating Honors Senior in the Music and Entertainment Business Program. He was one of multiple people who publicly called out Joe’s post on Facebook, because the shirt has offended numerous people.
“I utilized that moment not only to call this woman out on her racist actions or to expose her white privilege, of which sadly many often try to act as if there is no such thing. But I also wanted to simultaneously use that moment as an opportunity to educate and let our community in Big Rapids know that hatred and racism of any kind will no longer be tolerated,” Brooks said.
David Takitaki, a political science professor at Ferris, offered insight into this situation from a political standpoint.
“It’s important to note the desire of the person who made this item is to conflate two very different issues,” Takitaki said.
He explained that in politics while it’s typical to use sarcasm to make a point, he feels that this exceeds that sarcasm and crosses a line that is not acceptable.
“Anything that is not actual slavery compared to American chattel slavery is politically tone-deaf and intellectually dishonest,” Takitaki said. “Doing so attempts to portray their grievance (in this case, mask wearing) as being as bad as slavery and simultaneously underplays the severity of slavery itself. Underplaying the brutal oppression of a group that was oppressed on the basis of race is both racist and furthers racism.”
Many people were enraged by Joe’s design. However, she refuses to stop selling the hoodies.
“I feel misunderstood,” Joe said. “I was also very misunderstanding when creating this shirt because I misunderstood how insensitive my choice of words was when coming up with this. I was just trying to prove a point.”
However, Joe said that she had nothing to apologize for and she wasn’t sorry for designing and selling the hoodie.
“If they choose to think negatively about this in a way that is offensive towards themselves then I’m sorry because that’s not what I meant by it,” Joe said.
The Facebook group has over 20,000 members and one of the administrators of the group, Kristine Harrington, said Joe’s post was removed and Joe was removed from the group itself when she became aware of it.
“I was not very happy about it,” Harrington said. “The sweatshirts were very inappropriate and they never should have been made.”
Regardless of the intent, the end result has deeply offended many individuals in the Big Rapids community.
“If I were to get the chance to have a conversation with her, I would tell her that she owes the Black community a public apology, as she does not know the trauma, mental and emotional wounds she caused by publicly trying to profit from my peoples’ oppression by ignorantly comparing wearing a face mask to being a slave,” Brooks said.