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Clothing company FCKH8 gets hate for anti-racism Ferguson T-shirt
The fact that it’s raised thousands for chairty isn’t helping matters.
A clothing company’s anti-racism T-shirt is getting some hate of its own.
FCKH8 is best known for selling T-shirts with slogans such as “Straight Against Hate” and “Some dudes marry dudes. Get over it.” But recently, the company branched out into what it describes as “anti-racism gear.”
This move is already causing some controversy, partly due to the T-shirt campaign’s link to the protests in Ferguson, Mo.
The new FCKH8 T-shirts, wristbands and bumper stickers are printed with the slogan, “Racism isn’t over. But I’m over racism.” Although FCKH8 is a for-profit company, $5 from each T-shirt, hoodie and tank top will be donated to anti-racism organizations such as the NAACP and the Mike Brown Memorial Fund. These products were launched with a viral video titled Hey White People, which features six kids from Ferguson quoting statistics about racism in the U.S.
FCKH8’s Mike Kon said that the T-shirts “[give] people a way to turn their chests into little billboards to speak out against the evil of racism and start an important conversation our nation needs to have.”
However, this campaign has already run into some pushback from the very organizations that it was intending to promote. Race Forward, one of the charities originally listed on FCKH8’s anti-racism apparel page, quickly posted to Facebook, saying that they would not accept any donations from FCKH8. Colorlines, a news and commentary site published by Race Forward, then posted an article under the headline, “This is the company making money off of Ferguson,” criticizing FCKH8’s T-shirt campaign and viral video.
Colorlines described FCKH8’s video as showing children “reciting parts of a script that’s clearly been written by adults,” and went on to mention the for-profit nature of FCKH8, which is owned by corporate branding firm Synergy Media.
FCKH8 responded in a lengthy post on their website, saying that Colorlines and Race Forward were using “Click-baiting, Race-baiting, Homophobia, Minimizing Ferguson Residents, Trivializing Breast Cancer Awareness Efforts & Distorting Facts to Get Views & Donations.”
In answer to comments pointing out the potentially problematic nature of hiring a white director to cast African American children in an ad for anti-racism T-shirts, FCKH8 riffed on a quote from Martin Luther King. They wrote, “we’d prefer that the video and message from the participating Ferguson families and kids be judged on the content of its character and not the color of the skin of the director who pitched in to help make it.”
Photo via FCKH8
Popular vlogger and comedian Franchesca Ramsey (a.k.a. Chescaleigh, who is known for videos including Shit White Girls Say To Black Girls), called FCKH8’s post “eye-roll inducing.”
“This is rich,” she wrote. “A FOR PROFIT COMPANY is accusing an anti-racism non-profit organization of race baiting for donations?! This from the company that has not once spoken about anti-racism until Ferguson (way genuine!), and their contribution is… T-shirts and a $5 donation.”
— Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) September 13, 2014
— Franchesca Ramsey (@chescaleigh) September 13, 2014
In an email to the Daily Dot, a representative from FCKH8 pointed out that their products had already raised $6,000 in one week, and that several other charities had contacted them for donations. They also emphasised that the organizations receiving donations from FCKH8 are not necessarily affiliated with FCKH8 itself.
“We specially made it a point in several places on the website to note that the organizations that we are choosing to donate to are not involved with our campaign. As understandably some of our vocal LGBT advocacy and youth-oriented name and attention-getting style are not how these great groups present themselves we wanted to be clear that is is just us supporting them good work and not the other way around.”
The issue of FCKH8’s “attention-getting style” has always been a source of conflict with the marginalized groups it attempts to represent. Both as a for-profit business and as a fundraising organization, FCKH8’s main goal is to promote itself and sell more products. Inevitably, this causes some friction with non-profit campaigners who demand a more nuanced discussion of race, gender and sexuality.
I’m queer, and @FCKH8 does NOT speak for me. They’re money-grubbing, bigoted vultures, not activists.
— Vivian (@VanguardVivian) September 14, 2014
— Lauren Chief Elk (@ChiefElk) September 14, 2014
DO NOT QUOTE MLK TO WHINE ABOUT BEING CALLED OUT ON YOUR WHITE PRIVILEGE @FCKH8 *clap clap*
— Daniel José Older (@djolder) September 15, 2014
While the FCK8 website has a page dedicated to testimonies from celebrities such as Zach Efron, Perez Hilton and Dan Savage, there has been considerable backlash against FCKH8 online. A blog titled StopFCKH8 has documented multiple cases when FCKH8’s social media presence was felt to be sexist, racist or exclusionary toward marginalized sections of the queer community.
One of the better-known examples was when FCKH8 announced that they would mail out 10,000 pro-gay comic books to Russian families during the Sochi Olympics. Many people objected to this idea on the grounds that it might put those families in danger, since possessing LGBT media can be heavily penalized under Russian law.
In response to criticism, FCKH8 often highlights the amount of products they sell in the name of LGBT issues (and now, anti-racism campaigns). In their reply to the recent Colorlines post about their Ferguson video, FCKH8 objected to the accusation that they prioritise gay and bisexual issues over transgender issues, saying that they sell a trans-themed shirt.
“The very popular “Nodody Knows I’m Trans” T-shirt … has been flying off our warehouse shelves for over a year,” they wrote. Unfortunately, if you look at the listing on their website, it’s easy to see why some LGBT people object to the shirt. Not only is it listed as a “women’s” shirt (not exactly a helpful categorization), but some transgender individuals would face serious real-life danger simply by wearing the shirt in public. So while it may sell well, the popularity of the shirt doesn’t cancel out the offence it has caused to other people.
There’s no doubt that FCKH8 donates significant amounts of money to worthy causes. But by simplifying issues such as the Ferguson protests, anti-black racism and LGBT discrimination into marketable T-shirt slogans, FCKH8 can expect to see more of this type of backlash in the future.
Screenshot via YouTube
Gavia Baker-Whitelaw is a staff writer at the Daily Dot, covering geek culture and fandom. Specializing in sci-fi movies and superheroes, she also appears as a film and TV critic on BBC radio. Elsewhere, she co-hosts the pop culture podcast Overinvested.