A New Zealand retailer has decided to pull a controversial T-shirt from its website after facing growing criticism from customers who deemed it insensitive and racist.
Trade Me, an auction and classifieds site, stopped selling the divisive top last Thursday. The T-shirt features the slogan "It's okay to be white," a phrase that many white supremacist groups have adopted.
The Wellington-based company told TODAY Style the decision wasn't taken lightly.
"We err on the side of letting legal listings run but we listen to our community and we will change our mind if we feel there’s a good reason to do so," George Hiotakis, head of trust & Safety at Trade Me, wrote in an email.
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"We knew there was some ambiguity associated with this phrase so it’s been a tough one for us to wrestle with," he said. "New Zealand has told us that they don’t want to see this sort of thing on Trade Me and we agree, so this slogan will not be allowed to be sold on any item on our site."
Although Trade Me has been the main target of criticism, it is VJM Publishing that manufactures the shirt. TODAY Style reached out to the blog multiple times for comment but didn't hear back.
"By selling this shirt, we are doing our part to counter genuine racism and division," reads a post on the site addressing the controversy. "Instead of doing this by grave, pompous and bombastic moralising that seeks to take people’s rights away – a proven failed approach – we’re adding some humour to the media scene for the sake of resistance."
Even though Trade Me has stopped selling the shirt, it hasn't gone away. Another Kiwi online marketplace, Allgoods.co.nz, has begun selling the item, with VJM Publishing referring to the product as "The infamous 'It's Okay To Be White' t-shirts that caused problems on TradeMe!"
AllGoods CEO Levi Fawcett told TODAY Style via email that the site "wholeheartedly condemns racism in any form" and removes any "obviously offensive, racist or illegal content in real time." At the same time, the site supports thousands of New Zealand businesses, and Fawcett said they try to be inclusive of different viewpoints.
"In the case of this particular product, the moderation team did not find it to be obviously offensive or racist upon original review," he said. "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."
For now, AllGoods says it will continue to sell the shirt.
"I personally find the shirt distasteful, and would never wear something like this," added Fawcett. "However, morally, I don't believe it's acceptable to censor or remove content I don't agree with."
The controversy comes a couple of months after the terrorist attacks at two mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand, by a 28-year-old Australian described by officials as a "right-wing extremist terrorist." Fifty-one people died following the massacre.