Popular craft site Etsy accused of racism for selling Sambo, Golliwog memorabilia

Popular craft sales site Etsy has been accused of racism for selling memorabilia from a time when blacks were largely not appreciated for their full humanity. A person-to-person sales engine similar to eBay, Etsy connects buyers and sellers who create or curate handmade and unique goods ranging from dishes to dresses. But alongside a hand-knitted tea cozy, consumers can also purchase Black Sambo ashtrays and Aunt Jemima cookie jars using the e-commerce engine.

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Such items became popular during a time in America’s history when blacks were segregated by law in several states and forced to live as de facto second class citizens in most others. Additionally, the use of black people as objects portrayed in garish, generalized outlines — with popping eyes above rubbery lips, framed with wild hair — occurred in part because seeing blacks as “less than” was the norm then. These stereotypes rendered in concrete form are so closely associated with the open racism of that era, it is not hard to imagine why dealing in these collectibles would be deemed insensitive.

A woman named Raquel Mack has translated her personal outrage against Etsy’s decision to sell Mammies, Sambos, and more into action. Having started a Change.org petition demanding that Etsy halt the sale of such items, she points out in the wording that these sales violate the company’s anti-discrimination policy — and that the NAACP has already confronted the company over the issue.

“Etsy is refusing to follow the policies that they implemented for themselves early last year (2011) that would prohibit the sale of ‘…items that promote, support, or glorify hatred toward or otherwise demean people based upon: race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation,'” Mack notes on her online petition. In response to the NAACP, Mack states that the San Francisco-based entity told the civil rights group: “[O]ur members come from all walks of life, and may hold differing opinions of the legitimate  collectibility of certain types of historical items.”

TheGrio reached out to Etsy for confirmation regarding the complaint made by the NAACP, in addition to commentary on Mack’s petition. Etsy press representative Adam Brown refrained from commenting on the implication that Etsy is tolerant of the sale of products that are offensive to African-Americans by carrying things that appear to violate the company’s anti-discrimination policy. Etsy did not comment on a possible interaction with the NAACP.

“We encourage our members to report or ‘flag’ items or sellers they feel are not compliant with Etsy’s marketplace policies, which they can do via a link on every listing or shop page,” Brown told theGrio over email. “We can’t comment on private communications or on specific cases, but we do review every report that we get from the community and evaluate them on an individual basis. Etsy policies are written to balance community values with a desire to allow creative expression.”