Controversial T-Shirt Intrigues And Offends
Liz Hill, Detroit Free Press, Jun. 11
Nothing sells better than controversy.
That’s what three Detroit-area men discovered after they outfitted their buddy in a white shirt with black writing that said “I AM SICK AND TIRED OF WHITE GIRLS.”
“It was just a funny T-shirt,” said Michael Young, one of the founders of iamsickandtiredof whitegirls.com. “And then everyone started wanting one.”
The joke quickly snowballed into a marketing plan.
Young, 24, and his partners, Steven Luch, 23, and Tom Cusmano, 27, began selling the intriguing but offensive shirts at events around the country, most recently at the Movement festival in Detroit.
The questions: Who’s buying them, and why?
The controversial slogan is an “advertising gimmick,” they say, used to spark interest in their company, whose real objective, they say, is “uniting local musicians.” The company puts on concerts, working with such acts as Downtown Brown, Dubphonics, Switchstance and the Furious Styles.
Since the company’s inception in October 2003, the trio has sold more than 6,000 of the shirts.
At just $5 each, the shirts went like hotcakes over Memorial Day weekend at Hart Plaza, showing up mostly on white men and, get this, white women.
When asked why they bought the T-shirt, white men (almost no one of color was seen in the shirt at Movement) merely chuckled and said something along the lines of, “It’s funny.” Young white women — the slogan’s intended target — just laughed. None of them offered to explain why the provocative tagline was worth putting on their chests.
Opponents of the T-shirt were more articulate about their concerns.
“I find it very ignorant,” said April Gutierrez, a 22-year-old from Trenton who was offended by the ubiquity of the T-shirts at Movement. “I mean, if you saw a black man or a Latino man wearing that shirt, it would be considered racism. But mostly it’s white girls. Maybe I’m not in on the joke, but I just find it disgusting.”
The message, and what you make of it, depends on who you are and who’s wearing it.
“The idea is to call your attention,” said Ruth P. Rubinstein, author of “Dress Codes: Meanings and Messages in American Culture” (Westview Press, 2001). “We do have freedom of speech.”
She sees this particular slogan as harmless because of the traditionally high social position of the butts of the joke.
“White women are seen as status symbols,” she said. “So everyone knows it’s a joke.”
If the shirt targeted black women, for instance, the joke would be lost and the shirts could be construed as seriously racist.
With many of the T-shirts being worn by white men with their white girlfriends in tow, the message is more ironic.
“It’s kind of a reverse joke,” said Rubinstein, associate professor of sociology at New York’s Fashion Institute of Technology. The men and women “know it’s not true, so it’s funny.”
The company’s founders aren’t worried about making enemies.
“You’re either going to laugh at us or be offended by us,” said Young.
“Either way, we have your attention.”