The Michigan Department of Civil Rights reminds both retailers and shoppers that what may be funny to one person, can be offensive to another. We ask that companies refrain from selling, and that shoppers refrain from buying such items. Of particular concern sre items of clothing emblazoned with messages intended to be fun, that are in fact no more than bad jokes told at the expense of others.
We ask that anyone who has already bought such an item for themselves, or who receives one as a gift, consider the effect it will have on others before wearing it in public.
One particular line of products being promoted this season is the “My Indian name is...” t-shirts and related items. While such a shirt could be worn with pride by an American Indian who has been given such a name, this clearly is not the intent of those marketing these items. Companies are suggesting such “Indian” names as “runs with beer,” “drinks like fish,” “chief of remote,” and “bets on horse.” At best, this trivializes a proud tradition of America’s Native peoples. In many instances it also promotes inaccurate and unacceptable stereotypes.
And, of course, this is by no means a uniquely American Indian issue. Too often, individuals wear something on a shirt that they would never say out loud in public. Ethnic jokes are no more appropriate when worn in public than they would be if piped in on a public address system. “Humor” that denigrates or maligns people has no place in society.
Whatever one thinks of this sort of humor, there is one inescapable fact. Many people, particularly those targeted by the message, find it to be offensive. No considerate person would promote or purchase such items for wear in public.
The Michigan Department of Civil Rights simply asks that, in this season of peace, joy, and goodwill, everyone take care to ensure that their holiday cheer is not achieved at the expense of others. After all, the spirit of the season demands no less.
For more on the subject, see Zazzle's "Indian Name" T-Shirts and "Drunk Indian" T-Shirts Aren't Stereotypical?