Window display branded as racist

Window display branded as racist
By Jasminee Sahoye & Gerald V. Paul

A Yorkville store window display which some people interpreted as having racial undertones caught the attention of an American entertainer who posted a photo on social media with the comment, “Ummm … Do you see??? What are they advertising for the Eton shop in Toronto, Canada??”

Rhona Bennett, as well as the president of the Urban Alliance on Rhona BennettRace Relations, both ask why an Eton of Sweden display that could be construed as having links to slavery were used as a marketing tool. What appear to be two nooses could be seen dangling over a man’s shirt surrounded by cotton plants.

Eton of Sweden has since removed the display and apologized, saying, “We do understand how this could be interpreted as something else” but that no racist depiction was intended.

Bennett of the R&B group En Vogue, which is in Toronto shooting a documentary, captured the display at the boutique. A singer, actress and model, Bennett is best known for her role as Nicole on The Jamie Foxx Show. With En Vogue from 2003 to 2008, she then embarked on a solo singing career, rejoining En Vogue in June 2012 for their tour.

Gary Pieters, president of the Urban Alliance on Race Relations, in an open Gary Pietersletter to the editor is stunned.

“Picture this – a cotton shirt amidst the visual re-creation of a cotton plantation from the slavery era including two nooses hanging from the store’s ceiling attached to a small suitcase resembling a casket, and surrounded by a replica of an unpicked cotton field in a street-level showroom to persuade and influence buyers.

“What was described by Eton of Sweden as “whimsical” in appealing to its consumers’ purchasing decision, is nothing short of a lack of sensitive consideration to the brutal, exploitative and destructive legacy of plantation slavery that enslaved millions of blacks on cotton plantations from the 1600s to the 1800s.”

He states, during the era of enslavement, Blacks toiled on cotton plantations under the whip, with hunger and ill health, for no compensation. “By using the ropes tied in the form of two nooses, the storefront display at Eton of Sweden in Yorkville reminded those knowledgeable of the slavery era of lynching, which was a form of violence against Blacks during the imperial ‘show and tell’ of the bygone era of chattel slavery.”

Pieters’ letter further states: “Reacting to public outrage and public condemnation of Black Canadian community leaders, window shoppers, and a television reporter who stood outside the store and spoke candidly against the historical offence of the display, an employee of the Eton of Sweden store removed the rope.

“They took down the noose but the harm is incalculable.”

He demanded a full public apology by the store, adding the store needs to develop a better understanding of the destructive legacy of slavery and its long-standing racist impact that continues 180 years after emancipation. “Using an insensitive advertising display to sell cotton shirts was a retailing advertising failure on the part of Eton of Sweden Yorkille location, and their lack of knowledge of its connection to the exploitation, pain and suffering that generations of Blacks experienced on cotton plantations in order to enrich wealthy slave owners, is inexcusable.”

In a reply to Pieters, Hans Davidson CEO, Eton of Sweden, said: “On behalf of Eton and our employees in Canada and worldwide, I extend my most sincere apology for all offence caused to you and the Canadian community by the recent window in our Yorkville office.

“Our company’s history is one of equal respect and appreciation of all people. It is important you know that our Canadian team had no malicious intent in constructing this window display. The fact that the finished result reminded anyone who saw or read about it of the terrible memory of slavery as you describe in your letter makes the entire Eton family very sad and remorseful.

“Additionally, the fact that our Canadian team did not immediately recognize that the display could in any way be associated with such a sensitive subject, reminds us that training is needed for our team in order to avoid anything like this again in the future.”

Chris Donohue, director of sales – North America, in an apology on the Eton of Sweden website, says they understand the display could be interpreted as offensive and that they removed the entire window as soon as they were contacted.

“We certainly did not mean to offend anyone with this display and sincerely apologize to each and every person who was offended by its appearance. We do understand how this could be interpreted as something else and again, for this we apologize. No employee at Eton would ever tolerate racist, sexist or defamatory behavior.”

Pieters says the Alliance reviewed the apology but believe Eton of Sweden have a lot of work to do to restore trust and confidence in their brand.

“We but do not see any indication of a progressive approach to building harmonious relationships, nor measurable commitment to the full diversity of Toronto. Questions that still remain unanswered include how will they address and repair the systemic issues of racial insensitivity of the display towards blacks?”