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The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

The University of Utah's Independent Student Voice

The Daily Utah Chronicle

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Want your voice to be heard? Submit a letter to the editor, send us an op-ed pitch or check out our open positions for the chance to be published by the Daily Utah Chronicle.
@TheChrony

Winegar: Sock Obama is offensive regardless of intentions

By Bridger Winegar

A company in West Jordan, The Sock Obama LLC, recently received national attention for its only product, a sock monkey version of Barack Obama.

Critics identified the doll as a clearly racist move on the part of its creators. The comparison of people of African descent to primates has long been a part of the racist repertoire, so it’s not difficult to imagine the company’s motive as offensive.

To be honest, the product doesn’t offend or surprise. The creators of the knit monkey were making use of a tired, typically off-the-mark racist symbol, plus they operated out of West Jordan, home of state Sen. Chris-I’m-not-a-bigot-I-just-act-that-way-Buttars. The Sock Obama people were even one step behind the national racist souvenir agenda.

Mike Norman, a bar owner in Georgia, began selling T-shirts earlier this year featuring an illustration of Curious George and the text “Obama in ’08.” He faces the possibility of a legal battle with Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, publisher of the Curious George book series.

The biggest issue here is the response of the creators of The Sock Obama’s to the controversy. In a letter to New York Magazine, the company credited the doll’s creation to making “a casual and affectionate observation one night,” while excusing the toy’s offensive undertone as “an element of naivete on our part.”

Although the claim of the makers’ friendly epiphany (Oh look, that black man looks just like a crocheted ape with giant red lips, how sweet!) is ridiculous, the idea that these people were willing to defend their actions by asserting their own ignorance is even more so.

Reactions to news stories such as this often range from “the offended group is too sensitive” to “the offender made an innocent mistake, leave them alone.” In a time of unequaled access to knowledge by way of the Internet, ignorance should no longer be the free pass out of offensive behavior. If the ignorance excuse used by The Sock Obama people could be applied as easily to other situations, my commute to the U would be sliced in half-you would be surprised how easy it is to commandeer a TRAX train.

Whether the creators set out to offend is questionable. The company seems to be more confused about their intentions than the public, as over the weekend their website was updated to proclaim, “We are very apologetic to all who were upset by our toy idea. We will not be proceeding with the manufacturing of this toy,” yet their most recent communication is a Monday press release that essentially takes back the apology, pointing fingers at the “double standards” that have forced the censorship of the “good ol’ fashion spirit of entrepreneurialism.”

However, no matter their intentions, the makers of the toy created a product with racially offensive implications. People should no longer feel ignorance is somehow more acceptable than deliberate bigotry, and those observing such behaviors should treat both with equal distaste. The ignorant and maleficent often find themselves creating the same monsters-the only difference lies in each side’s planning skills.

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