December 27nd, 2017 – The popular youth fashion brand, American Eagle, has pulled a new accessory from its stores after customer complaints linking the product to the Transatlantic slave trade. The brass colored bauble is uncomfortably similar in design to the shackles used to bind Africans brought to the United States against their will. The American colonies relied exclusively on forced labor from the early seventeenth century until the U.S. Congress outlawed human trafficking in 1808.
The public push back was loud and immediate as American Eagle’s social media was flooded with incredulous consumers promising to boycott the outlet over the release of the “bracelet.” Twitter users savaged the company for its tone deaf and confounding decision to approve the product for sale.
@american_eagle I saw this “bracelet” in and think you need to revisit this. I would never wear this due to the obvious slavery connection. I hope you do the right thing and remove this from your stores. Please retweet your support. #SlavesNoMorepic.twitter.com/aShkem9szx
A brief statement released by the Pittsburgh-based clothier apologizing for the bracelet was largely deemed inadequate, with one man tweeting from Australia:
“I’m not sure this is a ‘we got caught and are sorry’ moment. Who designed it? Who gave this the ok? Nobody thought it was a bad idea? It shouldn’t be the job of offended customers in stores to be checking your products.”
While the United States has largely relegated the ten million enslaved people who survived the journey from West Africa to North America to a historical footnote, efforts to commemorate slavery’s cultural significance have gained momentum in recent years. Remarking on the acquisition of a pair of authentic slave shackles, Brown University’s Director of the Center for the Study of Slavery and Justice said:
“These shackles are important because they are the material objects which pressed the flesh of a human being and brings to the fore the violence of slavery…Such material objects are necessary for us to have a full and frank conversation about the character of slavery and the making of our modern world.”
Would you have been offended by American Eagle’s bracelet if you saw it in the store? Should this have been a “no” from the company all along?