Target Orders Racist Apparel Out of Stores

Knight Ridder/Tribune Business News, Aug. 28, 2002

Aug. 28–A Davis resident, shocked to find clothing with white supremacist symbols at a Target store, triggered a nationwide alert Tuesday by one of the country’s largest discount chains.

Target Stores of Minneapolis issued a call to all 1,100 stores nationwide to stop selling clothing printed with “eight eight” and “88” — code among neo-Nazis for “Heil Hitler” because H is the eighth letter of the alphabet.

Joseph Rodriguez, a video-producer for the University of California, Davis, learned the meaning of the white power code from a documentary on racist rock music.

He was stunned in June when he found the type in the fabric pattern of a pair of red shorts he pulled from a rack at the Elk Grove Target store.

Target officials said they first learned what the symbols meant Monday night when information about Rodriguez’s complaints was put on a Web site of the Southern Poverty Law Center, a nationwide tracker of racist organizations.

“Nobody knew what it meant,” said Carolyn Brookter, director of corporate communications for Target. “We certainly apologize that this was out there. We would not have any white supremacist symbols out selling as merchandise.”

But Rodriguez said the Elk Grove manager told him the store sells what it is shipped.

Rodriguez said he then complained to Target’s corporate office and was “blown off.”

So Rodriguez enlisted the help of the Southern Poverty Law Center, which campaigns against racism and runs an educational Web site,

In addition to removing the clothing from summer clearance racks, Target will conduct a campaign to teach store buyers and advertisers about such symbols, Brookter said.

She said Target is sorry Rodriguez’s complaints were not brought to her attention earlier. Customer relations personnel will be alerted about the need to act quickly on such issues, she said.

The baseball caps and shorts were manufactured by UTILITY, one of Target’s private labels. Brookter said the store’s buyer will look into how the offending type came to be used.

Jennifer Holladay, director of the Southern Poverty Law Center’s tolerance project, said she was pleased the merchandise was being pulled from Target’s shelves.

“We never want neo-Nazi regalia to become part of mainstream fashion,” she said. “It can send very dangerous messages. It perhaps gives members of hate groups and neo-Nazi groups in the U.S. an elevated acceptance.”

Holladay said people who have bought the clothing could be sending a message to white supremacists that they endorse those beliefs.

After his initial complaint in June, Rodriguez said he returned to the Elk Grove store a couple of weeks ago and found two more pairs of shorts with the symbols in the children’s department.

The Elk Grove store did not return The Bee’s telephone call, but Sacramento’s Target store removed all the merchandise after Rodriguez brought it to their attention in June.

“We’re a family-oriented store,” said assistant manager Todd Blackwell. “We took them off our shelves.
We sent e-mails out to the other stores.”

Brian Levin, director of the Center for the Study of Hate and Extremism at California State University, San Bernardino, said “88” is common among supremacists in graffiti and is a popular tattoo.

The Anti-Defamation League also has identified 88 as a sign of neo-Nazi groups that is often found on hate group fliers and used in the greetings and closings of letters.

Levin said such symbols often are co-opted by mainstream society, noting that a form of the German Iron Cross is popular among skateboarders and surfers who have no ties to white supremacists. The cross was a German military symbol long before it became closely tied to Hitler and his Third Reich.
“A lot of the symbols that white supremacists use are borrowed from mainstream culture, so there is a fair amount of cross-pollination,” he said.

But, Levin added, “The terrible thing here is the 88 symbol is a hard-core and highly distinctive neo-Nazi symbol, and for this to be on the shelves is an abomination.”

Rodriguez was pleased with Target’s response Tuesday, but was sorry that the store didn’t act sooner. He hopes Target stores will help teach parents about the dangers of such symbols.

As a chairman with the Hispanic Staff Association at UC Davis, Rodriguez said he and others are planning brown-bag lunch sessions on the hidden signs of racism.

“It’s in our home. It’s all around us,” said Rodriguez.

“It upset me that half a mile down the freeway, there was a store selling merchandise that represents white supremacy groups that want to see me and people of color dead.”

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