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DUMBO-based Etsy Should Prohibit the Sale of Racist Dolls, Petition Says

By Janet Upadhye | October 17, 2012 9:03am

DUMBO — Etsy, an online marketplace for the crafty and creative, has a policy of "prohibiting items and listings that disparage or promote hate." But one woman is challenging Etsy, claiming that the DUMBO-based company is violating its own policy with the sale of racist Golliwog, Sambo, and Mammy dolls.

And she has created an online petition asking the company to stop "selling the hate."

"These dolls are ugly, hurtful and dehumanizing," said petition author, Raquel Mack, 30, who lives in Santa Rosa, Calif. "But beyond that, they directly violate Etsy's own policy."

Mack, mother of two, came across the sale of Golliwog dolls on Etsy last May. She was disturbed to find not only vintage dolls "characterized by jet-black skin, bulging white-rimmed eyes, disproportionately big red lips and a shock of black frizzy hair," but also newly made modern versions of the Golliwog doll for sale.

"The Golliwog is the least known of the major anti-black caricatures in the United States and began as storybook characters that were consistently horribly ugly black creatures, who were rude and nasty and always villains," according to the Jim Crow Museum at Ferris State University in Michigan.

Mack attempted to contact Etsy on several occasions and flagged the offending items on their website. She has continued to get the same response, "Etsy policies are written to balance community values with a desire to allow creative expression."

And the more than 70 items in question remain on the site.

Brooklyn resident and Etsy seller Caroline Loomis, 32, thinks that in this case Etsy is being complicit with racism.

"These items are being marketed as 'cute' and 'nostalgic,' not as historical examples of exploitation - and new ones are being produced - which means it's white people making money off of nostalgia for a racist past," she said. "I think the choice to remain silent on this issue is in conflict with the policy they adopted, and is demonstrating that Etsy's bottom line is money and nothing else."

When nothing was done to remove the items from the site, Mack enlisted the help of the San Francisco chapter of the NAACP. The NAACP received the following response from Etsy, according to Mack, “our members come from all walks of life, and may hold differing opinions of the legitimate collectibility of certain types of historical items.”

"Etsy is supposed to be an alternative, grassroots marketplace that claims to empower people and make the world more fair, sustainable and fun," Mack said. "The sale of these racist dolls seems to be counter to the ideals they claim to uphold."

Etsy spokesman Adam Brown said he could not comment on specific cases.

"But we do review every report that we get from the community and evaluate them on an individual basis," Brown said in response to inquiries from DNAinfo New York.

Mack said Etsy has not been responsive to her calls and is not holding itself accountable to its own standard.

"Etsy receives $0.20 for every item listed on their site by merchants and they collect a 3.5 percent fee on the sale of every item, racist or not," Mack said.  "Since Etsy has failed to address this issue it may be safe to assume that they have no scruples about profiting from the very items they prohibit."