DIY Don'ts

Petition Objects to Etsy Profiting from Sale of Racist Dolls

Oh, dear.
 Petition Objects to Etsy Profiting from Sale of Racist Dolls

It is 2012, right? (Photo: Etsy)

It’s tough being a platform, especially one that wants to be open but maintain a certain community identity. In the last six months or so, questions have started to bubble up about whether Etsy can balance its DIY ethos with the demands of scalability. Even so, the DUMBO-based startup has kept intact much of its friendly, show-love-it’s-the-Brooklyn-way aura.

Which is why this Change.org petition (spotted here) against the sale of “Golliwog” dolls on the site is likely to make everyone involved feel a little awkward.

Golliwog dolls, for those poorly versed in the tropes of overt racism, are a particular type of rag doll popular in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries in the English-speaking world (less so the U.S. than the U.K. and the Commonwealth countries). The trademark features you might recognize from, you know, minstrelsy: Ultra-black skin, bug eyes, great big smiley mouths.

Basically, if you were bothered by Girls, clicking through might actually give you the vapors.

The petition’s author, Raquel Mack, writes:

 Etsy is refusing to follow the policies that they implemented for themselves early last year (2011) that would prohibit the sale of “…items that promote, support, or glorify hatred toward or otherwise demean people based upon: race, ethnicity, religion, gender identity, disability, or sexual orientation…” read the rest in the prohibited section here.

When Betabeat reached out to Etsy via email, a spokesperson had this to say:

We can’t comment on specific cases, but we do review every report that we get from the community and evaluate them on an individual basis. Etsy policies are written to balance community values with a desire to allow creative expression.

Since the statement implied that Etsy had reviewed the claims mentioned in the petition, we asked about the internal decision-making process to continue selling items, but were told, “I’m sorry but I can’t offer that at the moment. If anything changes I’ll be sure to let you know.”

A quick survey of Etsy for “golliwog” turns up quite a few of the offending items. Most, however, are vintage. It’s possible that because these are historical artifacts, Etsy has chosen not to police the sale of those items, as disturbing as that stage of history was. And it does get tricky when big platforms wade into what their users might choose to post–start policing one type of offense, and suddenly you’ve got to moderate everything. But it’s also worth noting that some of these listings involve disturbingly cutesy language. A couple are actually modern. The petition’s author claims many of these items have been reported “numerous times to Etsy’s integrity team” but haven’t gone away.

Searches of the site also turn up a relatively wide selection of vintage “Little Black Sambo” merchandise, “Mammy”-themed home decor and “pickaninny” items. But again, those are relics from another time.

The petition currently has 79 signatures and is ticking rapidly upward toward its goal of 500 names.

Follow Kelly Faircloth on Twitter or via RSS. kfaircloth@observer.com