Big Thief Issue Apology over "Reckless, Offensive" Shirt Design
One of the band's merch items featured an image of hands holding the bars of a jail cell
Published Apr 02, 2021Big Thief have removed one of their merchandise items from their online store and issued an apology over the "reckless, offensive imagery" printed on one of their T-shirts.
In a lengthy statement posted to Instagram, the band explained that a shirt they had previously listed — featuring a drawing of hands holding the bars of a jail cell — has been removed due to ties to white supremacy and the incarceration system, which is "fueled by racism."
Big Thief explained that the image "was meant to be a metaphor symbolizing imprisonment of the mind and spirit because of constructs," adding that "the arms were intended to be purple so as to avoid realism and race all together but we feel that that thinking was misdirected."
Additionally, Big Thief have committed to donating a portion of their earnings from their masters, publishing and touring in the future to Equal Justice Initiative, a nonprofit organization providing legal representation to those who have been "illegally convicted, unfairly sentenced, or abused in state jails and prison."
Read the band's full statement below:
Today, we want to take a moment to address something that has been brought to our attention. One of our t-shirts (multi-colored with parrots and sound waves on the front and many small images down the long sleeves) includes an illustration of cartoon purple arms and hands holding onto jail cell bars. We feel that this is reckless, offensive imagery. The jail cell was meant to be a metaphor symbolizing imprisonment and oppression of the mind and spirit because of constructs, etc... The arms were intended to be purple so as to avoid realism and race all together but we feel that that thinking was misdirected. We believe that something as pervasive, horrific and insidious as incarceration can not be lightly approached and most especially in avoidance of the issue of race, as the entire incarceration system is fueled by racism. The lack of attention we paid to this symbolism, to us, is a reason to bring it up. Letting this image get printed on a shirt is just another example of a symptom of being conditioned in a culture of normalized white supremacy and we apologize to anyone who may have felt hurt or uncomfortable with this image.
Our band t-shirt isn't the main point here — Rather it is a piece of a much larger, much more important conversation which we have been having that considers all of the ways in which we have been steeped in and benefiting from a patriarchal white supremacist capitalist culture - about how the music industry which serves as the vehicle for our art getting into the world functions much the same as any other industry - and how we as a band of people who are white, benefit from a system that was built unfairly.
Going forward we will be allocating a portion of the money we make from all of our masters and publishing into causes that we feel will help start to address these injustices, starting with initially giving to the Equal Justice Initiative. On the touring side of things, we will be donating a portion of our earnings towards environmental justice and the climate emergency.
We are limited by our perspectives, and much of the time we have been able to move along in relatively peaceful, uninterrupted ignorance of how BIPOC communities and individuals are affected by the systems in place. As a queer woman, Adrianne has been passionate about dissolving and ripping apart the misogynistic, homophobic constructs that have worked to oppress her in the world, but we see clearly that it is not enough to address only the things that affect one of us, or even to simply express empathy for that which affects "others" (and this otherization in general may be the most dangerous of all pitfalls, fertilizing the thought pattern that one can live in avoidance of pain or discomfort or prejudice so long as we are not the direct recipient of it).
Almost everything that we as a band address in our songs has to do with internal and external healing of the wounded spirit body and the wounded earth body in some form. If there is suffering, it permeates, and those who feel unaffected by it are cutoff from true vitality. If music is to be a unifying force, which we have always believed it can be, then as a band we need to better acknowledge and recognize the stark differences in experience that people face. We are committed to facing up to our own conditioning and internalized racism.
We continue to be committed to the work of repatterning and reconditioning ourselves to being actively anti-racist and an ally to communities and individuals affected by oppression and, in turn, to ensure that energy is what encompasses every aspect of the physical and virtual spaces that envelop the culture we are co-creating with our audience.