What was supposed to be an act of allyship is being seen as insensitive and unethical

A nonprofit in Charleston is facing huge backlash online after promoting their jewelry line, “Wear Their Names,” a fashion line which had pieces named after recent victims of police brutality in the U.S.

The Jewelry Line

Last week, South Carolina designers Paul Chelmins and Jing Wen released their jewelry online at the Gibbes Museum of Art. The pieces were credited under their nonprofit group, Shan Shui. Crafted from the broken glass of a Black Lives Matter protest turn riot in downtown Charleston in May, the duo created handmade earrings, bracelets and necklaces. Once completed, they debuted their work and announced all the proceeds would go to the charity, From Privilege to Progress, an organization whose mission statement is to, “desegregate the conversation about race on social media.”

 

The Controversy 

So far that sounds pretty good, right? Unfortunately, the designers decided to add one last finishing touch to their art. They named all their jewelry pieces after the names of Black people who had been killed or brutalized by the police. Their work included earrings called “The Tamir” (Tamir Rice), a ring called, “The Gabriella” (Gabriella Nevarez) and a necklace called, “The Trayvon” (Trayvon Martin). 

These pieces, along with others named after Black victims of police brutality, caught the attention of Twitter users across the country. The feedback was anything but positive as many argued this was an example of non-BIPOC people, or so called “allies”, trying to profit off of Black trauma.

Money became a focal point in many Tweets. Several users agreed it seemed morally disturbing and unethical to give the various pieces different selling prices, implying that those were the victims’ worth as humans. 

Users wanted to know the rationale behind the different pricing of each piece.

Then, Sophie Ming, who’s Twitter thread reaction to Wear Their Names went viral, tweeted this.

Once again, America has outdone itself. I mean, come on America! Have we learned nothing from our past mistakes? 

Apparently not. And thousands of people on Twitter are making sure that we get the message across this time.

Founder of the Charleston Activist Network, Tamika took to Instagram to voice her reactions to Wear Their Names. On the platform, she was able to garner over a thousand views, and continue the conversation of why Wear Their Names was an insensitive project to do.

Throughout her hour-long Instagram Live stream, Tamika condemned the actions of Shan Shui, calling their work “egregious” and “ridiculous.” She explains how even though you can approach something as a liberal, or with the best intentions, you can still be insensitive and disrespectful. Additionally, she argues that, “White people should not profit from anti-racism education,” and that this will serve as an example of what not to do in the future. She briefly notes that if anything, the profits should go to the victims’ families, but it’s besides the point, because there should not have been any profit to gain in the first place. 

 

Apologies

After all the backlash from Twitter and activists alike following the release of Wear Their Names, The Gibbes Museum of Art quickly pulled the jewelry line from their site on September 5th.

In an apology issued on their site, The Gibbes Museum stated they were, “halting the upcoming sale of Shan Shui’s ‘Wear Their Names’ jewelry line. The feedback we received from our community was enlightening and appreciated. It has also deepened our perspective in regards to future store merchandise. We apologize to anyone who was hurt by this and will continue to listen and learn from our community.”

 Shan Shui has also since taken down their website and is currently not selling any more jewelry. This comes as a shocker to no one. In their issued apology, they wrote, “so sorry to anyone we offended or harmed, especially those we have been trying to help. We genuinely thought what we were doing was good, and we want to continue on the best path…we want to make things right. Thank you for holding us accountable.”

Video Created By:
Henry Kueppers