By Barbara Arnwine
Amazon claims to be a company that values inclusion and diversity, but a recent report reveals that this façade masks a darker side, as the company profits from selling White supremacist and other hateful products. Progressive lawmakers in Georgia, where earlier this year conservative lawmakers punished Delta for cutting ties with the N.R.A., should take a stand of their own by punishing Amazon for promoting hatred and bigotry.
The report, jointly published by the Partnership for Working Families and Action Center on Race & the Economy, details the startlingly vast array of White supremacist products and goods available on the Amazon marketplace. This includes everything from costumes featuring lynching imagery to burning-cross onesies and Nazi swastika pendants. Amazon was even discovered to be allowing the sale of more contemporary symbols of hate such as Pepe the Frog memorabilia, the symbol of the alt-right movement, which promotes explicit racism. It begs the question: is Amazon failing miserably to police its platform or is the tech giant willfully overlooking the sale of bigoted products?
Barbara Arnwine, founder and president of the Transformative Justice Coalition. (Courtesy Photo)
Georgia communities in particular should be aware of the hate-mongering taking place on the Amazon marketplace. One of the prominent products cited in the report and still available for purchase on Amazon is an “old” Georgia state flag featuring Confederate imagery alongside the state of Georgia seal. Just a half-century removed from the struggle for equality, this is an affront on the hard-fought battles of Georgia civil rights leaders like Representative John Lewis.
But the marketplace is not the only Amazon platform that has seen White supremacist offerings. Amazon Kindle, which controls nearly 83 percent of the online book market, was found to offer 226 books from publishers that the Southern Poverty Law Center identified as hate organizations. With such a dominant market share, Amazon is failing its responsibility to keep our communities safe from this type of bigotry and hate speech.
This is not the first time that Amazon has been found profiting from these appalling business practices. Earlier this year, the company was caught selling apparel and other items emblazoned with the phrase “Slavery Gets Sh*t Done,” which included children’s T-shirts and bibs. Only after human rights organizations such as Anti-Slavery International condemned the company did Amazon pull them from their online shelves.
Meanwhile, the tech giant’s German marketplace was revealed to be offering modified Lego-style Nazi German soldiers for purchase. The toys were reportedly being marketed to children as young as seven years old, sparking an online petition and groundswell of opposition protesting their sale.
Since Amazon clearly has a long and alarming history of allowing hatred on its platforms, it is time that Georgia lawmakers take swift action to protect communities of color and other minorities. Beyond denouncing this clear violation of ethical conduct, lawmakers should consider whether it is time to introduce regulations that force Amazon to reject profiting from the sale of products that promote hate.
Civil rights leaders have bravely fought for decades to keep burning crosses and other symbols of bigotry off the lawns of Georgia communities. Now they must prevent Amazon from allowing them to be delivered to the front door.
Barbara Arnwine is the founder and president of the Transformative Justice Coalition and a lecturer at Columbia Law School. She served as the executive director of the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights Under Law from 1989 until 2015.