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On July 12th of 2017, the clothing brand KA Design revealed some of their new merchandise in a Facebook video entitled “The New Swastika.” The video brandished what they considered a re-appropriated version of the symbol, plastered against a rainbow background with the words “Peace,” “Love,” and “Zen” under the design. Many have spoken out against the act including Arsen Ostrovsky, a Israeli Jewish congress member. Re-appropriation, while a powerful tool for activist groups can be offensive when used incorrectly.
— Arsen Ostrovsky (@Ostrov_A) August 5, 2017
Re-appropriation is the cultural process that reclaims terms or symbols that were previously used to harm a certain group of people. Many groups have attempted to reclaim or re-appropriate words or symbols based on race, religion, gender, and sexual orientation. For example, the word “slut” describing a woman who sleeps with a lot of men has never been successfully re-appropriated to empower a woman’s choice. The most prominent attempt at re-appropriation of the “N” word. While the word is still intensely stigmatized among the general population, it is used heavily among the millennial generation of black people.
The LGBT community specifically has tried to re-appropriate the word “queer.” Starting in the 1990’s, many LGBT people began to use it as a label for themselves to be proud of reclaiming it for themselves. Previously, it was an offensive term for any LGBT individual, now the word has now become a personal identifier for many. The word “queer” is now used in and out of the LGBT community to refer to them as one entity.
Not every instance of re-appropriation has the positive turn out like that of the 1990’s LGBT movements. KA designs should not re-appropriate the swastika.
While the word “queer” has a past filled with discrimination and violence, it doesn’t even scratch the surface of the horrible murderous past associated with the swastika as a symbol.
The difference between the use of the word “queer” and the use of the swastika is the association of the symbol with murder. Millions of lost lives were lost under the swastika, and it represents the ideals of one of the most evil regimes in history.
The design was pulled on the TeeSpring website, KA Design themselves have still not issued an apology or official statement that has not been deleted from their Facebook page.
The lack of an apology not only fueled the intense backlash on social media but made me recoil at the idea that someone seemingly felt no remorse for their actions. An apology for something of this caliber doesn’t dismiss the action, but rather acknowledges the wrong doing, and shows that the company is willing to change their behavior.
Re-appropriation, in this case failed to accomplish reclaiming a symbol for a more positive use. While the idea of reclaiming a symbol for positivity isn’t a bad idea, associating the swastika with the LGBT community is an incredibly misguided course of action. The mass killing of LGBT persons during the Holocaust makes it impossible to try to re-appropriate. Plastering it against a rainbow background with words of encouragement underneath do not erase its murderous past.
The swastika, while having a separate religious context, was changed into a symbol of hate by Adolf Hitler. Hitler rotated the original swastika 45 degrees, plastered it against a red background, and used it to represent his corrupt morals and desire to represent the Aryan race. Using this symbol, he imprisoned and murdered millions.
The swastika should be treated with the same disdain Hitler himself receives. It is more than a symbol of hatred, it is a representation of the mass genocide of millions of Jewish people and the severe corruption of a government. KA Design has a responsibility to apologize and remedy the situation, but the attempt to re-appropriate the swastika brings up a much larger problem.
If there is a line where re-appropriation isn’t okay, I believe the swastika very distinctly crosses it. Re-appropriation does not have the ability to erase the horrible past associated with the swastika or the modern view of the symbol.
Madison Marcy can be reached at letters@collegian.