T-shirts exploit tired stereotype

Here’s a lovely shirt to buy for a black friend: It says “Everybody loves a black girl” and is emblazoned with cute little images of malt liquor bottles and drug paraphernalia.

Sounds ridiculous, doesn’t it? Do you feel as uneasy reading this as we do writing it? Then how can Urban Outfitters justify hawking a shirt reading “Everybody loves a Jewish girl” adorned with dollar signs and shopping bags?

Ted Marlow, the Philadelphia-based company’s president, told us it’s all in fun. “Ethnic girl” tees for Italian, German and Irish girls feature images of pizza slices, beer steins and a shamrock. What’s so wrong with being a little risqué?

Well, risqué is as risqué does, but it seems hard to believe that this shirt is anything but the latest incarnation of the age-old archetype of Jews possessing a disproportionate supply of — and lust for — money, and the equally tired stereotype of Jewish women as spoiled, superficial princesses blowing Daddy’s riches in pursuit of the Paris Hilton lifestyle.

In short, shamrocks and steins are silly, but this is different. It’s a hurtful, negative and demeaning stereotype.

According to Marlow, however, the shirts’ justification is now clinking around inside the international corporation’s cash registers. He noted the point of marketing these shirts was to sell them, and they rapidly exhausted their initial run of 1,200 tees (at $24 a pop, no less). So, mission accomplished there.

Furthermore, the few complaints he’s received haven’t been from the store’s desired 18-to-30-year-old demographic, but from said generation’s parents. And he’s not marketing to them.

But this is muddled logic. It’s all right to profit off offensive stereotypes if the people you’re marketing to don’t complain? Under this philosophy, you could justify selling T-shirts emblazoned with images far more offensive than Urban Outfitters’.

As reported in these pages last year, a Hong Kong clothing company called IZZUE premiered a line of garments decked out with flashy Nazi symbols. Certainly the company wasn’t marketing SS T-shirts to Jews, and the store’s Asian clientele snapped them off the shelves. So, by Marlow’s reckoning, what’s the trouble?

Marlow hasn’t been besieged with complaints largely because the shirts’ small initial run sold out so rapidly — by last week there was nary a “Jewish girl” tee to be had in either the San Francisco or Berkeley stores — and Urban Outfitters isn’t exactly a hangout for the Jewish establishment types it takes to orchestrate a nationwide protest.

But the cat’s out of the bag now. Urban Outfitters may not intend to market “Jewish girl” tees to middle-aged parents. But, then again, now Jewish parents might think twice about funding the purchase of clothing bearing so odious a message.