The owner of a controversial southern Alberta business said Tuesday he has reversed his decision to close his online store. When Global News last spoke with Boe Zahorejko on Aug. 21, the Lethbridge owner of the “White and Privileged” clothing site, he said he was shutting down the operation after being challenged on promoting themes of racism and white supremacy.
On Tuesday, Zahorejko said not only is he keeping it open, but other people also want to join in on his business.
“So, I’ve had people reach out to me from, website designers to just regular people, a couple of my friends, but mostly 100 per cent people I don’t know trying to buy into the company, whether it be a percentage or buy me completely out,” Zahorejko said in an interview on Tuesday.
He added he has refused all offers so far.
Zahorejko shut down the Facebook page he was operating in tandem with the clothing site on Aug. 21., however, the Instagram page, which he also operates remains. The Instagram account includes memes about white privilege.
Some of the memes says things such as, “Everybody claims to be fighting for equality, until you use the word white,” “White lives matter too,” and “White bread will now be referred to as privilege loaf.”
Zahorejko has also created “White and Privileged” TikTok videos including messages such as, “It’s great to be white,” and “Let’s stand together.”
He claims his clothing line and his social media pages are geared to be “lighthearted satire,” in relation to the term “white privilege.”
‘Flirting with white supremacy’
The Lethbridge Group United Against Racial Discrimination (GUARD), which organized the LETHBRIDGE Black Lives Matter rally in June, said it is not buying into the idea that Zahorejko’s clothing line is only satire.
“‘White and Privileged’ in itself is not racist. It is not bad to be white or privileged, but how Boe was promoting the page was flirting with white supremacy,” read a Facebook post by that group in response to Zahorejko’s online store and “White and Privileged” social media pages on Aug. 22.
In the post, GUARD goes on to say that Boe’s Facebook page, which has since been removed, included the phrase “It’s good to be white.” GUARD also says Boe’s “about” info on the same Facebook page said “We offer high-quality apparel made specifically for the privileged.”
GUARD member Legacy McAdam said the group is once again disappointed and not surprised by Zahorejko’s continuation of his online sales.
“When someone says it’s a joke… it’s supposed to be funny and not make fun of people who are being oppressed, ridiculed and dehumanized on a daily basis,” McAdam said Tuesday.
She said the group’s intention isn’t to discredit his work and it appreciates that Zahorejko has faced several tribulations in his own life. However, GUARD takes issue with the marketing and controversial messaging behind the brand, which makes light of the struggles those who are BIPOC continually face.
Zahorejko said he doesn’t agree that his online campaign is racist. He says he makes fun of the term “white privilege” because he believes that despite being a white man, he does not have privilege since he’s had to endure poverty and homelessness.
“I didn’t see this as racist, I thought it was funny cause I’m not privileged.” Zahorejko said.
“I don’t even really believe in the word ‘white privilege,’” he added.
When Zahorejko was asked what his definition of “white privilege” is, he said he doesn’t believe there truly is a definition for it and that it doesn’t exist.
McAdam countered, saying “Racism is the plague that infects our society. It shapes young minds to believe one group is superior toward another. It molded Canada’s foundations and today we see it in extreme detail. it has shaped who wins and who loses systemically, politically, economically, and socially. Racism is when, due to the colour of your skin, you face hardships from a society that looks down on you.
“White supremacy is a huge form of racism. No one is above anyone else no matter their skin tone, we are all equal, we are all humans,” she continued.
McAdam, who identifies as a woman of Cree descent, said as someone who has personally also dealt with homelessness, the online site and business isn’t the way to approach these issues, and wants to educate others about the adversities and complexities of racism.
“People deal with trauma in different ways and we all have a choice to make, whether it’s, ‘Do I continue down this road of selling merchandise that has a bad name attached to it or do I try to change it and make it better?’” McAdam said.
Zahorejko said he has received death threats and profane messages, which have only served as fuel when it comes to him making the decision to carry on with his business. He told Global News he has decided to not report the messages to the police as he does not would to involve them in these matters.
“I’m pegged as a racist anyway, regardless of whether the [online] store is open or closed,” Zahorejko said.
“People don’t look at me any different, so I just said I might as well make a few bucks off of it.”
McAdam said GUARD doesn’t condone any use of violent messaging and calls for peaceful dialogue when it comes to educating others about the issues.
“We as group leaders do not condone hate or violence. Our group and our leaders are here to end racism, [systemic] racism and shed light [on] the ongoing problem BIPOC people face every single day,” read a GUARD Facebook post on Aug. 22. in response to “White and Privileged” content created by Zahorejko.
“As soon as people start using death threats, then we’re basically proving to the people who look down on us that we’re no different than the stereotypes,” McAdam explained.
Both sides said they are willing to sit down to discuss the controversy, but no meetings have been scheduled between the two parties
Zahorejko said he has contemplated creating attire other than the “White and Privileged” clothing he is already advertising on his site, adding he continues to “work behind the scenes” on other options.
– With files from Global News’ Emily Olsen
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