The JCPenney at Southern Hills Mall, a shopping mall in Sioux City, Iowa is under fire on social media after Facebook posts including a video and a photo were created by Iowa resident Michelle Free-LaMere. The video posted by Free-LaMere has gone viral having received 51k views within two days of being posted. The video currently stands at 101k views.
The posts contain four mannequins wearing different ‘Tribe-themed’ t-shirts that say ‘Tribe Leader,’ ‘Love My Tribe’ and ‘New to the Tribe’ which are standing between additional t-shirts with the phrases ‘Wine Wine Wine’ and ‘Beer Beer Beer.’
Comments on social media have been largely negative toward JCPenney.
“Just sad and disrespectful,” said Katrina RedOwl from Pasadena, California. Mikki Naranjo from Ignacio, Colorado said she will no longer shop at the store. “That is just disgusting of Management of JCPenney put that display up. I will no longer shop there!”
Michelle Free-LaMere has written on Facebook that she has received support, but also received a lot of hateful comments. Overall, she says she posted the video and photo in an attempt to make a difference.
“Stereotyping Indigenous people is dehumanizing and dangerous. If you want to roll over and accept that, go elsewhere and do it. We are trying to stand up and make a difference here,” wrote Free-LaMere.
Free-LaMere also wrote that the offensive nature of the display isn’t just about the t-shirts.
“The problem isn’t with the tribe shirts. It’s about the beer and wine shirts on either side. I suspect it was a local yokel who thought he/she was funny. Racism is bad here.”
In the video, Free-LaMere asked a JCPenney associate about the offensiveness of the display. The associate was courteous and expressed she didn’t understand what was offensive about it. After Free-LaMere shared her views, the associate did respond saying “You have the right, I don’t disagree with you.”
Indian Country Today reached out to JCPenney, and they responded by removing the display and issuing the following statement:
“We appreciate the customer making us aware of the merchandise placement within our Sioux City store. While there was never any intention to associate these products, our team immediately took action and corrected the presentation upon learning of this unfortunate merchandise arrangement. We want to express our sincere apologies, as JCPenney prides itself as being a diverse and inclusive organization, treating all customers as we would like to be treated – with dignity and respect.”