Clever word play or insensitive marketing tool?
An Albuquerque restaurant owner’s “Black Olives Matter” slogan has drawn attention worldwide for its take-off on the “Black Lives Matter” organization.
Rick Camuglia of Paisano’s Italian Restaurant says the slogan, posted on a sign in front of his restaurant recently, “struck a nerve” and has drawn overwhelming support. He is now selling T-shirts and hats with the slogan, and they are so popular that he says he will have to hire an extra employee to keep up with demand.
But Camuglia is also getting sharp criticism from those who say the merchandise is insensitive and makes light of a deeply serious problem: the number of black men who are shot by police officers.
“If you really think about how those T-shirts will be used … it’s to make fun of something a large percentage of people feel strongly about in the African-American community,” said Ken Carson, owner of Nexus Brewery & Restaurant in Albuquerque. “I can see how he did it innocently, but after he finds out what the impact is, I think it would be best to withdraw.”
Carson was referring to the Black Lives Matter organization, which has been holding protests around the country in response to recent police shootings of blacks.
Cecilia Webb, who heads the Albuquerque section of the National Council of Negro Women, Inc., says the Paisano merchandise is particularly insensitive because of the timing, when the police shootings are so fresh in people’s minds.
“I understand the side that the restaurant is coming from,” she said. “However, the fact that so many lives are associated with Black Lives Matter … people have been hurt or died.”
“That’s what makes … ‘Black Olives Matter’ so insensitive. We don’t feel that they should take that on as a play on words,” she said.
Camuglia says he never meant the slogan to be political or offensive, and he removed it from his sign after about eight hours.
“When we saw it hurt some feelings, we took it down,” Camuglia said. “I’m not political. I don’t want to alienate customers. We thought it was a clever way to sell 15 pounds of fish.”
But by then the slogan had gone viral, and the phone started ringing.
Calls and emails from all over the country came in requesting a jar of black tapenade or marinara sauce or anything else that had a label imprinted with the black olive slogan, Camuglia said.
Paisano’s, which has been at the same location for 42 years, is not in the business of shipping food, so it turned to merchandise imprinted with the slogan instead, Camuglia said.
He says he now has orders for 2,000 T-shirts and 250 hats that have come from all over the country, plus Kuwait, Afghanistan, England and Canada.
It’s all about business, he says.
“My father always told me if you want to be successful, give people what they want, and that’s what we’ve done,” Camuglia said.
Finnie Coleman, a University of New Mexico professor who will be teaching two “Black Lives Matter” classes this year, says what Camuglia is doing is “cashing in on this discord … clearly not caring whether he offended anyone or not.”
“I think it’s unforgiveable to say, on the one hand, you don’t mean to be offensive, but then to capitalize on offending someone,” Coleman said.
Camuglia says he received overwhelming support, with 50 positive comments for every one that is critical. Those responding are “backlashing against the people who were offended,” he said. “This is fascinating.”
Black Lives Matter has drawn controversy from some who say it is divisive and racist.
Camuglia has won praise from some people on social media for creativity and for having a “classic American sick sense of humor, which we could all use a little of.”
However, he also has drawn comments from people who “are saying all manner of horrific things about black people in America,” said Cathryn McGill, founder/director of the New Mexico Black History Organizing Committee.
For example, some people posted comments under a KOAT-TV story on the controversy that include a mockery of Black Lives Matter — “Black Lives Splatter” — and another that says “Blacks invite the police to shoot them by their actions.”