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Some people were offended by this sign in the store window at Global Village on Monday, Jan. 20, 2014. DULUTH NEWS TRIBUNE/Steve Kuchera

Downtown Duluth store’s ‘Black Sale’ offends MLK Day marchers

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Downtown Duluth store’s ‘Black Sale’ offends MLK Day marchers
Detroit Lakes Minnesota 511 Washington Avenue 56501

Peter Passi | Forum News Service

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This was the fourth year in a row that Global Village had marked Martin Luther King Jr. Day with a sale and a sign in its Superior Street window proclaiming: “25 percent off everything black!”

Rachel Mock, proprietor of the Duluth store, said she had received no complaints in the past, but this year proved a different story, thanks in large part to a social networking firestorm touched off by a Facebook post.

George Ellsworth had come downtown with his 5-year-old daughter, Aina, to join a march for Martin Luther King Jr. Day.

“I walked past the sign at first, and I had to go back to make sure I read it correctly. I was incredulous. I didn’t know if it was a prank or what,” he said.

While Ellsworth observed that Global Village has a progressive reputation and a penchant for irreverent humor, he said: “There’s a difference between being whimsical and tasteless.”

Ellsworth, who is African-American, said he posted a picture of the sign to see if his reaction was shared.

“Mostly, I just wanted to see what other people thought,” he said.

As Ellsworth’s picture of the sign made the rounds Monday on Facebook, people’s anger surged, and Mock said she received numerous complaints, both online and via telephone.

“I apologize to anyone we offended. I meant it as a celebration of Martin Luther King and a way to honor him because he was a positive black leader,” she said.

Mock said she was caught off-guard by the public indignation the store’s sale provoked. She said that Global Village would never hold a Columbus Day sale, because she views the day as a glorification of imperialism. But she questioned why a Martin Luther King Jr. Day sale would stir controversy.

“Does anyone get upset about a Presidents Day sale or a Labor Day sale? Do they make a mockery of the presidency or the labor movement?” she asked.

“Sales happen all the time. I was not attempting to offend anyone,” Mock said.

But Ellsworth said the sale, whether well-intentioned or not, was “so tone deaf.”

He was particularly surprised to later see the store’s promotion of the sale on its own Facebook page: “Annual MLK Day BLACK SALE! He showed us that the struggle and lookin’ super fly can go hand in hand. We salute him with 25 percent off everything black, Monday, Jan. 20. Much more our style than a Columbus Day sale, no?”

“It trivializes the legacy of Martin Luther King to praise him for looking ‘superfly,’” he said.

The store offered the 25 percent discount on any merchandise with the color black in it.

The concept didn’t sit well with Ellsworth, who said: “The whole idea of bringing up color reinforces a segmented view of society. This should be a day to honor a great humanitarian, not to divide the world into black and white.

Ellsworth said he was encouraged to see people of all colors taking the store to task for its promotion.

“A whole rainbow shook its head,” he said, reflecting on the reaction.

Mock took down the sign in Global Village’s window late Monday afternoon in reaction to the complaints the store had received.

“I’m still processing the negative reactions. We won’t do this sale again, because we want to be sensitive to people whose feelings were hurt. But it’s not because I see us as having done something wrong. I know who I am, and I know my values and my intentions,” she said.

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