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Girls give example of power of protest

| Thursday, Nov. 10, 2005

You've got to give props to the Allegheny County Girls as Grantmakers program.

The organization recently began a "girlcott" of Abercrombie & Fitch over some sexist T-shirts the preppie fashion retailer was selling.

Bearing slogans encouraging viewers to focus on the wearer's breasts or suggesting that blondes enjoy a greater number of sex partners, the shirts wouldn't look out of place in those "Girls Gone Wild" videos.

After several grantmakers, working in conjunction with the Western Pennsylvania Women and Girls Foundation, made appearances on national media outlets -- including NBC's "Today" show -- the retailer could no longer ignore the story. Abercrombie & Fitch pulled the offensive T-shirts from shelves faster than you can say "product backlash."

"It took an enormous amount of time, resources and energy, writing speeches, preparing a press conference and sending out e-mails and press releases," said Heather Arnet, 31, of Highland Park, the foundation's executive director.

In a perfect world, foundation members wouldn't be the only consumers with the conscience and courage to boycott stores selling ill-conceived fashions.

Right now, young African-Americans on Downtown streets are wearing T-shirts urging people to stop cooperating with police.

Rayco Saunders, a professional boxer from Beltzhoover, even wore a "Stop Snitchin'" shirt to a court appearance, leading authorities to demand he either remove the shirt or turn it inside-out. The case against two men the Allegheny County District Attorney's Office believed had hired a hit man to kill Saunders fell apart due to the "no snitch" mentality.

A woman who described herself as the girlfriend of one of the accused men phoned in angry with me after I wrote a column on the topic. She claimed that "snitches are what's ruining our community." Assisting police with eyewitness accounts of shootings, drug dealing and other crimes, she said "was just people forgetting where they're from."

Saunders himself called last week to say the shirt was not meant to prompt people to ignore the police when they ask for help, but rather was aimed at "all these punk, wannabe gangsters who get arrested and then turn evidence on their partners to help convict people."

Saunders' logic doesn't make much sense to anyone not caught up in the culture of crime, loyalty and violence of the 'hood.

But it makes even less sense that black leaders haven't offered their own boycott of any store perpetuating these self-destructive attitudes in the form of a T-shirt. That it took only a group of teenage girls to stop one of the country's biggest retailers speaks volumes to what a group of organized black politicians, clergy, parents or business leaders might accomplish if they tried.

Arne she said her experiences with Abercrombie & Fitch prove "what a small group of people can do to change things. When the company realized it was its customer base, teen girls, rejecting their message, they listened.

"That's a model anyone can follow."

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