A few weeks after nationwide protests erupted over the police killing of George Floyd, Julie Muller looked for something positive she could contribute to the movement from her Houston home.
The 67-year-old white woman, who has been selling homemade cookie-decorating kits online since March, decided to offer one with a Black Lives Matter theme. The kit comes with cookie cutters imprinted with former President Barack Obama’s face, sprinkles and icing in red, black and green — the colors of the Pan-African or Black Liberation flag.
Other examples of homespun BLM merchandise include wine stoppers and even garden gnomes — objects more often associated with white suburbia. The white sellers insist they are not trying to make light of racial issues or widen their profit margins. But to many onlookers, the sales through the crafts marketplace Etsy may straddle an uncomfortable line between supporting the movement and exploiting it.
Muller’s three children were the first to warn her she might appear to be capitalizing on racial unrest. But that’s partly why she wanted to act.
“I’ve been thinking about what’s systemic racism and what is racial profiling,” Muller said. “It’s more about doing my part. What can I offer?”
The protest movement ignited by Floyd’s death in May under the knee of a Minneapolis police officer compelled businesses large and small to declare publicly that they were “woke” to the pain of Black people. Manufacturers soon began making BLM T-shirts, face masks and signs.
It’s not surprising that independent merchants wanted to express solidarity too, said Patti Williams, an associate professor of marketing at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School.
To demonstrate sincerity, sellers should commit to making these items permanently to show their efforts are not just an attempt “to jump on a fad,” she added.
There’s also potential for the items themselves to be seen as offensive or tone-deaf.
Ashleigh Boutelle, 45, of Twin Peaks, California, custom paints garden gnomes as a side business. After making gay pride gnomes, he decided in July to try painting a Black Lives Matter gnome. The yellow-and-black-clad gnome — a nod to the colors used on a Black Lives Matter website — wears a “BLM” hat. He also painted it with a darker skin tone.
“I was just trying to be very careful and present something that you might say is neutral,” Boutelle said. “Hopefully, someone who sees it is not offended.”
He has since gotten a few orders for either Black Lives Matter gnomes or African American gnomes. Boutelle hopes people don’t question his sincerity because his support is displayed on a mythical figure with a pointy hat.
“I like the idea of offering it to