Friday, August 3, 2012

Is the 'No Grease' logo offensive?

A dark-skinned caricature that’s the logo for the black-owned No Grease barbershops in Charlotte is drawing some attention.

A story reported by WBTV, picked up by BET,says a local business owner is circulating a petition for shop owners Jermaine and Damian Johnson to take down the logo hanging outside their Time Warner Cable Arena shop location because it is controversial.

Jay Whipple, founder and director of Queen City Tours and Travel, told WBTV the logo will be offensive to Democratic National Convention visitors.

"As a kid I was actually called a 'Little Black Sambo' because I was darker than some of my brothers and sisters," said Whipple in the WBTV story. "It was a joke but you don't always realize how damaging it is to you as an African American."

See the WBTV story here, and the BET story here.

Below is July 2010 column about the No Grease logo by former Charlotte Observer writer Ron Stodghill:

It's time for brothers' minstrel logo to fade to black In case you haven't noticed, some of the world's biggest brands have recently taken a decidedly public plunge into the unknown.

Google's done it. So have Hertz, MasterCard and Audi. Even Kraft, perennial darling of the American stovetop, has jumped headfirst into the mix.

No, they're not helping BP clean up the Gulf.

Yep, they've changed their logos.

Which brings me to the improbable - and admittedly lower-profile - case of No Grease Inc., our own chain of black-owned barbershops that is clinging to a racially explosive minstrel logo like Trump to his comb-over.

Perhaps you've encountered No Grease's logo, the bug-eyed, black-faced caricature inspired by those dehumanizing minstrel shows of yesteryear.

If logos are measured in second looks, this one ranks right up there with the Golden Arches. Trouble is, like swastikas and Indian mascots, minstrels don't exactly evoke humankind's finest hour - or, for my money, put folks in the mood for a haircut.

Yet since No Grease's founding 13 years ago, the caricature has served as the company's proud signature, the branding behind its three shops, barber school and various promotional events and materials that include a book and DVDs.

For me, here's the rub: I like No Grease as a company and progressive brand. I said as much recently in a column about how Damian and twin brother Jermaine Johnson, who co-own the company, are galvanizing the city's black entrepreneurs to become bigger players in Charlotte's economy, something this city really needs.

And I applaud their fledgling organization, the Urban Business Network, which has blossomed to earn the support of several heavy hitters around town, including Ronald Carter, president of Johnson C. Smith University.

But the logo has got to go.

Jermaine, a graphic designer, created what would become the infamous logo back in high school.

Since launching their company with the logo, the brothers have been offering years of thoughtful, if not strained, rationale for subjecting patrons and passers-by to it.

It goes like this: Symbols possess no real power, and No Grease, through its solid work ethic and entrepreneurial success, embodies the notion that racist stereotypes are no match against the real truth of what we can accomplish.

Hey, I get all that. But it's wishful thinking - and maybe a dose of arrogance - to expect ordinary folks to unravel a tangled logic which suggests a caricature of a cooning black man can become - voila! - a socially redeeming force under the right proprietorship.

A bad idea is a bad idea no matter where it lives.

Pity the white business that one day wants to buy No Grease and invest a few million into a minstrel marketing program or perhaps a stadium sponsorship.

Picture it: The No Grease Dome, with a big rotating minstrel on top.

Guys, you're on the fast track now. The minstrel has served you well. Now, can we finally bid him farewell? There's nothing wrong with a good makeover from time to time.

Ask Aunt Jemima - the woman has never looked happier.


Anonymous said...

Change it from black and white to red and white - problem solved.

Anonymous said...

The Johnson brothers are sending a strong and positive message their way with their own voice. No, its not obvious and requires thought and questions but if they wanted to do it the safe way or not at all, they could do it from SuperCuts instead of creating No Grease.

Entrepreneurs like the Johnson bros. help make Charlotte Charlotte. I hope we will support our entrepreneurs and their unique visions whether their visions can be taken at face value or require some digging to get to a great life lesson.

Anonymous said...

Why the heck do people have to look for things to be offended by? Geesh! Just deal with it. If you don't like their sign, then don't patronize the shop. Unless it's crude or vulgar, stop this "I'm offended" crap and do something useful with your life!

Anonymous said...

I guess it's just time to recognize that "ordinary folk" need to get a clue if they're so offended by this.

The best lesson for "ordinary folk" is for the logo to stay as it is.

After all, the sun doesn't rise over the cracks of their asps.

Anonymous said...

Wow....if this was a white owned shop the African American population would be up in arms in controversy. BUT a black owned shop, what, is white people offended? Is Barrack going to be offended? I'm offended that they took the Bugs Bunny cartoons off air because of stuff like this. I'm offended we can't see the Little Rascals on TV. WHY don't people learn to mind their own business and stop making something out of nothing!

Anonymous said...

No Grease! Word to your Mother. Nothing more offensive than some Jheri Curl dripping Rick James wannabe. I know right.

Knowledge said...

All this because DNC is on it's way. Leave the brothers alone!

Robert A. Medley, Jr. said...

May be similar logic if a white own shop named NO HOODS were in business and presented a logo of a kkk hooded face but the owner says it's a positive implication n we should understand his intentions...well we just may but it doesn't erase the visual connect to the character n history there with in it's depiction. I applaud the young men for standing behind there dream but relate to the Negative energy surrounding the logo.
For the record I am a award winning barber and owner of THE BARBER SPA.