So what's the deal with the creepy anti-Arab Gristedes bags?
May 23, 2007 10:02 PM   Subscribe

So what's the deal with the creepy anti-Arab Gristedes bags? Didn't they say they'd stop using them once their supply ran out?

Gristedes is a grocery chain with 45 locations in NYC, most quite large by neighborhood standards. Ever since a few months after 9/11, all of their grocery bags have had a graphic of the World Trade Center next to this text:

Always on our Minds

Forever in our Hearts

Never Forget What They Did

So... I remember reading somewhere that, after people had (understandably) let them know this seemed creepy, reductive and broadly anti-Arab, Gristedes responded that they would keep using the bags they had, but once their current supply of these bags was gone they wouldn't have any more manufactured with that text. I remember thinking, okay, that's not too meaningful since they could claim their initial supply was any size they wanted, but let's see what happens.

So it's now six and a half years after 9/11... and about six years since all the other grocery stores and delis started taking down their "Wanted Dead or Alive" posters (if they ever put one up in the first place)... but to this day Gristedes is still exclusively using (and therefore, I have to assume, still manufacturing) these bags.

In this question I am mainly trying to find out if whatever I read (which of course I can't find now) was wrong, or what their current public position is on these bags.

(Please don't only say "There are better grocery stores, so just shop elsewhere" -- I know Gristedes is not great but one of the reasons the chain survives is that in some neighborhoods they are the ONLY decent grocery store, or the best value, or the only one open late enough for people who work late.)
posted by sparrows to Society & Culture (21 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Just out of curiosity, why does 'they' refer to the broad category of 'Arabs' in this regard, rather than just "those murderous bastards who were involved in the plot"?
posted by Kickstart70 at 10:19 PM on May 23, 2007

I guess you already knew this, but I can't find anything about it with the obvious Google queries. Also (while I wouldn't be terribly surprised to learn the management is racist), I like Kickstart am not sure how we can tell these bags are actually anti-Arab (though I'd just as soon chalk it up to missing context; I haven't been in a Gristedes since early 2001).
posted by grobstein at 10:33 PM on May 23, 2007

Meh... I've seen "Never Forget Who Started It" bumper sticker style... er... stickers with some sort of stylized WTC illustration in the windows of a few different Jewish bagel shops.

I respect their right to free speech and choose not to patronize such establishments where the management is so obviously obtuse to world politics.

If their that idiotic about politics to the point that they want to make their business a soap box then they are probably idiotic in other ways... perhaps in the quality of their products or in their customer service.

Its better to just move along.
posted by wfrgms at 10:35 PM on May 23, 2007

I too am curious why the bags are "anti-Arab." From your description, it seems like the 'they' being referred to on the bags is not Arabs generally, but rather 'the Terrorists,' whomever they are.

Actually, I think it could be argued that where the racist assumption occurs, is when you go from "they" (meaning the terrorists) to it somehow meaning Arabs generally. Because that's where the Arabs=terrorists connection is being made.

I found a photo of one of the bags, not a very good one but it does show the quote:
posted by Kadin2048 at 10:41 PM on May 23, 2007

Although it should be noted that "commercial speech" is not protected speech thus if their bags are truly racist they may be in violation of the law and thus are legally on thin ice to anyone who cares enough to sue them... although it would be difficult to claim standing in such a case. Like, how exactly does a paper bag harm anyone? Simply being offended is not grounds for damages (thank the gods.) In the end this sort of thing is probably up to the free market to correct, although thats not say to that people shouldn't be made aware of this (alleged) racism and given the opportunity to speak out against it (protest.) So if you really want to make a stink organize a rally, picket out front... its your right.
posted by wfrgms at 10:43 PM on May 23, 2007

This is probably going to be your best bet:
posted by cmgonzalez at 11:05 PM on May 23, 2007

I've looked at those bags a thousand times and I never thought of them as anti-Arab. Just anti-the-guys-who-flew-planes-into-our-people.
posted by astruc at 11:15 PM on May 23, 2007

wfrgms: Legally, "commercial speech" is not merely any words uttered or written by a business. The term refers specifically to speech that proposes a business transaction: advertising, a pitch by a salesperson, etc. I don't think that a plastic bag given to customers who have already completed their transactions qualifies. Therefore, the speech would be protected just as the right of Gristedes' shareholders to take out a billboard in Times Square proclaiming their beliefs about terrorism would be protected.
posted by decathecting at 11:36 PM on May 23, 2007

The bags are not anti-Arab.
posted by oaf at 3:22 AM on May 24, 2007

Wait a moment, I'm confused. It can be read a whole different way from how it's being parsed so far:

Always on our Minds

Forever in our Hearts

Never Forget What They Did

Couldn't the nonspecific "They" refer to the various fire, police and rescue workers who responded to the attack on the twin towers? Why would terrorists be "always on our minds, forever in our hearts"? The statement doesn't work if one reads it as signifiying one specific group of people (victims of September 11?) in lines 1 and 2, and an opposing group of people in line 3. I say this without any knowledge of Gristedes' intent, though. If the latter is the correct interpretation, then all I've gotta say is, that's some bad copy.
posted by brain cloud at 3:47 AM on May 24, 2007 [1 favorite]

The other way to read it is as if all three lines refer to the WTC photo.
posted by smackfu at 5:41 AM on May 24, 2007

Best answer: The poster isn't asking whether the bags are anti-Arab! The point is that Gristedes received enough complaints along these lines to say they'd get rid of the bags, and never has.

I suspect that the answer why is a cross of the following:

1. They made a whole crapload of them, which were pulled from many stores after the furor, meaning the stores that received the fewest complaints that are still using them are left with an even larger supply to draw from.

2. The only thing New York business-people hate more than terrorists is wasting money.

3. People stopped complaining, so "who cares?"

I really do think you should contact Gristedes corporate office (or whatever passes for it) and remind them of their promise. The bags are vague enough to be rather puke-making, in my book, and I'm glad people actually notice when companies don't do what they said they would.
posted by hermitosis at 5:51 AM on May 24, 2007

Best answer: I'm not certain if these bags qualify as racist...the undercurrent or implication is there, but this copy is vague enough that I'm sure they can claim it means anything they want. Frankly, I think that inspecificity is the problem. The message given by these bags evokes the confused, emotional, angry response many people had directly after the WTC/Pentagon attacks, when we still weren't sure who the hell "they" were. And to this day, people remain misinformed on this account. Our leaders have been able to use this gut reaction of blind rage and our wishes to blame someone, anyone, any "they" who can be dragged out of a foxhole or made to mysteriously disappear, to justify some very un-American behavior. Just who the hell is "they"? And why can't we forget? isn't it bad enough that we've had to be in a constant state of mourning for the WTC victims, never allowed a proper funeral because we're told each day that the War on Terror is just beginning? Should we also be in a state of perpetual rage?

This, to me, is why this chain needs to think long and hard about the message they're giving out here. Suggesting that rage and mourning should go hand in hand is not a respectful memorial for the people who were lost on 9/11.
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:38 AM on May 24, 2007 [3 favorites]

PS: This was a very good question and would make a great newspaper article or short documentary.
posted by Lieber Frau at 6:39 AM on May 24, 2007

Youre overly PC. These bags are not racist expressions. They clearly means terrorists. Anything else is really projection. This sounds a little too much like the niggardly debacle.
posted by damn dirty ape at 7:24 AM on May 24, 2007

Wait, what'd they do?
posted by Uther Bentrazor at 7:33 AM on May 24, 2007


The bags aren't anti-Arab. They're anti-terrorist. They're anti-nutjobs who massacred thousands of innocent people.

A lot of New Yorkers lost people close to them that day. For instance, Gristides CEO John Katsimatides lost a cousin in the attack. If we shouldn't feel rage, should we just feel apathy that our loved ones were taken away from us?

I really don't think so.

/end soapbox
posted by huskerdont at 7:39 AM on May 24, 2007

Couldn't the nonspecific "They" refer to the various fire, police and rescue workers who responded to the attack on the twin towers?

That's how I read it.

(I'm not sure why you marked Lieber Frau's first comment as "best answer," since it doesn't in any way answer the question, but it adds more fuel for my inevitable complaints when people suggest using "best answer" as a metric.)
posted by languagehat at 12:18 PM on May 24, 2007

Response by poster: Currently Lieber Frau's answer is the only answer on the page that was favorited by multiple other users. Nobody gave me any new information to answer the actual question. She gets "best."

Everyone will react differently. For many reactions that agree with mine (including consensus in at least one comment thread), just search the web. For example, you can Google for (gristedes "never forget what they did").
posted by sparrows at 4:13 PM on May 24, 2007

Response by poster: back for a good update: From what I understand, they switched to new bags in June (hopefully permanently since it's now August and I went to my local store where there are none of the old bags now). I don't think my correspondence had anything to do with it but it's a great outcome.
posted by sparrows at 4:17 PM on August 6, 2007

« Older Who hijacked my Google cache?   |   Electricity = juice ≈ OJ Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.