Editor's note: This article was originally published in 2014 but we thought it was a great yarn about one Irish American fella fighting against the Irish stereotype. Fair play Kevin!
Go to your local big box stores, buy all the t-shirts emblazoned with drunken stereotypes you can find, keep them in your garage or car trunk so they never see the light of day, and return them promptly on March 18.
“Put them on your credit card and you never spend a dime,” he told IrishCentral. (Provided the store's return policy offers a full refund, of course.)
Westley, a decorated Irish dance instructor and radio host in Long Island, New York, came up with the idea last year.
Like many in the Irish American community, Westley had grown increasingly weary over the years of the green t-shirts that appear in stores right after Valentine’s Day, bearing slogans like “Kiss me, I’m drunk or Irish or whatever,” or “I’m so Irish I sweat alcohol,” or “Irish car bombs make my clothes fall off.”
Whenever he’s in a store and sees such t-shirts, Westley said he always makes a point of speaking to the manager, explaining why they are offensive, and asking that they be removed from the shelves.
But the answer, he said, is almost always the same. “The manager will say I have to talk to corporate about it,” and corporate will rarely respond.
Last year, after encountering questionable t-shirts at three area Walmarts, Westley lodged a complaint with Walmart’s corporate offices. From them he learned that it was in fact the decision of the individual stores to carry the t-shirts.
Fed up with the cycle of the stores and corporate skirting responsibility, Westley went to the Walmarts near him and bought all the stereotyping t-shirts he could find – almost $900 dollars worth.
“The idea is to take the t-shirts off the shelves,” he explained.
He took the shirts home and put them in bags and storage boxes. Then, the day after St. Patrick’s Day, he drove to Walmart and returned the t-shirts.
“At the customer service desk I kept letting people pass me in line because I knew it was going to take a while,” he said. Eventually the representative called him to the desk and got started on the returns. He was able to return all the shirts at the same store. It took over an hour.
Rather than the annoyed reaction he was anticipating, Westley said she was interested in his strategy.
“She asked why I was doing this and I explained it’s because they’re very offensive,” he recalled.
“She turned out to be a Sunday school teacher and she told me that the previous Sunday she had been trying to teach her students about St. Patrick’s Day. She agreed with me that they were offensive.
“So then I tried to explain that you don’t really see this for any other holiday. It’s just that for some reason people feel they can get away with it for St. Patrick’s Day.”
This year, he has already purchased $400 worth of the t-shirts. He said the response from friends and fellow Irish Americans has been encouraging, but that so far no one has taken him up on his call encouraging others to follow a similar tactic.
“I invite everyone, especially my brothers and sisters from the Ancient Order of Hibernians and Lady’s Ancient Order of Hibernians, to go to your local Walmart,” he recently shared in an e-blast. “If they are selling offensive T shirts, ask to speak to the store managers. If they don’t comply with your request to remove the shirts, buy all the offensive shirts. Leave them in the trunk of your car and return them on March 18. Also, in honor of St. Patrick, do not purchase anything from Walmart for the month of March.”
In fact, he said that the most disheartening response so far has not been from Walmart but from other Irish Americans online who hear about what he’s doing and tell him to get a life.
“I’ve been entertaining in the Irish community for 30 years, but every once in a while you see how we abuse each other, and that's the disappointing thing,” he said. “We should be standing together.”
Will you be paying a visit to your local stores after learning about Kevin’s strategy? Let us know what you think in the comment section.