This time last year, Kevin Westley had over $400 of t-shirts depicting the Irish as slovenly drunks stored in a column of airtight boxes in his basement.
So far this year, much to Kevin’s delight (and his wife’s relief), their home is still devoid of any offensive Irish merchandise.
Kevin, a radio host and Irish dance instructor from Long Island, made headlines throughout the US and in Ireland last year after IrishCentral broke the story about his inventive campaign to get Walmart to stop stocking their shelves with t-shirts that perpetuate nasty stereotypes about the Irish in the lead-up to St. Patrick’s Day.
His plan? Buy all the t-shirts emblazoned with drunken stereotypes that he could find at the Walmart stores near his home, keep them in boxes so they never see the light of day, and return them promptly on March 18.
The plan itself went off without a hitch, despite some politely aggressive exchanges with the Walmart customer service team, but Kevin knew he would have to wait until this year to see if his campaign had any lasting impact.
Thus far, it looks as though it has.
On trips to the Walmart stores in East Meadow and Uniondale, both on Long Island, where he bought the questionable tees last year, there was no sign of any offensive Irish apparel.
Where in the past there were shirts emblazoned with things like “Kiss me, I’m drunk or Irish or whatever,” or “I’m so Irish I sweat alcohol,” or “In dog beers I’ve had one,” this year the shelves are stocked with t-shirts that simply say “Ireland” or “Dublin,” or boasting skulls in top hats for the more hardcore clientele.
Kevin was so thrilled about the dearth of offensive t-shirts that he asked to speak to one of the managers and then thanked her for the current, more respectful selection.
“When I handed her my card, she read my name and I saw her eyes light up. ‘I know you!’ she said” – an indication Kevin certainly did make an impact at his local stores.
While Walmart corporate did not respond to queries about whether this was an intentional move on their part, a look through all 25 pages of St. Patrick’s Day items for sale on Walmart’s website revealed nothing like what was available last year. Instead, there were t-shirts that said things like “Slainte,” “Luck has nothing to do with it,” and the more aggressive “Pinch me and I’ll punch you.” There was also this masterpiece of a suit.
What’s more, Kevin has received messages from people who followed his story last year telling him that they haven’t seen any St. Patrick’s Day t-shirts with derogatory messages in the Walmarts they frequent, from New Jersey and Pennsylvania to Florida.
“I've been in Wal-Mart in Philly and South Jersey and there are no signs of derogatory merchandise in any of the stores I've been to,” one said.
“I have been to Walmart in Union, NJ. They are selling t-shirts....none of them are derogatory to the Irish & drinking. I would not buy some of them because they have a 4 leaf clover... but SOMEONE is listening! GOOD JOB!" wrote another.
“It took three years but I’m absolutely ecstatic about it,” Kevin told IrishCentral. He first came up with the plan in 2014, purchasing and then returning almost $900 worth of the t-shirts. Last year, since there were fewer on display, he purchased and returned $400 worth.
He added that he would be paying a visit to St. Raymond’s Cemetery in the Bronx, where his Irish grandparents are buried. “They’re really the ones I did this for,” he said.
Walmart is not the only store that has stocked offensive Irish items, as many people have pointed out to Kevin. However, he chose to campaign specifically against Walmart because of what he viewed to be their hypocrisy in pulling Halloween costumes that were offensive to the Muslim community but refusing to engage with the Irish community on the same issue.
Now that Walmart appears to be taking a more respectful approach, however, he will be looking into the St. Patrick’s Day items sold by other big box stores.
“A few weeks ago I was shopping at the Stop & Shop next door to the Walmart where I returned the t-shirts last year, and they already had a big display of St. Patrick’s Day items – mustaches, hats, things like that,” he said. “They did have one item that brought up the drunk stereotype, a tie, but when I spoke to the manager he said they would remove it from the display no problem.”
Kevin’s wife, Joanie, regularly shops at Target, so he said he would “mosey on over there the next time she goes to see what they have.”
Target had better be ready.