Ethics Quiz: Does “Black Olives Matter” Matter?

Black Olives matter shirtI almost made this controversy an ethics quiz in July, but decided it was a fleeting jest. Wrong, Ethics-breath! Now the story has heated up again.

Paisano’s, an Italian restaurant  in Albuquerque, New Mexico is selling ‘black olives matter” T- shirts and caps following the uproar over the phrase last month, when the restaurant placed it on a marquee outside the restaurant in July:

Black Lives Matter sign

Then, owner Rick Camuglia said he came up with the play on words to sell a new tuna dish with black olive tapenade. When Camuglia posted pictures of the dish and the sign on Facebook, he drew angry complaints that he was being insensitive and “trivializing a movement aimed at trying to stop police shootings of black residents.”

Even if they are resisting lawful arrest, threatening the officer or holding a gun. But I digress…

Camuglia protested that he was only trying to sell food. Now, after receiving unexpected support, even internationally, and with business booming, the entrepreneur has reacted to requests for souvenirs from the restaurant with his new product line.

Your Ethics Alarms Ethics Quiz of the Day: 

Are the slogan, T-shirts and hats inherently disrespectful and divisive at a racially troubled time, and thus socially irresponsible, or is it a harmless play on words?

I think you probably know what my position is, since Ethics Alarms has included more than a few parodies and riffs on the phrase “black lives mattes,” and will not hesitate to use more. This is satire, pure as it can be. There are no quotes or phrases so sacred and full of significance that they cannot be parodied with humorous effect. Does “we have nothing to fear but beer itself” mock the dead of Pearl Harbor? Don’t be an idiot: of course not. How about Monty Python’s “Blessed are the cheesemakers”..

Does that mock Christianity or wound the Sermon on the Mount? (Well, a lot of angry Christian groups said so when “The Life of Brian” came out, and they missed a wonderful movie, and that kick-line on the crosses…)

Even when a phrase deserves respect, as “black lives matter” does not, given the groups that brandish it and the viral lie that gave it birth,  clever wordplay or satire are not precluded by any ethical principle, and no, the fact that some identifiable group may be offended by it isn’t such a principle. Nor is this covered by the Niggardly Principles because there isn’t an inoffensive—to those determined to be offended—slogan that will have the same beneficial impact for Paisano’s, or cause as many people to laugh or smile, which is also a good thing. I believe the owner when he says he was not and is not making a political statement.

I checked Ethics Alarms to see if I had covered a similar controversy, because I knew you would, and if I wasn’t consistent, I would get it with both barrels. A year ago, I analyzed the uproar when Under Armour advertised a “Band of Ballers” tee-shirt showing a silhouette of men in backwards baseball caps raising a basketball hoop in the iconic pose of the U.S. Marine Corps Memorial, in which combat weary soldiers are frozen in the act of raising an American flag after the Marines’ bloody victory at Iwo Jima. Here was that shirt:


From the post:

“But some indignant veterans who have nothing better to do than fire off e-mails expressing their dislike of apparel that was neither designed for them, intended for them, or forced upon them, objected vociferously, so Under Armour made the shirt unavailable to those who wanted to buy it, pulling it off the market with a craven series of tweets that said…

 “Under Armour has the utmost respect and admiration for active duty service men and women and veterans who have served our country. We deeply regret and apologize the release of a shirt that is not reflective of our commitment to support & honor our country’s heroes We have taken the necessary steps to remove this shirt, and any related shirts, from all retail and ensure this doesn’t happen again.”

Ensure that what doesn’t happen again? Historical references? Parodies? Humor? Irreverence? A sports apparel company daring to compare the “combat” of playground hoops to real combat?”…

“Under Armour is the sole guilty party here—someone is going to complain about anything and everything now— as is every company, corporation, celebrity, university, sports franchise and school district that caves in to censorship efforts when there has been no legitimate offense. They take the path of least resistance, rather than stand up for expressive freedom, as is their duty as citizens in our society. That is ironic, when you think about it. My favorite fatuous complaint about the tee-shirt was from a tweeter who wrote,

“6,281 men didn’t die at Iwo Jima so you could sell a “Band of Ballers” t-shirt.”

“Actually, you moron, they did.”

Hey, I LIKE that post!

I like “black olives matter,” too (though I don’t like black olives). Black Lives Matter should be no more immune from parody and satire than any other phrase, group or movement, especially obvious and light-hearted satire like this.

Addendum: I can’t let this pass. The comment sections on this story give classic examples of how so much of the public is incapable of critics and dispassionate thought, and what Ethics Alarms tries to promote just isn’t on the map. Here was a comment that came after one that pronounced the slogan as “the sickness of capitalism incarnate”:

Ask the owner if he’s got the stones to come up with some other form of anti-PC slogan. Perhaps some #BlueLivesMatter Cubano sandwiches – you know the kind that has roast pork, ham and bacon on them…….3 kinds of dead pig on a bun. IF the owner is willing to do that, then I’ll believe he’s being truly anti-PC. IF not, then he’s just pandering to the inbred hickbilly racist StormTrumper crowd.


45 thoughts on “Ethics Quiz: Does “Black Olives Matter” Matter?

  1. A culinary artiste and self-confessed “food snob,” my lovely and long-suffering wife knows that “Black Olives Matter.”

    But only as an ingredient to Mexican quisine.

    Italian? “Green Olives Matter” or fuggeddaboudit!

    “Black” -v- “Green?” Never the twain shall meet.

  2. Ain’t this a kick in the head: once you verbalize “too soon?” you’re too late.

    The Race Hustlers are onto the “Next Big Thing,” which carries the additional cache of involving a high profile LGBT figure seemingly caught on the wrong side of town.

    “Ellen DeGeneres defends herself against racism allegations over Usain Bolt photo”

    I thought this was kinda funny, so you may not hear from me for a while.

    I’m self-reporting to the Diversity/Sensitivity/White Lefty Guilt Confessional Gulag where I hope to be resolutely and dutifully chastised back into thinking right.

  3. What bothers me the most about this is that we seem to have lost, most of us, our sense of humor. Is there, in fact, many issue that cannot be gently poked fun at? I don’t think so. There was a movie many years ago in which a Mexican General decided to reclaim the Alamo. I don’t remember the name of the movie or who was in it, but a movie about Texas losing the Alamo? My God, what a travesty!! Except that the movie was hilarious, no body seriously objected to it and it made almost $10 at the box office. Come on BLM, develop the same sense of the ridiculous that movie and Texans have. Learn to laugh at yourselves.

    I Might say the same to Al Sharpton, Jesse Jackson and, sadly…Barrack Obama. These guys apparently do not see the humor in Black Olives Matter. I do, and, frankly, it makes more sense than ‘Black Lives Matter’. Lighten up. Try looking at reality for a change.

    • I was just thinking the other day how interesting it is that Al and Jesse seem to have completely abandoned the scene. Where are they hiding? And why? Have they been pre-empted by the younger, crazier generations of SJWs? Maybe they’re just biding their time thinking these amateurs will wander off as did the Occupy people and leave the scene to the pros again. They certainly hope things will get more profitable for the once President Obama moves into playing golf all the time.

  4. My own opinion – For what little it’s worth – is that it’s dickish.

    Unethical? Nope. Should be illegal? Absolutely not. Offensive? Probably, but not to the point of fighting words. Not as bad as advertising Auschwitz brand gas ovens for example.

    But dickish, yes. I’ve tried to teach my son that in moments of doubt, when you’re wondering in an unclear situation balancing freedom of speech principles, legality, political correctness or incorrectness, what you have a right to do vs what you should do… don’t be a dick.

    Of course he’s running for class president under the National Security for a Democratic Australia Party banner. NSDAP. The joke’s run rather thin though, as 4 senators have just been elected espousing the same policies in all sincerity, not satire.

    • Dickish to whom or who, though? The Second Niggardly Principle could be summarized as “don’t be a dick”, but as I said, this is a slogan that 1) could have and 2) in fact DID have beneficial results for the owner, his family, and his business. Who did the slogan hurt? if it helps take BLM down say, 1000 pegs, GOOD. They have earned some light ridicule.

      Doesn’t DBAD in this case translate unto “never tell a joke that any hypersensitive prig thinks is offensive no matter how many others enjoy it?”

    • On dickishness and satire:

      Isn’t dickishness an absolute requirement for satire? I have never seen satire that didn’t skewer somebody or something somebody held dear. Clearly, Jack’s example of “The Life of Brian” is a perfect, unalloyed example. Just because Christians forget all the time the biblical pronouncement that God made man in his own image, and somehow can’t envision the sense of humor they purport to possess as reflective of their creator does not make God humorless.

      I submit that if avoiding dickishness is the goal, satire must be forbidden.

      Jonathan Swift said it best: “Satire is a sort of glass, wherein beholders generally discover everybody’s face but their own.”

      Consider the most inoffensive of men, the great-souled Mohandas K. Gandhi:

      Reporter: “What do you think of Western civilization?”
      Ghandi: “I think it would be a good idea.”

      Satire without dickishness is something else.

      • “Satire without dickishness is something else.”

        The ever quotable Coach John McKay during his tenure with the epically (at the time) horrible Tampa Bay Bucs and after a particularly brutal showing in response to a question about his team’s execution –

        “I’m all in favor of it.”

    • “Offensive? Probably, but not to the point of fighting words.”

      Offensive to whom? Morons whose world view is horribly skewed to the point that they ARE victims….just not of the perpetrators they think they are victims of?

      Yeah, too bad.

  5. Agreed. If people are going to say that you can’t mock or belittle someone’s seriously-held convictions in 2016, then get ready for the sound of millions of Christians’ eyes simultaneously rolling out of their heads.

  6. The wordplay reminded me of a New York Magazine reader game challenge many years ago in which you were supposed to add or subtract one letter in a title of a famous book, movie, play or song, and then add or subtract one letter with a real person to be the appropriate author of the altered work. Like “I-10” by “Bingo Crosby.”

    • Now THAT is fighting talk. You have your choice of weapons, sirrah. Sarcasm, Bathos, Litote…

      “Interviewer Doug?
      Vercotti Doug (takes a drink) I was terrified of him. Everyone was terrified of Doug. I’ve seen grown men pull their own heads off rather than see Doug. Even Dinsdale was frightened of Doug.
      Interviewer What did he do?
      Vercotti He used sarcasm. He knew all the tricks, dramatic irony, metaphor, bathos, puns, parody, litotes and satire. ”

      I expect to hear from your second, or perhaps third, momentarily.

  7. “Camuglia protested that he was only trying to sell food.”

    I don’t believe that for one second. However, good for him. Taking BLM down a peg or two (or a million) is a societal good. I figure a movement founded on a lie or distortion can’t claim the moral high ground and should be subject to unmitigated ridicule, much like “Hands down, please shoot.”

    Is the slogan satire? Yep. Is the slogan amusing? Yep. Is the slogan in bad taste/poor taste? Yep. Is the slogan dickish? Yep. Is the slogan protected? Yep. Is the slogan ethical? Yep.

    Why is it ethical? Because nothing should be so sacrosanct that it should be immune from discussion and/or belittlement. By declaring that black olives matter (which, if you think about it, is a really clever play on words), it forces us as a society ask fundamental questions about whether olives are condiments/garnishes or stand-all items used to enhance a particular dish. By answering those two questions, we can then determine whether black olives have been marginalized and targeted by the culinary world as illegitimate foodstuffs.

    BOM promotes the unique contributions black olives have made to world cuisine beyond intrasaladal inclusions by food preparers and digesters. It goes beyond the narrow saladal inclusions that have become all too prevalent within the restaurant communities, which merely utilizes black olives as a filler, overlooking black olives’ fundamental nature. BOM calls upon all foodies to love black olives, live and buy black olives, keeping full-bodies and unpitted black olives the front of the food chain, while encouraging other olives to take up roles in the background or not at all. While BOM affirms the rights of other olives, BOM concentrates on those that have been marginalized within olive liberation movements. It is a tactic to (re)build the olive liberation movement.


  8. Slogans simplify, and while meant to be shorthand for complex and multifaceted ideas there will always be those who pay more attention to the slogan than the rationale behind coining it. Most of us know what the name BLM was meant to mean. Try as I have I can’t come up with a short name which wouldn’t be controversial because of the implication that other lives may not matter as much as black lives. “Stop systemic racism in the criminal justice system” doesn’t have a ring to it. Certainly the lives of every human matter, but depending on what you believe so to the lives of wild horses, stray cats and dogs, experimental lab monkeys, endangered species, the trees in the rain forest, etc.

    One of the benefits of satire is that it sometimes opens the door to discussion of complex ethical issues that don’t lend themselves to easy conclusions.

    If ethics was easy we wouldn’t need this website and ethicists specializing in fields such as medicine, journalism, business, and yes, criminal justice.

    • Thanks, Hal: You entered an important factor that was in my original post and excised for space, hoping someone else would raise.

      Catchy slogans (and chants, memes and bumper stickers) are by nature blunt instruments. Sophisticated individuals take them that way, the naive and gullible may not, and others will intentionally work to make sure the short form is misunderstood, as well as its intent. “Stop systemic racism in the criminal justice system” isn’t clearly expressed with Black Lives Matter, especially when its official and unofficial users recklessly engage in rhetoric that suggests the real message is “The White Establishment wants us dead, and we must fight back to save our innocent children.’ A sloghan like “Hands Up! Don’t shoot!” based entirely on a lie, was defended on this site by a respected commenter who argued that the quote no longer literally referred to the incident that spawned it, but to the anger and the desperation of the population, and thus was fair and honest. That’s an ethics bridge too far. I have big problems with such slogans. “Move” owes its name to a partisan, Clinton defense flanking maneuver during Bill’s Monica scandal that meant, “Stop paying attention to whether the President of the US lied under oath and obstructed justice, there are more important things, and Clinton has successfully stalled and delayed and lied that we should forget about it.” As Move-On shows, ethical organizations don’t arise out of unethical slogans.

  9. #BlueLivesMatter Cubano

    I would eat that every day.

    Then again, I have a playlist of a certain NIN song ready to play in case I ever get pulled over, so I may be an outlier.

  10. Re: Gadesdon Flags and Black Lives Matter.. and Dickishness

    This is the USA. Not all of it of course. But you’ve promoted this.

    • And that is why Freedom of Speech is so important. So we know that these people exist, and not just a handful of them.

      Of course it’s not Politically Correct to call them out, or to criticise them. They take offense at being labelled bigots, racists etc. One certainly can’t point out that the Gadesdon Flag has changed in significance without being called a Librul Commie etc. As for BLM, of course the pizzaria was just having a little joke, ha ha. Satire.

      This is what you get as a result. Own it – if only like me, seeing it as a price that has to be paid lest we go off the deep end the other wsy, and suspend schoolkids who use the wird “niggardly”, or chew a slice of pizza so it sorta kinda resembles the g-word that must never be said.

      Just don’t tell me the Gadesdon Flag is just a historical curio. Context matters, and now Political Correctness means not being able to call these excresences on the face of the Earth, these ambulatory midden-heaps, what they are. They’re “just joking” right? Satirical. Sarcastic.

      • Is that a Chevy? Racists seem to like those too. Chevy trucks therefore trigger me, as does country music. Ban both. Oh, and Gadsden flags too.

        • Hey, context matters. There might not be anything inherently racist about Chevy trucks or country music, but if you work next to me and enjoy both, there’s seriously no way you aren’t a racist, just pretending all innocently not to be, hiding behind your freedom of speech and your right to drive a big truck and listen to Chris Young.

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