The hosts of Civic Cipher have obtained the trademark for the controversial slogan, ruining Kanye West’s plans to monetise racial hatred
When Ye (the artist formerly known as Kanye West) unveiled a range of t-shirts emblazoned with “White Lives Matter” at his YZY SZN9 show last month, the immediate reaction was one of justified outrage and disappointment at how low the musician-turned-designer had sunk. Little did we know, things were only going to get worse.
Since parading the racist slogan at Paris Fashion Week – alongside conservative commentator Candace Owens, no less – Ye has continued to double down on his right-wing messaging. In case you’ve not been keeping up, this has included spouting anti-semitic nonsense on social media, and generally burning every bridge he’s built in the fashion and music industries over the course of his two-decade career.
Nevertheless, there will always be a core group of Kanye stans who continue to buy what he’s selling (whether they use his groundbreaking career in the mid-2000s to dismiss his more recent regressive statements as “performance art”, or they simply don’t care). Understandably, this was cause for concern when Ye announced that he would begin selling the “White Lives Matter” shirts following the show, in a since-deleted Instagram post.
Now, though, two Black radio hosts have stepped in to block the shirts from reaching a wider audience. Ramses Ja and Q. Ward, of the Arizona-based radio show Civic Cipher, obtained the federal trademark for the phrase when it was gifted to them by a listener of the programme. This prohibits anyone else from printing the words on any item of clothing – yes, including t-shirts – without their permission.
The listener (who wishes to remain anonymous) originally took ownership of the phrase to stop anyone else getting rich from its usage, and essentially handed it over to Ja and Ward for safekeeping. Of course, this doesn’t stop anyone from printing “White Lives Matter” on a shirt, but anyone that tries to sell clothes bearing that phrase in the US will open themselves up to legal action – something that Ye, former billionaire, may struggle to afford since brands such as adidas severed ties.
Explaining his opposition to “White Lives Matter”, Ja tells Dazed: “The phrase was never intended to reaffirm the value of white lives. It is and always has been in direct response to, and in direct opposition of, the phrase Black Lives Matter, as is every other ‘lives matter’ slogan.”
Below, the radio host discusses his own reaction to Ye’s “White Lives Matter” controversy, how Civic Cipher came to possess the trademark, and what they plan to do with it.
What was your response when Kanye West first unveiled the White Lives Matter tees in Paris, alongside Candace Owens?
It was kind of a “not again” moment. We knew there would be some that tried to assign this as trolling, free thinking, or that fully subscribed to that train of thought, but as you could imagine it was hurtful and brought back trauma for a lot of people. Worse than him wearing the shirt was the contingent of people set on justifying it or trying to explain what deeper meaning they thought he was trying to express. Him being alongside [Owens] made his position on what matters very clear. Attention as a form of currency.
How did you come to obtain the trademark for White Lives Matter?
A listener of our social justice radio show, Civic Cipher, originally held the trademark to sell clothes with that phrase in the United States. Once the phrase became popularised a few weeks ago, that listener (who wishes to remain anonymous) reached out to us to see if we would accept the trademark and be its owner and the deciders of how it would impact Black and Brown communities.
What action will you take if Kanye West releases White Lives Matter shirts to the public, as planned?
Well, he can’t do that without opening himself up to a lawsuit… but that is what our lawyers handle. Not us. I don't see that happening though.
“There has never been a point in the history of this country where white people needed to be reassured that they mattered” – Ramses Ja
Are you planning to do anything with the trademark, other than holding it to stop others using the phrase?
At present we are just having the necessary conversations to make sure that we are doing right by the communities most likely to be hurt by seeing a phrase like this branded onto clothing.
What do you make of arguments that claim trademarking the phrase is a violation of free speech?
I would refer those folks to the trademark for “Let’s get ready to rumble!” Then… since we aren’t trademark attorneys, I would refer them to our lawyer!
What does the phrase White Lives Matter mean to you personally?
The phrase was never intended to reaffirm the value of white lives. It is and always has been in direct response to, and in direct opposition of, the phrase Black Lives Matter, as is every other “lives matter” slogan. They were all born from a contrary position and with absolute intention to counter in a negative way Black people just trying to express to each other and the rest of the world that we deserve to grow old. To raise our children. To start businesses. To live without systemically-imposed barriers and ceilings. There has never been a point in the history of this country where white people needed to be reassured that they mattered or that they were worthy of not being killed with impunity by vigilante citizens or law enforcement.