After receiving negative reactions from Asian American groups and individuals, Walmart has withdrawn photos of Nikkei in the World War II camps that had been available for purchase.
In a Nov. 11 tweet that went viral, author Jamie Ford (“Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet”) said, “Hey @Walmart why are you selling posters of the Japanese internment? Described as ‘The perfect wall art for any home, bedroom, playroom, classroom, dorm room or office workspace.’”
A Walmart representative tweeted the same day that he would look into the matter.
Ryan General of Nextshark wrote, “Who in their right minds would think a terrible injustice that resulted in the suffering of thousands would make a ‘perfect’ wall art? … Considered as one of most flagrant violations of civil liberties in the country’s history, the forced relocation and concentration of over a hundred thousand Japanese Americans remain a painful memory to the thousands of Asian families it affected.
“The featured images, which show the prisoners seemingly enjoying life in their cramped detention facility, were from a series of photos taken by government photographers to depict the concentration in a positive light.”
In response to one of the photos, which shows a group of young women at Tule Lake, Eiko Miki posted on Facebook: “This is absolutely unacceptable! It may look it’s a nice old photo with young Japanese girls smiling but this was not happy time … Shame on you Walmart for not checking the origin of the photo.”
The Facebook page “The Love of an Asian Guy” offered this comment: “While you COULD make an argument for buying these in the name of education (you’re a historian or a professor who collects these for museums or lesson plans) it doesn’t make sense to sell this sh– on a public marketplace for people to display in their living rooms and man caves.
“Did I mention the absence of posters depicting white trauma? What about Sandy Hook portraits? Anything on Pearl Harbor? No? … We can only enjoy the pain of POC [people of color]?”
According to ABC News, in 2014, Walmart and other retailers pulled a home decoration poster showing the gate of Dachau, one of the Nazi death camps. Walmart said it was “horrified” to see the photo on its website and apologized. The item was sold by one of the company’s online marketplace sellers and not directly by Walmart.
The photo shows the slogan “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work Makes You Free), which also appears over the entrance to Auschwitz.
The Japanese American Citizens League said on Nov. 12, “Upon further investigation, the company Posterazzi.com selling Japanese concentration camp ‘art’ is the same company caught selling photos of Auschwitz on the Walmart site three years ago. Walmart responded immediately over the weekend to remove the Auschwitz photos, we expect the same for Japanese American camp photos.”
That same day, the JACL received the following response from Posterazzi.com: “Thank you very much for contacting us and bringing this matter to my attention. Our social media director actually called me about this in the middle of the night last night to let me know that she read about this on our Facebook account last night.
“We deal with photo licensing companies who upload thousands of images to our site and this was an oversight and we will address this issue today. Unfortunately when dealing with [photo] licensing companies sometimes some images or text descriptions pass through our automated content filters. If you can please provide me with the links on our website to the images you mentioned I will have them removed today.”
JACL later announced that Walmart, posterazzi.com, and Granger Historical Picture Archive “have responded that they’ve taken the images down from their respective websites and are looking at systems to avoid this happening again.”
The Facebook group “Japanese American History: NOT for Sale” posted, “‘No longer available.’ We did it! Thanks to your emails, the eagle eye of Kimiko Marr, Jamie Ford’s tweet, Japanese American Citizens League (JACL) msg to company, and a wave of community voices, the ‘products’ have been pulled.
“Let’s stay vigilant. Bot, AI [artificial intelligence], algorithm or human, companies are responsible for what’s on their shelves. Let’s also be glad for the sake of these women and the history they lived, we all stood up to say that this history is not for sale.”
The group was formed in 2015 when artifacts made by Japanese American incarcerees, from the collection of the late Allen Eaton, were going to be auctioned by Rago Arts. The auction was halted and the items have since been acquired by the Japanese American National Museum.