A photograph of a Humboldt County, California resident holding a sign comparing the state’s ongoing stay-at-home order to the slave trade has sparked outrage online with many social media users denouncing the sign as racist and deeply offensive.
Gretha Stenger proudly held the homemade sign at a protest last week in front of the Humboldt County courthouse, where she was photographed for a post in Redheaded Blackbelt, the community news blog in Southern Humboldt, reports The Times-Standard.
Stenger issued an apology on Monday for displaying the offensive sign, saying the sign was not hers but handed to her by another protester at the demonstration.
The sign includes a black-and-white image of Escrava Anastacia, an African slave venerated in Brazilian folklore, wearing a muzzle. Next to the image are the words: “Muzzles are for dogs and slaves. I am a free human being.”
“Holding that sign up at the lockdown protest was a grave mistake and I ask forgiveness from all those who I have caused pain,” Stenger said in a statement provided to the Times-Standard on Monday afternoon. “As I had no sign of my own, it was handed to me by another protester and a photographer took the picture before I considered the racist implications. My intent was to take a stand for the freedom of all human persons and I mistakenly held a sign that conveyed the opposite. Please know that I respect the dignity of all people and I sincerely regret any suffering it has caused.”
“Many of the tweets sharing and criticizing the image include Stenger’s name, which is identified in the photograph of her in Redheaded Blackbelt,” the news outlet reported. “Another woman photographed holding the sign has also been widely identified. The Times-Standard has not been able to reach the other woman for comment.”
Larkin Small pic.twitter.com/GKpj4AEYnn
— dancingtortuga (@dancingtortuga) May 18, 2020
Sharrone Blanck, president of the local National Association for the Advancement of Colored People chapter, said Monday that Stenger should back up her apology with actions, instead of just words.
“The first issue is the fact that this person is equating dogs to enslaved people, specifically enslaved Africans,” Blanck said. “Then she identifies herself as a free human being — somehow above and better than people of African descent and people of color in general who were made to wear muzzles.”
“The media really needs to look at why they cover some things and not other things, and do an analysis of whether or not they cover events with people of color instead of events that are predominantly white,” Blanck said, taking issue with local news outlets consistently covering recent protests of the stay-at-home order and neglecting other local demonstrations, including a recent May Day rally, in which protesters adhered to social-distancing guidelines.